In the past two years, through the loss of our first two daughters, I have devoured over 20 books on a variety of topics mostly connected to grief and suffering. Many have asked me what has been helpful and I wanted to share with you the top books I would recommend for anyone walking through loss or suffering of any kind (or those who simply want to understand it more… we have felt incredibly loved by family and friends who have picked up some of these books to try to better understand what we are walking through). This is in no way a comprehensive list and there are many books on my list to read that I simply haven’t read yet. That said, I only offer to you the books that I have actually read that have been helpful to me. I’ve included a list and then divided them into categories that could be helpful as well as included a few of my insights on the book and why I believe it fits on this list!*
*Please read my disclaimer at the bottom if you are considering sending any of these to a friend!
And for the one who is grieving, I read these books over the course of the past two years in different seasons of my grief. Some I began to read and had to put down for a while, some I wish I had earlier, some haven’t been helpful at all (which is why I didn’t include those!). Every person grieves differently. My prayer is that God would lead you to the right one for the season that you are in now. If you would like to contact me personally and get a suggestion for yourself or a friend… please feel free, I can’t promise I’ll be helpful but I’d sure love to try!
*If you’re not a reader, or simply enjoy listening to sermons, here are two sermon series I would HIGHLY recommend (or you could always get the books above on audio)
When Suffering Enters Your Door by Paul Tripp: A 4 part series that is both authentic, honest, funny and challenging. I heard Paul Tripp do this series just a few months ago and it was both timely and gave me Biblical tools to better understand our suffering in light of God’s kingdom. You can download as an Mp3 or Mp4 or order the DVD or CD Series.
Sermons in Job: The Gospel of Suffering Series by Pastor Tullian Tchividjian. I have begun to study the book of Job and listen to this series and it is challenging my view of suffering in light of the gospel. It is a 12 part sermon series but it is well worth your time, even if you only listen to his introduction sermon!
MY TOP 21 BOOKS BROKEN DOWN:
Getting in God’s Word (even when it’s hard)
This may seem obvious or it may not, but here is the thing of all the books I’m going to suggest for you, God’s word is the only one that holds words of LIFE, words that have POWER, and words that never return VOID. No matter how hard it is to open God’s word, no matter how dry it feels or how much you disbelieve every sentence that you read… IT’S DOING SOMETHING IN YOU. I promise. I’ve seen it in my own life. The past two years have been a roller coaster for me in God’s word. It has been incredibly dry at times and then full of life at other times. Sometimes His word has been like salt on a wound and other times like balm to my soul. Regardless, I know that his word is “living and active and sharper than any two edged sword able to judge the thoughts and intentions of a man’s heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) No other book on this list has words that have that kind of power. None. This is not to say that other books aren’t helpful, the are. God uses men and women to give us greater insight into Himself and ourselves. I have read a ton of books that have been extremely helpful to me on this journey (which is why I’m including them here) but the book that has had the greatest impact and left the most lasting impression is… you guessed it. His word. I’m actually a little surprised to say that as I write because the last year His word has been quite dry to me, but there you go… evidence that it’s alive and working even in seasons where it feels as though it’s not alive at all. Okay, more on that in a later post. Sometimes, in seasons where it’s hard to get the word in you, you just need a little help to even open the Bible so below are several devotionals/books of the Bible that have helped me dig in the Word and meet with Him over the past two years…
- The Psalms (found in the middle of the Old Testament): If there is a book to open up and study in a season of suffering it’s this one. As I’ve been reading the Psalms I find myself longing to be as brutally honest as the Psalmist is. So I have begun to learn, through the help of my friend David (because I’m pretty sure we’d be friends), how to grow in honesty with God and myself in this season of grief.
- A 30-day Walk With God in the Psalms by Nancy Leigh DeMoss: a guided study that helped me dig into God’s word when that has been more difficult to do on my own (as an aside, I broke many of the days up into multiple days because my mind just had a hard time digesting a lot at once… a normal experience for those in a season of grief)
- The One Year Book of Hope by Nancy Guthrie: Let’s just say these simple daily devotionals tackle the thoughts and questions every sufferer is asking, asks questions to get you to go deeper and gives additional verses to study more. For example: Week 1 is entitled “Brokenhearted”. Yes! How known do you feel that she starts there!?
- Streams in the Desert by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman: It’s a classic devotional and great for any season of life.
