For most of us, this is going to be the summer of fun. Road trips to see friends you haven’t seen in a year. Rescheduling that flight you booked. Or maybe just seeing an actual movie in an actual movie theater every Friday from now until Christmas. 2020 was the summer of staying indoors, cautious and quiet. 2021 is all about getting out there and reconnecting your fully vaccinated self with the world around you. You’ve read enough books over the past 14 months to last you a lifetime. Right?
Well, not quite. For one thing, just about everything you’re looking forward to about that post-quarantine lifestyle can be improved by reading, whether you’re flying to the beach, jogging on the treadmill or sitting shotgun on a trip to the mountains. Your brain is a muscle, and reading is cardio, so don’t be afraid to let the book bug that bit you during lockdown become part of your new normal. You won’t regret it.
For another thing, a whole host of authors are releasing a ton of great new books this year. Some of these are already your favorite writers. Some are about to be. And all of them have work that’s well worth your time and attention. We at RELEVANT put our heads together and found the books we’re most excited about this year. There should be something for just about everyone. Your summer of fun awaits …and that fun includes some great reading.
For Growing in Your Faith
When We Stand: Seeking the Power of Justice Together by Terence Lester
Why isn’t the Church making a bigger impact? In this book, Lester has a compelling answer: We’re just not close enough to the problem. When We Stand is an argument for proximity — moving physically closer to people in need to stand (literally, when necessary) in solidarity with them.
What If Jesus Was Serious …About Prayer? by Skye Jethani
For the next book in Jethani’s ongoing series about taking Jesus seriously, prayer gets a serious evaluation that might just transform not only the way you pray, but also the way you think about God.
It’s Not Your Turn: What to Do While You’re Waiting for Your Breakthrough by Heather Thompson Day
Sometimes God gives a green light. Sometimes a red one. But what do we do with the yellow ones, when we feel like we’re in a holding pattern? This book is about a journey to patience and ultimately, contentment.
The title for Passion City Church pastor Louie Giglio’s provocative new title came from a friend. Giglio says he was being “petty” and seeking vindication for a perceived sleight when his friend stopped him in his tracks with a text message that would become the book title. “I realized I’ve just let the enemy come and sit down at my table, and I needed to take control of my table,” he says. “This is the enemy putting these thoughts in my head, and I’m not going to give him a seat at my table.” He told RELEVANT that this was the beginning of an experience that led him to surrender his thought life to God. Now, in his new book, he’s ready to share how he did it.
What do you mean by “the enemy” specifically? How do we know what thoughts are from the enemy versus what aren’t?
We’re talking about the capital E “Enemy” in this book. The text I got connected to was Psalm 23: “I prepare a table for you in the presence of your enemies.” God is offering me the opportunity to have this intimacy with Him in the middle of the conflict, but the enemy can get into our minds so quickly.
And how do you know the thoughts are from the enemy? The ones that aren’t what Paul writes about in Philippians 4 are not from God. The thing that struck me when I got into this [book] was when you start hosting those thoughts, you’re actually in a conversation. You’ve let him sit down at your table. Psalm 23 says for us to be at that table with our shepherd.
We don’t want to be negative people. Why is it so hard for us to say no to that?
I think, deep in our fallen nature, we are not prone to the positive. I’m a new creation in Christ, but that new creation is residing in flesh. If given the chance to either speak positively or negatively about something, more often than not, we choose the negative route. That’s when the enemy slides in.
He’s not going to say, “Hey, I’m going to wreck your life.” He just says, “Man, things at work are tough.” Before you know it, you’ve spent about a half an hour in your mind thinking about how hard things at work are.
It’s a lot of work, a lot of retraining the way we think. What’s on the other side of all of this?
Doing what God created us to do. The average human being spends an inordinate amount of life wasting mental energy on negative thoughts when they were created to use that same mental energy to create something positive for the world. On the other side of getting the enemy away from your table is sleep, peace, rest and the creativity that God put you on planet earth to be a part of.
For a Great Story
When a megachurch pastor’s affair is exposed, it sends his two daughters into spiritual and relational turmoil, grappling with the foundations of their belief in God, their commitment to their ideals and their love for their family. The older sister, Abigail, fights to hold on to her faith. The younger one, Caroline, isn’t so sure.
The story is fictional, but far too familiar to many who were raised in the church. That includes the author, first-time novelist and Deadspin alum Kelsey McKinney, who herself grew up in church. She says she hopes her novel helps expose the complicated process of re-evaluating what you thought you knew about God when your spiritual heroes let you down.
