I have locked my keys in my car so many times in the last three years I’ve lost count. On more than one occasion I had to call pop-a-lock (expensive) because I was either in another city or because we didn’t have a spare set of keys. On one occasion our other car was in the shop, so I had to do a complicated (expensive) Uber maneuver even though my husband was less than a mile away.
Why does this keep happening, you may wonder. I’ll tell you.
I hit the lock on the door as I climb out of the car and then I shut the door.
Nick keeps reminding me that in order to break this habit I should NEVER, under any circumstances, hit the lock on the door. I should ALWAYS use the key-fob once I’m out of the car.
Most days I consciously think about what I’m doing; I stop myself from touching that button as I climb out of the car.
Not today, though.
I arrived at the library to pick up a book and to write this blog post. (What better place to write about the books that have influenced me over the past decade than surrounded by other books?)
As soon as I shut my car door I moaned in frustration, spun around, and saw my keys sitting in the seat I just vacated. I tried all the doors just in case. Then I called Nick.
He’s a real sport. He could have easily been annoyed because this habit of mine affects our days and/or bank account so frequently that it’s stopped being a funny quirk. He cheerfully turned around (he was probably just parking his car at work), drove back to our house, hunted down the other set of car keys, got back in the car and drove to the library where I was leaning against our car reading (so no one took advantage of the keys in the driver seat and turned an annoying day into a real situation). He reassured me all was fine and then merrily went on his way to finally get into his office.
Honestly, if the situation were reversed, I don’t know that I would be so cheery. I am certainly way more annoyed with myself than he ever seems to be with me.
I found myself grateful for the time to stand outside the library today, locked out of my car again, because it really is the perfect picture of what my life of formation has looked like this past decade.
Not unlike my habit of locking the car, there are a number of habits or ways I think about the world. I need someone to graciously show up and offer me a set of keys and a gentle reminder of how to break out of my autopilot living.
When I was in high school, I remember walking around the spirituality/theology section of Half Price Books wondering how I could possibly know which books would lead me closer to God. I knew then, as I know now, that the media we consume (whether words on a page, audio, or visual) shapes us. I was used to relying on curated Bible studies handed to me by my youth leaders and Sunday school teachers, but I knew there was a ton more out there I had no idea how to find or navigate.
One of the gifts of seminary was time to explore these vast resources in community and alongside prayer and other spiritual discernment practices. Here I found the grace to learn and grow.
In one of my theology classes we were encouraged to read a text twice. First to understand—really try to understand—the points the author was trying to make, and then again to decide what we agreed or disagreed with.
Basically, I learned I don’t have to know if I agree with an author before I read their work.
Which brings me to the list I am going to offer you today. It’s not a comprehensive list of all of the books that God has used to form me over the past decade, but these are the ones that came to mind when I began preparing this post for you.
I needed each of these in their own way at their own time throughout my journey thus far. The great thing about learning—especially alongside God in spiritual formation—is that we can approach it with grace for ourselves. Like my husband greeting me with a hug and a chuckle as he helped me unlock our car yet again, we can use the things we read to help us examine why we believe what we believe. We can perhaps even allow God to use them to challenge some of the habits in our lives that are keeping us stuck and repeating the same patterns over and over.
You don’t have to agree with everything an author (or a person in your life, I suppose) says or believes in order to listen and learn something from them.
Without Further Ado, Some Books for You
While in seminary my roommate turned best friend let me borrow her copy of Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life, by Lauren F. Winner. I think it was the first bit of spiritual memoir I had read, and I fell in love with Winner’s writing, her story, and the way she incorporated theology in such an accessible way. It’s been years since I’ve read it, but it set me on a path reading some of Winner’s other work and seeking out more in the genre.
Some of my other favorites by Lauren F. Winner:
- Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline
- Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis
- Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God
Before going to seminary, I didn’t know that women could be pastors and preachers. I hadn’t seen that modeled as women were only allowed certain roles in the church I grew up in. Despite this, when I was looking for a seminary my pastor encouraged me to go somewhere that affirmed women in ministry. When I got to Truett seminary I learned about Barbara Brown Taylor. I listened to some of her sermons in a preaching class and read her books in my spare time. (She also inspired one of the series I created here on Lamplight Stories: what’s saving my life right now. Check out this article and the corresponding tag to read more of these from the past couple of years.) Here are links to Taylor’s books:
- Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith
- Learning to Walk in the Dark
- An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
I’ve written before about the last book I want to put on your list today. Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Souls Path to God by Gary Thomas was required reading before I arrived at seminary. It laid the foundation for my time in Covenant Group with my peers and opened my eyes to the reality that there are many ways beyond studying the Bible in which we can connect to God. You can read that essay here.
I don’t only read books on spiritual formation, these just seemed to fit best in today’s post. I find beauty and learn more about God, the world, other people, and myself through all types of books. Are you interested in recommendations in fiction, cooking, or other types of nonfiction? Let me know in the comments!
I’m curious, what books have been formational for you over the last few years? I’m always looking to check out something new. Have you read any on my list? Are there any that stand out to you? Let’s chat in the comments!
Until next time,
May you look for the light and point it out to others when you see it.