Passing through spiritual burnout or coming to the potential end of your faith can be distressing, disconcerting, and disorienting, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your pursuit of God.
In fact, I have found that my moments of breakdown and burnout have become opportunities for renewal. I typically found a way (or perhaps “ways”) that I had overlooked or confronted toxic theology that had become a dead end.
Once I let go of what wasn’t working, I was able to ask if there might be something I’ve been missing. I spent plenty of years reaching out for God and feeling like I was coming up empty when it came to prayer and other spiritual practices.
As it turned out, there are plenty of books and practices from the Christian tradition that could help me move forward. Here are five books that you may find helpful, although I offer the disclaimer that I don’t propose cookie cutter solutions to every else’s spiritual burnout.
When We Were on Fire
I needed honesty in order to see the toxic or broken aspects of my faith, and Addie’s book was the wakeup call I needed to see my spiritual past with clarity. By the time I was done with her book, I felt like I knew myself better because we both carried many of the same toxic expectations and practices.
The Furious Longing of God
Besides getting a handle on the toxic parts of my faith, Brennan Manning’s book, which I believe is among his best, reoriented my faith. He grounded me in the present love of God and opened my eyes to the revelation of God’s love throughout scripture.
I didn’t have to perform to a certain standard or prove myself worthy of God’s love. God’s love is present for us, and we ignore it to our great loss.
The Divine Hours
Phyllis Tickle left us a tremendous gift by compiling these three volumes of daily scripture readings and prayers from the church. If you’re feeling burned out spiritually or that you can’t really engage with the Bible right now, Tickle offers a way to pray with scripture rather than viewing scripture as a repository of prooftexts or fodder for systematic theology.
When I felt like I didn’t know how to pray or lacked any kind of structure to my spirituality, Tickle provided a simple way to pray daily without worrying about the baggage I’d been carrying. Sometimes a simple routine can offer a soft spot to land when you aren’t sure what you believe and you need a bit of time to sort out your beliefs and practices.
Into the Silent Land
As my anxious evangelical faith crumbled and I clung to the simple routine of praying the Divine Hours, silence and contemplative prayer proved essential. There are many teachers, including Thomas Keating and Cynthia Bourgeault. They both have many free videos available that walk you through the simple steps of praying in silence with a prayer word.
However, Martin Laird’s book Into the Silent Land grounded me in the basics of centering prayer with either the Jesus Prayer or a prayer word. I frequently run into people who practice contemplative prayer who note that his book was among the easiest to read and to apply.
When my faith ran out of answers and I couldn’t think my way out of my doubts, I learned to befriend silence before God and found that is right where I needed to be.
The Way of the Heart
Nouwen has a way of succinctly but compassionately addressing the madness and noise of our time in order to direct his readers to the silence and presence of God. He understands why we may resist silence or solitude, but he persistently guides readers through the spiritual wilderness and shows that the wilderness can be a good place to return to your first love.
A Bonus Book for Spiritual Burnout
When I tried to think of a book that covered a wide range of responses to spiritual burnout that are grounded in the Christian tradition, my latest book Flee, Be Silent, Pray kept coming to mind.
This is the book that documents my own journey from the anxiety of my evangelical faith through a time of spiritual burnout and into a new space of mystery, silence, and renewal. I still have plenty of issues and struggles, but I don’t spend quite as much time obsessing over how much I’m doing for God once I learned how to rest in God’s presence.
You can read more about my journey into contemplative prayer and my recovery from anxious Christianity in my newly revised and expanded book: Flee, Be Silent, Pray: Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians