I’m a reader. I always have been, even before I could read you might say. My older brother used to bring his “Letter of the Week” books home from preschool every Friday and I would promptly confiscate them and pore over them for hours. As I grew older, spiritual reading became a natural part of my prayer life. Sacred scripture, meditations, lives of the saints, and spiritual classics nourished and challenged me. I sometimes marveled at what a gift it was to live in a time when I had so many spiritual riches literally at my fingertips.
After my son with special needs was born, this was one of the many things that changed. The font of encouragement that I had so often visited seemed to have dried up overnight. The problem was that I was often too tired, too distracted, too anxious to delve into spiritual reading. My soul was just as hungry (perhaps even more so!), but my physical body was overtaxed. I picked up a spiritual tome and promptly fell asleep. If I managed to stay awake, I would find myself finishing a chapter without having absorbed anything that I had read.
After a brief period of discouragement, I rallied and set out to find spiritual reading appropriate to someone in my situation. Surely spiritual books were written for the exhausted, the careworn, the ones who might need it the most? I am happy to say that I have found several that have fit the bill perfectly, and I am sure that there are more treasures out there just waiting to be found.
When I am on the lookout for a new spiritual read, I look for something that is faithful to Church teaching and written in a style that is easy to pick up and put down (again and again and again). I also tend to gravitate toward the practical and straightforward. Here are my top recommendations.
Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light by Mother Teresa and edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk
Mother Teresa has always attracted me, and since becoming a parent to a child with special needs, I look to her even more often than I did before. I don’t have any kind of self-delusion that I’m ministering in the slums of Calcutta, but the fact that her spirituality had so much to do with doing small things with great love strikes a cord with my life. I know that she knew what it meant to be discouraged, to feel alone, to be exhausted, and to feel that all of your hard work is for nothing. In this book, the editor lets the saint herself speak. Many of her letters and speeches are included among biographical information about her life, which made me feel as though I were sitting at her feet gleaning wisdom for the journey.
Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Jacques Philippe
If you’ve ever ever met the suggestion to “trust God more” with an unholy desire to shoot the messenger, this book is for you. Of course, we all want to trust God more. We all long to place our life in His capable hands and let Him do what He does best. But how do we do that? Jacques Philippe gets it. He wrote this book for you and for me. He knows we’re busy, we’re worn out, we’re anxious, we have so many cares and responsibilities. But God has not abandoned us, and we too can find peace. This book is simple and profound, comforting and challenging all at once. If the notion of “spiritual reading” intimidates you, please start here. I can also enthusiastically recommend any of Jacques Philippe’s other books, including Interior Freedom and Time for Prayer.
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
I’ve spent most of my life hearing homilies and talks and retreats about how our loving God is always right beside us. It truly never clicked for me until I read this book. Brother Lawrence was a humble man. He was poor, uneducated, and described himself as “a great awkward fellow who broke everything.” Though he had a lowly position as a lay brother with the Discalced Carmelites (first as cook, and later as sandal-maker), people began to recognize his spiritual depths and seek him out for counsel. The guidance that he passed on to people is the basis for this book and you can feel it in the pages. Brother Lawrence gently shows you what a personal relationship with Christ can actually look like, taking that well-worn phrase from cliche to glorious reality.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Okay, hear me out. It’s no secret that the Chronicles are a stunning and deeply Christian tale. I’ve been surprised, however, to find that many people consider it “only” a children’s story. As Lewis himself said, “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.” Many rereads of this series have me convinced that they are not just fruitful for children’s contemplation, but adults as well. If it’s been a long time since you stepped through the wardrobe, give it a try. Lewis tackles subjects like shame, redemption, hope, sacrifice, and loss in a disarming but masterful way. The bonus here is that you can be feeding your own soul as you read aloud to your children! If you’re still feeling like the Chronicles are a little juvenile for your taste, I will sigh and hand you The Lord of the Rings for more spiritual reading disguised as a novel. If, on the other hand, you love Narnia as spiritual reading, I can also recommend the works of George MacDonald such as The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie.
Jane Stanley is a wife and a mother to five children. She reads, writes, and homeschools in Central Virginia.