Since I first laid eyes on a copy of Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion, I’ve been enamored with reading. My mother would take my brothers and me to the library in the heart of downtown Douglasville, Georgia, and we would pick out three or four books to devour over the next two weeks. The books I picked were all horse-related stories of adventure.
In college, when everyone seemed to be trying to figure out who they were (or who they weren’t via the process of elimination), I discovered self-help books. I wasn’t messed up, but I thought I was, and that messed me up.
Some of the books I read awakened a whole new way of thinking—about my relationships, and about God. Here’s a list of six non-fiction books that influenced me on a core level.
Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
In the late 90s, it seemed like Boundaries was the “it” book to host studies and seminars around. I attended two of those. Read it twice. Did the workbook. Listened to the audio tapes (not a misprint, tapes) while driving and while sleeping—because we all know that listening to something in our sleep cements it into our subconscious (and gives one wicked funny dreams).
Strange, but true, growing up, I didn’t know how to assert myself or make the choices that I really wanted for myself. Not until I learned about boundaries from Cloud and Townsend did I understand that I could say “no” to requests people made of me for my time or talents. When I learned about boundaries, I learned more about what I really wanted to include in life and what I wanted to exclude.
What Smart Women Know by Steven Carter and Julia Sokol
Prior to Boundaries, because I didn’t know what I wanted my life to include, I also didn’t know the type of relationships I wanted in my life. I had the fantasy Disney picture in my head, but I at least knew it wasn’t realistic. Although I witnessed healthy dating and marriage relationships, I didn’t pick up on the “how” of what made them work well. You can imagine, I didn’t have the best dating relationships in my teens and 20s—if you don’t know who you are, it’s hard to find the one you want.
What Smart Women Know was the first book that taught me what to look for in a life partner, and it taught me how to respect myself and ask for what I wanted in relationships. I’ve often recommended this book to young women struggling through dating relationships.
The Dance of Intimacy by Harriet Lerner
Communication is key, as they say, and this book single-handedly transformed how I understood and communicated with my parents—as an adult.
Through college, much of my communication was about “filling in the blanks” with my parents. Because none of our communication with each other was clear, we were left to assume feelings, meanings and requests—often getting those assumptions wrong and creating chaos.
The Dance of Intimacy gave me tools for listening and communicating that opened up my relationship with my parents and took us to a more fulfilling relationship of trust and understanding.
Stop Treating Symptoms and Start Resolving Trauma by Denice Adcock Colson
Unfortunately, it’s often too easy to accumulate traumas—big and small—over a lifetime. And traumas can fall across a broad scale—from sexual or physical abuse to the loss of a loved one to hurtful words that created a wound. And because of the traumas we experience in life, we teach ourselves to deal with it through survival responses.
Stop Treating Symptoms and Start Resolving Trauma describes and explains a method of processing, through professional guided counseling, a means to untangle the feelings, expectations, and wounds associated with trauma, thereby disabling the use and need of survival responses. In this list of books, there has been none more impactful on my life.
You may have read my previous post about the loss of my brother—a major trauma for me and my family. During the early years after Tim’s death, there were many behaviors and attitudes I created—consciously and subconsciously—to help ease the pain, or ease my parent’s pain, or to make sense of his death internally. These survival responses colored my relationships and bled over into unrelated situations. When I read this book, and went to a counselor trained in this method, I felt as though I was finally becoming myself. Through the tools of trauma resolution therapy, I became better equipped to respond in times of chaos and to align my perceptions appropriately with traumas, big and small, that occur.
Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning
Reading Abba’s Child enlightened me to the reality of the unyielding love God has for me. Through Manning’s writing, I came to understand that I could fully express myself with God, and accept my role as His child. This additional perspective of God as a loving Father reshaped my relationship and communication with Him and took me to a deeper level of love and adoration toward God.
Walking with God by John Eldredge
God and I have been talking with each other ever since I was a kid. I’d walk around the horse pasture and talk to God about issues with friends, homework, toys, parents, brothers, even grandparents.
Walking with God, opened up a deeper, richer prayer life of communing with God—hearing Him, acting on His instruction and overcoming spiritual warfare.
Got any good books that helped shape you? Share them in the comments!