“I wanted to write a book for people like me: people who grew up with a faith wrapped around them until they were mummified inside of it, and who one day cut themselves out of it and were left standing, free but insecure, unable to feel so snug and safe again. I wanted to write a book that acknowledges what a beautiful, cathartic, and communal thing a faith community could be while refusing to ignore the problems that can grow in those communities.
God Spare the Girls is a story about two sisters who know the evangelical church for all its failures and triumphs and who are disproportionately affected by them. It is a story about sisterhood, and trying to figure out who you are, and sexuality. But at its core it is a story about the pain of questioning where you come from. It’s a book I wish I had been able to read, and that I hope can be a balm, or at least a reassuring shoulder squeeze for others.”
More Great Novels Releasing This Year:
No One Is Talking About This: Patricia Lockwood
It’s hard to tell a good story about social media without succumbing to “kids these days” type cringe, but Lockwood has pulled it off with No One Is Talking About This, which chronicles one woman’s ascent (or is it descent?) into social media stardom.
Fake Accounts: Lauren Oyler
A woman discovers that her boyfriend is the leader of an online fringe conspiracy group and things get rapidly worse from there in this very funny and observant novel from Oyler, who keenly understands the way that something doesn’t have to be true for it to shape who we are.
The Committed: Viet Thanh Nguyen
Fresh off his Pulitzer Prize winning The Sympathizer, Nguyen’s new novel is set in 1980s Paris, where two friends grapple with new ideas, old habits and dishonest lines of work. More than anything, The Committed is about the way modern culture can tear friendships apart, and what it takes to cross that distance.
For Your Mental Health
Dr. Peace Amadi is a pastor’s kid who became a mental health expert, and realized the gulf between those two worlds was larger than it needed to be. Today, she’s trying to bridge the gap between psychology and spirituality — equipping people of faith to navigate their emotional health with modern tools. In her first book, she lays out practical tools for understanding the way you’re feeling and dealing with it effectively.
What sort of gaps have you found between the Church and modern psychology?
One example is anxiety, which is something that I have struggled with personally. I have a pretty solid understanding of where it comes from, being a trained clinical psychologist. But the talk around my anxiety was like, “Well, just pray. If you pray enough, God’ll take all that anxiety away.”
And as ideal and beautiful as that sounds, the reality of the situation is, when you’re really struggling with anxiety, you need tools and support to come alongside you and help you through that journey.
I was finding that the more that I leaned on my faith community, the less I really knew what to do besides get on my knees and ask God to take it away. And the more I leaned into my psychology side, I realized it didn’t have to be this hard for so long. God isn’t insecure. I can lean into these resources. I can lean into the science. I can lean into people who look at this from different points of view and embrace all that without takinh anything away from the fact that God is my healer. God is going to work through these methods as well.
Whenever Christians start talking about turning to any subject outside of the Church for help, what you hear is, “Well, you don’t think God is sufficient?” How would you answer that?
I would say, “Yes, God is sufficient. But how does God work?” I always go back to physical health, for some reason, people understand that a little bit more. Your loved one has symptoms, you take them in and find out they have cancer. What do you do? You start looking for the best doctor and you pray. You start praying that God will show you to the best doctor. You start researching, how can this person heal? “God, help me figure this out.” It all works together. It’s not either/or.
God is our ultimate healer. God has also put us in this situation and designed it so that we can lean on each other’s support, expertise, schooling, everything. That’s just how He built it. He’s sufficient, because He’s so creative with how many things He’s given us to get the help and support we need.
More Great Mental Health Books:
Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints Who Struggled With Depression and Doubt: Diana Gruver
A compelling read that takes a look at the emotional lives of Christian icons like Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. The more we understand the ways these spiritual giants wrestled with their own mental health demons, the better we can understand our own.
Learning to Be: Finding Your Center After the Bottom Falls Out: Juanita Campbell Rasmus
One of the hardest parts of dealing with severe depression episodes is feeling like nobody understands what you’re going through. As an author and pastor, Juanita Campbell Rasmus is familiar with that pain, and her book does an excellent job of helping people navigate their darkest days without ever patronizing them or offering simplistic answers.
Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep: Tish Harrison-Warren
A reflective, beautifully written book for anyone who’s ever felt like God is just too remote for prayer to do any good. Few writers understand that struggle better than Tish Harrison-Warren, and few are better equipped to help others overcome it.