Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Book Review: Spiritual Sobriety

Spiritual Sobriety
(by Elizabeth Esther)

Addiction is a nefarious sickness that can take any number of disguises--including spirituality. In Spiritual Sobriety, Elizabeth Esther (a former religious addict herself) shares advice on how to recognize and overcome religious addiction.

As a recovering religious addict myself, I found the concept behind this book intriguing. In our faith walk, we're always trying to figure out how to do things right so that we can be righteous and accepted and so that we can feel close to God. But, how often do we ask ourselves what is healthy? Is it really healthy to continually be looking for that emotional high we get at worship services? Could our constant fretting over whether or not we're doing the right thing be a sign of a deeper problem? Esther says these are signs of spiritual addiction, and I'm inclined to agree.

As I started reading this book, I was a little fearful that it was going to be one of those self-help books that just say the same thing over and over again in different words. But, while Esther's introduction to the idea of spiritual sobriety did seem a little long (spanning the first 3 chapters), she did move into the particulars soon enough with each chapter thereafter dealing with a particular symptom of spiritual addiction.

Chapter 4 deals with unhealthy thought patterns that fill us with self-doubt and shame or zealous self-righteousness and ambition. Here I appreciate especially Esther's comments about how for the religious addict, the short and simple prayer is often better than the "long, presumably 'inspired' ones we heard while in addiction" in helping us remain humble. When it comes to self-shaming, I've logged away this quote: "It's the difference between 'I made an error' and 'I am an error,'" the latter often being a symptom of our depravity obsessed Christian culture.

Chapter 5 is about kind speech and finding healing from the habit of always passing "righteous" judgment on others. Oh, how often I see this on social media--the constant need to express our "righteous" opinions simply so that people will "know where I stand" and because it's "my duty to proclaim the truth." As Esther writes, "the religious addict feels responsible for the eternal salvation of every soul." But, the truth is there is a way to be honest without being mean. Kind speech is essential to our spiritual health.

For me personally, chapters 6 and 7 were my favorites. Chapter 6 deals with burn-out from trying to do too much, to always be good enough. Too often we're driven to the extreme of working ourselves to death "for the kingdom" without taking care of ourselves. We feel like somehow we've got to earn God's favor. But Esther reminds us of the truth that "our resistance to moderation is more a reflection of our performance-driven society than a reflection of our value or God's heart toward us."

Chapter 7 is about trusting God with our relationships--setting boundaries and letting go. For a long time, I didn't (I refused to) understand the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. This chapter helped lay this out for me and show me why the difference is so important to our emotional well-being. It also reminded me that it's ok to let go of past friendships.

Those are a few of the details I found encouraging, but I still maintain that it's the overall message here that is most important and which I will make a point to integrate into my own life, studies, and teachings. To quote another favorite author: "it is not enough that the unhappy man should desire truth; he must desire health" (G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy). Spiritual addiction is real, very real, standing at odds with the very real grace of God. But, there is also hope for those who seek it, healing to be found in the grace of God.

Overall, I'd give this book 3.5/5 stars. Though it had a bit more fluff and a bit less Biblical backing than I would have liked, there were more than a few passages that I found quite poignant and refreshing. For anyone who considers themselves zealous for God (or trying to be zealous for God), I'd recommend this book simply to give a fresh (more sober) perspective on spirituality.

If you get a chance to read this book, be sure to share your thoughts below. I always love a good conversation about a good book =)

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I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

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