Women are writing directly to other women about experiences relating to trauma, sexuality, shame, low self-esteem, and more in new religion and spirituality books. These titles are part of a growing movement to end the silence on issues that have long been prohibited or frowned upon in faith circles as well as in American society, according to Lucy Carroll, an editor at Watkins Publishing.
“We are seeing increasing attention being paid to women’s health, particularly from a feminist perspective,” she says, “but there is still a lot of work to be done within more taboo areas that people are reluctant to speak about.” Get Your Mojo Back: Sex, Pleasure, and Intimacy After Birth (Watkins, Jan. 2023), for instance, takes “a bold approach to an important experience that is rarely talked about: sex after childbirth,” Carroll says.
The book features personal stories as well as insights from experts, including an obstetrician-gynecologist as well as a perinatal mental health psychologist, in an effort to help women improve their sex lives after having children. “Just because something is common, like sexual dysfunction after birth, should not make it ‘normal,’ ” Carroll adds. “By opening up this conversation and talking to each other about our experiences, we can make positive steps towards better intimacy and sex.”
More books on sex
A slew of additional titles on the topic of sex explore the link between female sexuality and spirituality. Sensual Faith: The Art of Coming Home to Your Body (Convergent, Mar. 2023) by Lyvonne Briggs, a body and sex-positive womanist preacher based in New Orleans, introduces a practice of spiritual wellness that centers on celebrating one’s body. The book focuses on ancient African spiritual traditions in which the body is treated as one’s home, as Briggs explores a decolonized approach to Christianity.
“Growing up in church, many of us learned that our body ‘is the temple of the Holy Ghost,’ ” Briggs writes. “This trope compelled us to believe that we needed to be ‘pure’ in order to prove our commitment to our faith. However, religious institutions have failed to provide Black women with a safe space to explore our earthly body-temples. We are spiritual beings experiencing a physical existence and it’s time we start acting like it.”
Porscha Burke, director of strategic partnerships and senior editor for Random House, says Briggs will help readers create healing bonds as they learn to see “our bodies as temples of The One who made us and said we are good,” she says, quoting from the book, adding that it also explores “ways we can honor God through connecting lovingly, sensually with others.”
There have been countless faith-based books written for men about pornography addiction, but Love in Recovery: One Woman’s Story of Breaking Free from Shame and Healing from Pornography Addiction by Rachael Killackey (Ave Maria, Apr. 2023) is one of two forthcoming titles on the topic specifically geared toward women. Killackey—who founded Magdala Ministries, an organization that helps women heal from sexual addiction—draws on personal experiences as well as her work as a Christian counselor in the book.
“So often, freedom begins simply in hearing a story that sounds like ours,” Killackey writes. “Isolation feeds addictions; communion starves them. I desperately needed a woman to share their story when I was a teenager and young adult—a story that sounded like the one I kept silent for too long. In this book, I’m offering you a story, whether or not you need it like I did.”
In Quenched: Discovering God’s Abundant Grace for Women Struggling with Pornography and Sexual Shame, due from Baker in January 2023, Jessica Harris, a writer and speaker on pornography addiction, brings her struggles to light while assuring readers of the grace, freedom, and forgiveness available in God, according to Baker acquisitions editor Patnacia Goodman.“Instead of perpetuating a shame-based message to women, who often suffer in isolation,” Goodman says, “Jessica offers a grace-filled call for women to re-center their desires in God’s unconditional love.”
Hazards of motherhood
Motherhood is an evergreen topic for religion publishers, but a new group of titles for women are taking a grittier, unflinching look at the challenges of mothering. So God Made a Mother: Tender, Proud, Strong, Faithful, Known, Beautiful, Worthy, and Unforgettable—Just Like You by Leslie Means, founder of the website Her View From Home, features stories depicting the joys and heartaches that come with raising children. The book, due from Tyndale in April 2023, is for all mothers—those with young children, empty nesters, grandmothers, or those with complicated mother-daughter relationships, according to Tyndale Books v-p and publisher Sarah Atkinson and senior acquisitions editor Kara Leonino.
“Leslie has written beautifully and vulnerably from her own experience as a mother and a daughter, and has thoughtfully and intentionally curated a collection of essays from moms of all ages and stages,” Atkinson says.
Leonino adds, “No matter what your story, you will find yourself somewhere within these pages.”
Ashlee Gadd, founder of Coffee + Crumbs, an online community for mothers, acknowledges the lack of time mothers have while encouraging them let go of guilt and prioritize their God-given creative dreams in Create Anyway: The Joy of Pursuing Creativity in the Margins of Motherhood (Bethany House, Mar. 2023). Also addressing the guilt mothers often feel, Remaining You While Raising Them (Zondervan, Aug. 2023), by bestselling author and podcaster Alli Worthington debunks myths surrounding motherhood “that have been stealing their happiness as moms,” according to the publisher.
