Readers looking for guidance to work through a problem will find a lot of options at the bookstore. There are dozens of self-help books on every imaginable topic, from every point of view, and from many kinds of publishers. Problems with relationships, work, health, marriage, and parenting—these and other issues are tackled in books that promise practical solutions and self-improvement.
Religion and spirituality publishers bring the added dimension of faith to self-help. Christian publishers in particular generate many such books, which at evangelical houses are often categorized as “Christian living” instead of self-help, though the terms are not synonymous.
“Because these books are looking at practical life issues and challenges through a lens of faith, we do often think of them as part of ‘Christian living,’ especially if the author is a pastor, Bible teacher, or ministry leader who draws from scripture,” says Jennifer Leep, executive v-p of trade publishing for the Baker Books and Revell imprints at Baker Publishing Group. “But if the author is a licensed counselor or psychologist who is drawing from their clinical experience to address a topic such as grief, abuse, or mental health issues, we will more often refer to those as self-help.” Some books straddle those genres and carry both BISACs, like Revell’s Healing Well and Living Free from an Abusive Relationship: From Victim to Survivor to Overcomer by Ramona Probasco (June), which draws on her experiences both as a therapist and a survivor of abuse.
Running the Race
Publishers say most self-help and Christian living books are bought by women, and one notable topic this year is burnout. In Not the Boss of Us: Putting Overwhelmed in Its Place in a Do-All, Be-All World (Revell, Aug.), Kay Wyma speaks to women who feel buried under their to-do lists and exhausted by competing demands. Wyma—a former White House staffer in the George H.W. Bush administration, international banker, and entrepreneur, as well as a mother of five—turns to the Bible for help. “Rather than wait until Overwhelmed’s fires are blazing, why not take practical steps today and practice drowning out life’s pressures so that we will already be accustomed to saying no when the heat rises?” Wyma writes. “We need to let our actions act like a cool drink of water so that we’re fully hydrated—constantly being overwhelmed by Truth rather than caving to overwhelming issues of the world.”
Harvest House also publishes many self-help and Christian living titles, though president Bob Hawkins thinks “a more precise and meaningful categorization for these practical and focused books is ‘personal growth.’ This moniker is a much better and more accurate way to describe where these books fit, because each title brings clarity to and answers for significant needs Christians face.” For example, Holy Hustle by Crystal Stine (Harvest House, June) encourages women to work hard and rest well but remain focused on their faith to maintain equilibrium.
Tyndale has several 2018 books on overcoming (or preventing) burnout. The Struggle Is Real: Getting Better at Life, Stronger in Faith, and Free from the Stuff Keeping You Stuck by Nicole Unice (Tyndale Momentum, Aug.) tackles the guilt and feelings of failure women experience when they can’t do it all. Jennifer Dukes Lee (The Love Dare) thought she was letting go and letting God help her—but in It’s All Under Control (Tyndale Momentum, Sept.) she confesses to trying to tame the chaos on her own, then feeling guilty as a committed Christian for not relying on God. And Ellen Miller’s Spread Too Thin: Opting Out of Frantic Living. Opting In to Lasting Peace (Tyndale Momentum, out now) offers a 90-day devotional for women who want to rebalance their obligations and find peace with Jesus.
Never Enough Time: A Practical and Spiritual Guide by Donna Schaper (Rowman & Littlefield, out now), senior minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City and author of Sabbath Keeping, suggests women approach “time famine” by rearranging their priorities and changing the way they think, even if they can’t change their circumstances.
You Really Like Me?
Self-esteem is an issue for those women who are conditioned to seek approval and be liked by everyone. Like Me or Not: Overcoming Approval Addiction by Dawn Owens (Worthy, May) urges women to break free of pleasing others. In the same vein is Am I Enough?: Embracing the Truth About Who You Are by Grace Valentine (W, July), which addresses hunger for approval, concluding that, while many women feel unable to do enough or be enough, God embraces them just as they are: “When we die and meet our Creator, He will not ask how many likes we got on our selfies or how many guys asked us out because we were hot,” Valentine writes. “God will look at how we believed, loved, and lived.” Her message seems to have struck a chord, as her blog—The Enough Movement—has garnered more than five million views since 2016, four million of which are from the past year.
Catholic presses publish self-help titles too, like Go Bravely: Becoming the Woman You Were Created to Be by Emily Wilson Hussem (Ave Maria, out now). Hussem—an author and musician who speaks at women’s conferences and young adult events—addresses insecurity, the search for authentic relationships, and learning to forgive others and ourselves alike. Hussem argues that seeking perfection can cause conflict between women: “Treating womanhood as a competition burdens us.... This unhealthy spirit of competition is a major root cause of why we as women can be very unkind to one another,” she writes. “[We] compare ourselves with the other women around us and often end up feeling as though we don’t measure up, which causes insecurity in our hearts, and that insecurity drives us to tear down other women through unkind thoughts, words, and actions.”
