I’m pleased to share three short reviews today of books I’ve enjoyed over the last couple of months. If you’re looking for some Christmas present ideas or some winter reading for yourself, hopefully this will give you some inspiration!
A Thorn In My Mind by Cathy Wield
“I have a passion for the mentally ill. I want to see stigma eliminated, to see change, to witness God working in lives that have otherwise been blighted, and I long to see the Church taking the lead on this.”
This is the opening of the introduction to this book, and from the very start it gripped my attention. Mental health issues seem to be increasingly prevalent today and, while there is a greater awareness than there has been in the past, there is still a serious lack of understanding and a great deal of stigma surrounding them.
My own experience of walking through these challenges with a friend opened my eyes to the reality of what it is like to live with mental health difficulties, and to the often unhelpful responses from well-meaning Christians. It is so important that we educate ourselves and equip ourselves to help people well, and this book is a great starting point.
In it, Cathy Wield shares the story of her own journey with depression and self-harm. Her perspective is unique because, as well as experiencing mental health services as a patient, she has also worked as a doctor in emergency departments and in psychiatry, so she is well-qualified to share on this topic.
I appreciated the honesty with which she shared her story, giving valuable insights into what it feels like to suffer severe depression, as well as sharing what she found helpful and unhelpful in terms of other people’s response. There are also useful chapters giving a summary in layman’s terms of different illnesses, such as OCD, schizophrenia and personality disorders, and explaining the different treatments available. Finally there is a chapter with practical suggestions of how friends and family can help.
I’d definitely recommend this book for anyone who has a friend or family member struggling with mental health issues, or who would like to understand more in order to be better able to support people in their church or community.
In The Middle Of The Mess by Sheila Walsh
This is another great book which touches on the topic of mental health. Sheila Walsh shares stories from throughout her life- her father’s brain aneurysm when she was very young, which led to a dramatic change in his personality, admittance to a psychiatric hospital, and ultimately suicide, her own struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, and the impact, more recently, of the death of her mother.
This book is a call to be honest about our brokenness and to find strength in Jesus, and in one another, in the middle of the mess.
Often we can try to keep up appearances of having it all together and feel that our brokenness is something to hide, but Walsh writes that, “The gospel of Jesus Christ invites us to sit together in our rags under the wide-open sky of grace,” and goes on to say that, “Burying the grief in good Christian slogans is only an avoidance tactic, and avoiding the truth is still a lie.”
She shares her own journey of learning to open up to God and others and provides helpful advice on how spiritual disciplines such as meditation and confession can help in that, as well as emphasising the importance of community and our need for one another.
Free Of Me by Sharon Hodde Miller
Self-focus is an almost universal human problem. In a world of social media and encouragement to be yourself and believe in yourself, it is all too easy to turn inward, and for self-focus to overtake even our good intentions, but the results of this can be toxic:
“Self-focus hurts our relationships, shrinks our faith, kills our confidence, and ultimately steals all our joy.”
Where society would say that self-esteem is the solution to our problems, Sharon Hodde Miller proposes that instead self-forgetfulness is the answer, and that if we would realise life is not all about us, and instead put our focus on God, our lives would be much better.
Recognising that is one thing; actually changing our focus in this way is a much harder task, but this book provides valuable help.
It takes seven areas of life (God, family, appearance, possessions, friendships, calling and church) and explores the ways in which we might be tempted to make those things about us, as well as looking at the consequences of doing this.
This is followed up with some practical advice on how we can move away from this self-focus to put our focus on God.
Miller’s writing is challenging, cutting to the heart of our motivations and revealing them for what they are. Take for example this quote about people-pleasing:
“People-pleasing is a funny thing, because it seems “others-focussed,” but it’s not about “people” at all. It’s about you. You want other people to think well of you. You want people to say nice things about you. You help and you do favors and you struggle to say no because you don’t want people to be mad at you.”
However, she writes as someone who is on this journey too, and illustrates her points with a variety of examples from her own life, both of getting caught up in self-focus and of overcoming it.
This book left me challenged and with a lot to think about and I’m sure it is a book I will return to and reflect on some more.
I’m grateful to Instant Apostle, Nelson Books, Baker Books, and Netgalley for access to a complementary digital copies of these books in exchange for an honest review. I only share books here that I believe will genuinely be beneficial to my readers.
Amazon links are not affiliate links, but simply provided for your convenience.