In the past year, the congregation I serve has welcomed some new disciples who had recently left the local mega church(es). I worry about sheep stealing, but I also accept that 515ho2vwhtl-_sx322_bo1204203200_sometimes a new church home is what is needed for spiritual and emotional health and growth. One of these couples referred to themselves as “spiritual refugees”- unable to return to the church home they’d known and trying to deal with having had it fall down around them.

Spiritual Sobriety: Stumbling Back to Faith When Good Religion Goes Bad is a slim manual for processing one’s bad habits around religion and religious practice. Elizabeth Esther has written a book combining her own research and experience with notes from psychologists and social science researchers on how spiritual highs can become as addicting as the highs one could attain from other substances or habits. Her light touch with scripture and application of spiritual disciplines allows a person with religious addiction to slowly begin to see themselves and to wrestle with what spiritual sobriety would look like.

The implication of the book is not that sobriety would look like a life without religion, but that it would be a spirituality judiciously and soberly applied. Rather than a frenetic search for God’s approval, often confused or conflated with having the approval of other Christians or Christian leaders, sober religion would be content with slow movement, simple prayers, and a matching of service and quiet to the amount of time spent in worship. Each chapter concludes with journaling or group question prompts.

This is not a memoir like Rachel Held Evans’s or Lauren Winner’s work. Nor is this as heady as something by Barbara Brown Taylor or Lillian Daniel. This book is for the person who has spent most of his/her/their life in a fairly to very strict religious upbringing. This is for the person who needed some structure in healing from painful church or religious experiences. This is for the person who has always been churchy because that defined “goodness” and now needs help to be honest with themselves and with God.

While the majority of people reading this review may not feel that the book is for you (and you may be right), I would recommend keeping the name in the back of your mind. As religion continues to be misused in the public square, you find yourself welcoming spiritual refugees and having the right toolkit for their healing will be necessary. I believe I will be contacting a few people in the congregation I serve to see if they’d like to read and talk about this.


The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit. 

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