In Unafraid (Barbour, July), Carey Scott writes that women can find in faith the confidence to be themselves and to not seek perfection, compare themselves to others, or try to live up to impossible standards. It’s Okay Not to Be Okay: Moving Forward One Day at a Time by Sheila Walsh (Baker Books, Oct.) reassures Christian women who feel they should not be struggling because they have been taught that with enough faith God will fix everything. “Life rarely offers quick fixes,” Walsh writes. “It’s a process, and God is in it with us, all the way. He doesn’t look for perfection in us; He sees that in Christ. You don’t need to be okay because Jesus.... [has] covered our ‘not okay-ness.’”
A Few Good Men
Men are not left out of the audience for Christian self-help. The #MeToo movement has illuminated the need for male allies in the fight for women’s autonomy and liberation, such as California pastor Kenny Luck, whose Every Man Ministries aims to foster an activist faith in men—especially millennial men. Dangerous Good: The Coming Revolution of Men Who Care (NavPress, July) is Luck’s call for men to leave the sidelines and be “dangerously good” in Christ.
Lies Men Believe and the Truth that Sets Them Free by Robert Wolgemuth (Moody, Sept.) cites four wrongheaded beliefs that hold men back, including: entertainment will satisfy me, good intentions are the same as good actions, my children will rebel if I discipline them, and I’m measured in comparison to other men. Wolgemuth directs Christian men toward the scriptures for the truth.
Jason Cruise focuses on the next generation of Christian men with In the Thick of It (Barbour, Sept.), offering a plan for raising boys to become men of faith and conviction in a culture that is not friendly to either. In the same vein is God’s Challenge for Dads (Skyhorse, May), a devotional for men by youth and college pastor Eric R. Ballard. Using men from the Bible as models, Ballard encourages fathers to build stronger relationships at home, at work, and in their communities as they lead their sons to adulthood.
The Way Forward
After the problems have been defined and addressed, what’s next? How do readers bring about lasting change in their lives? One method is suggested in God, Improv, and the Art of Living by MaryAnn McKibben Dana (Eerdmans, May), who applies the principle from improvisational theater of “yes, and...”—embracing whatever life brings and transforming it into a new story. “We are all improvisers whether we realize it or not,” McKibben Dana, a pastor and improv aficionado, writes. “We improvise... when life surprises us. We do it without even thinking about it.” McKibben Dana wants readers to stay nimble and poised to create something new.
Breaking down the solutions to complex problems into numbered steps is a time-honored feature of self-help books; the number seven seems popular this year. In Didn’t See it Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences (WaterBrook, Sept.), Carey Nieuwhof warns readers they will encounter obstacles like cynicism, compromise, disconnectedness, irrelevance, pride, burnout, and emptiness and provides tools to overcome them in the context of faith.
Choosing the Extraordinary Life: God’s 7 Secrets for Success and Significance by Robert Jeffress (Baker, Sept.) offers tips on discovering purpose, influencing culture, waiting on God’s timing, and unleashing the power of prayer. Jeffress is a mega-church pastor, Fox News contributor, and radio and television host whose stances on cultural issues have caught the attention of CBS This Morning, Fox & Friends, Good Morning America, and Hardball with Chris Matthews.
When life knocks you down, let God help you back up. That’s the message for women and men alike in Your Comeback by Tony Evans (Harvest House, May). Evans—a pastor, activist, and chaplain of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks—offers inspiration for those who suffer setbacks. Evans writes of his battle to overcome stuttering: “I wouldn’t give up even though the circumstances were lined up against me. I was tempted to let go of my dream, but instead I held on to God.... Look to Him always, honor Him first, and then watch Him blow your mind.”
For Catholic readers, books meant to foster spiritual and emotional growth include The Courage to Be Happy, a collection of Pope Francis’s writings edited by Robert Ellsberg (Orbis, out now). The pope exhorts teens and young adults to find happiness in faith and activism: “Dear young people, you have it in you to shout.... It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders—so often corrupt—keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out? Please, make that choice, before the stones themselves cry out.”
Happiness also is the theme of Rethink Happiness: Dare to Embrace God and Experience True Joy (Ave Maria, out now), in which author Paul George urges Catholics to find meaning and purpose in God instead of in the shallow preoccupations of the modern world. “This book isn’t a 12-step guide to happiness or a quick fix for life’s problems,” George writes. “It is meant to be your companion as you tackle some of the most important questions you’ll ever ask yourself—as you begin to rethink what really matters to you.” Catholic press Loyola also wants readers to Make Today Matter (May); author Chris Lowney—a former Jesuit and managing director at J.P. Morgan—offers 10 ways to set and achieve godly goals.
Finally, for a Jewish take on wisdom to live by, Beyond the Instant by Rabbi Mark Wildes (Skyhorse, Sept.) encourages millennials to embrace faith, reject a life defined by instant gratification, and examine what the Torah can teach them about their daily concerns. “Too many of us have relegated the wisdom of our religious faith to the past and locked it away,” he writes. “I have spent the last twenty years reconnecting young men and women to the teachings of the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish Sages because I believe these works provide timeless... wisdom which brings about happiness beyond the instant.”