SOUL REPAIR: Rebuilding Your Spiritual Life
Jeff VanVonderen, and Dale & Juanita Ryan
The phrase “dysfunctional family” has become jargon in the recovery movement. Now, in SOUL REPAIR, three authors --- all experienced “recovery” professionals --- show readers what a dysfunctional (they also use the words “damaged,” “destructive” and “distorted”) spiritual life looks like.
The first half of the book uses psychological adjectives in a spiritual context, with chapters describing Christians who are spiritually “abusive,” “anorexic,” “addictive” and “codependent.” A final chapter in part one (“Distorted Spirituality”) proposes that an underlying issue is our “distorted images of God,” our attachments to and worship of “gods who are not God,” including “the abusive god,” “the abandoning god,” “the passive god” and “the god of impossible expectations.”
The second half of the book provides “Tools for Reconstruction,” introducing several basic classic spiritual disciplines and how to use them judiciously, not abusively. Regarding prayer: it “can be one of the many ways we perform to win God’s approval.” A more healthy approach? Seeing prayer as “an invitation to share deeply and honestly all our thoughts, feelings, longings and needs with God.” I particularly liked one sentence toward the end of the book: “We would do well to practice coming to the Bible as if it actually contains good news.”
The authors are very gentle and nonthreatening in their presentation. This is a book I’d feel comfortable giving to someone who strives to love and serve God without much compensatory joy --- someone burdened under an acute sense of duty, fear or shame. Sections about forgiveness --- what it is, why it’s important, discussion of its misuses --- are excellent. For example, regarding “making amends”: “If we go into this exercise asking for or demanding forgiveness, we turn our effort into something others are supposed to do for us, rather than our confessing our wrongdoing to them.” As in other recovery models, as well as in the historic faith, community is a critical part of a healing process --- walking with one or more respectful spiritual companions.
In the end --- the last chapter --- the challenge is to take one small step toward a healthy relationship with God. It’s not a demand but an invitation that seems hard to resist. There’s a clear intention not to overwhelm the reader with “oughts”; the authors provide tools that can help open the door to a path toward wholeness. But they understand that the spiritual life is a journey, often a difficult journey, that calls for us to surrender our agendas and dysfunctions to God and in turn become dependent on grace and acceptance of God’s love.
As the authors describe the book: it “is about making contact with a God who is willing to address the insecurity and decay of our spiritual lives and help us build something new. God does not wait until our spiritual houses are clean and orderly before making available to us all the love and grace we need.”
--- Reviewed by Evelyn Bence
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