God Is Still Good: Gospel Hope and Comfort for the Unexpected Sorrows of Motherhood (Crossway, Jan. 2023), by mother of five Katie Faris, examines the trials of parenting, such as feelings of loneliness or being overwhelmed, complicated births, illness, and more. “In this book I hope you hear the validation of your pain,” Faris writes. “Through his word, God offers real hope and comfort even for the most heart-wrenching parts of motherhood.”
Coming alongside books about motherhood, Women Without Kids: The Revolutionary Rise of an Unsung Sisterhood by Ruby Warrington (Sounds True, Mar. 2023) is a rare exploration of the choice against having children. And reflecting on her own life as well as the lives of women from history who also did not have children, Unexpected Abundance: The Fruitful Lives of Women without Children, by Episcopal priest Elizabeth Felicetti, discusses how childless women are vital to communities. (For our q&a with Felicetti, see “Finding Gifts in a Childless Life”.)
The power of testimony
Also among new titles geared toward women are memoirs, Christian living books, self-help guides, and even a devotional, all centering trauma, healing, crises, and uncertainty—issues that are especially relevant to readers today, according to Stephanie C. Newton, associate publisher at the W Publishing Group. “Whether by our own choices, or circumstances out of our control, we will have moments where we feel like we’ve been punched out, dragged down, or flat out knocked out—maybe now more than ever after the past few years,” she says. “What do we do in those situations?”
W is publishing two books on the importance of perseverance despite pain and unforeseen obstacles: Why Am I Like This? How to Break Cycles, Heal from Trauma, and Restore Your Faith (Apr. 2023), by licensed trauma therapist and Christian counselor Kobe Campbell, and Grit Don’t Quit: Developing Resilience and Faith When Giving Up Isn’t an Option (Aug. 2023), by Bible teacher and church planter Bianca Juárez Olthoff. Both titles highlight the encouragement that can come from faith and Christian teachings when faced with life’s hardships. “While tactics can be learned to foster grit and tenacity, Christians have an added element in their corner,” Newton says. “No matter how many times we fall, the power comes when we get back up.”
Anh Lin, who combines teachings on scripture with DIY interior design makeovers on her blog Girl and the Word and its corresponding YouTube channel, recalls the trauma she experienced early in life and how she went on to create what she calls a “safe house” in her debut book, Forever Home. It weaves together DIY ideas for creating a peaceful place for mind and body with biblical wisdom for how to “move on from difficult past experiences as well as fears about the future,” according Zondervan, which will publish the book in September 2023.
The message in Forever Home is “meaningful and life-changing” amid a high level of fear and anxiousness today, says Zondervan executive editor Carolyn McCready. “We have just recently come through—and are probably still in—one of the most stressful, anxiety-producing times our world has experienced in recent history. Lin helps you create the beauty and calm you crave, and she also ushers you into a relationship with a loving God.”
Cindy Bunch, IVP’s divisional v-p of editorial and associate publisher for trade books, says that women offer each other a listening ear, and in telling their stories, important lessons can be revealed. “We love to share stories of our personal experience and learn from each other,” she notes. “In turbulent times we need both friends and mentors. Books can serve us like a wise spiritual director sitting across the table with a copy, listening, asking questions, and offering a bit of guidance.”
Out now, IVP’s Hold That Thought: Sorting Through the Voices in Our Heads, by women’s life coach and spiritual director Gem Fadling, lays out steps for quieting harmful inner narratives in order to hear the voice of God, according to the publisher.
Written in the midst of the author’s struggle with chronic pain and cancer, Incurable Faith by Andrea Herzer features 120 devotions dedicated to others who are enduring medical challenges. Incorporating scripture, spiritual exercises, and suggested worship music, the book works to validate readers’ suffering while offering hope for the future. The devotions are grouped by length, with short entries intended for times when health issues limit concentration and attention, medium-length entries for more energetic days, and long entries “for the extra comfort of an extended quiet time,” according to Multnomah, which will publish the book in June 2023.
And for anyone going through a hard time, Radiant Rainbows: Messages of Hope, Healing, and Comfort by Jessica Swift, due from Gibbs Smith in March 2023, features colorful paintings alongside prayers, mantras, and affirmations that touch on topics such as intuition, courage, resilience, and acceptance. The artwork and writings were inspired by the love, generosity, and support the author received from others following the death of her husband. Intended as a gift for loved ones, the book, Gibbs Smith says, aims to add “some hope and beauty to the world and help people feel a little less alone.”