- 90 Days of God’s Goodness by Randy Alcorn: His perspective on heaven and eternity will challenge and encourage and is a great devotional when eternal perspective and an elevated view of God’s goodness is what you desperately need.
Am I crazy? Is what I’m feeling normal? What is normal? I don’t even know what I’m feeling? Why isn’t he or she as sad as I am? Is there hope? If you’ve found yourself asking any of these questions then… these books will/may/i hope rock your world.
(hmmm… not sure if “rock” is an appropriate word to use in this context)
- Experiencing Grief by H. Norman Wright: I just began to read this book and am surprised I hadn’t heard of it earlier. It is short, practical and addresses the reality of experiencing grief so well. And the best part is that even if you don’t like to read the chapters are each only 1-3 pages long. And it’s only $4! Whaaaat!? Just get it.
- A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis: This is basically pieces of his journal that he kept after the loss of his wife. The questions he asks and ways that he wrestles with life and what he believes have again helped me feel less crazy and shown me a little more of what it looks like to press into my grief.
- A Grace Disguised; how the soul grows through loss by Jerry Sittser: If anyone has the right to title such a book and speak on such a subject it’s Sittser. He lost his mother, wife and young daughter in a tragic car accident and uses his story to share how God’s grace transforms our sorrow. This book was the first book I read when we found out Sophie’s condition and has helped to shape the ways Kevin and I have pressed into our grief on this journey. It is still one of my favorites.
- When Your Family’s Lost a Loved One: Finding Hope Together by Nancy Guthrie: A great book for the entire family who has gone through loss on how to understand how each person is grieving, what to do about holidays etc. This has been very helpful for our parents and siblings. It’s soooo practical! It also addresses grieving as a couple… do you know that everyone grieves differently? This has helped Kevin and I give each other freedom to each be where we are at and love one another even when we don’t understand how the other is grieving (we have in no way mastered this!)
When you’re wrestling with where God is and who He is in the midst of suffering or how in the world God and suffering could possibly go together:
- Holding On to Hope: A Pathway through Suffering to the Heart of God by Nancy Guthrie: Guthrie weaves her own story of the loss of two children through taking you on a journey of discovering the heart of God in the midst of suffering. She uses the story of Job as the backdrop and includes an eight-week study on Job in the back of this book. This books is chalk full of scripture! And I could have probably put it in the above two categories too.
- Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie. Basically this book does just what it says… and it will help you know Jesus in a new and fresh way.
- Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller. I can’t say enough good things about this book. This book has radically lifted my view of suffering outside of my western American mentality. Keller lays out beautifully how to face suffering in a way that is both validating to the one in pain but challenges you in your walk with God. I so appreciated how He wrote and covered so many different aspects of suffering. This is the best and most comprehensive book on suffering that I have read and I would highly recommend it to anyone… in suffering or not.
- A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty by Joni Eareckson Tada: From the back of the book “If God can heal me, why won’t he? How do we navigate that agonizing distance between such a magificant yes and such a heartbreaking no?” Tada, a quadriplegic from a diving accident 40 years ago writes with honesty as she has wrestled with these questions herself and finds herself in a fresh season of wrestling. I read this as I was trying to wrap my mind around why God didn’t heal Sophie. It was just what I needed to read at the time from someone who had the platform to speak on such things.
When God isn’t who you thought He would be and you just need to be reminded that you’re not the only one whose thought that:
- Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith by Jon Bloom: Bloom takes 35 stories from the Bible and makes them come alive in fresh ways as he shares how men and women of old were challenged to walk in trust in the Lord regardless of what they see or their circumstances. The stories are short and insightful. An easy read.
- The Prisoner in the Third Cell “Will you follow a God who does not live up to your expectations?” By Gene Edwards. I read this book a month after our second daughter passed away and was deep in wrestling with the reality that God had not shown up like I thought He was going to, both in Dasah’s story but also in the story it seemed God was writing for our family and I didn’t like it. This book was timely and wrecked me… in a good kind of wrecking… if there is such a thing. It’s also very short, like I read it in two days short.
When it feels like sorrow and suffering just won’t leave your side:
- Hinds Feet On High Places by Hannah Hurnard: I can’t even tell you how many times I have read this book in so many seasons of life but this last year was the most poignant ever. This is a beautiful allegory of a girl named Much-afraid and her journey to the high places. It tells the story of the Shepherd leading her gently to the high places but much to her dismay, giving her the companions of sorrow and suffering. I resonated deeply with every emotion Much Afraid experienced on the journey, how she viewed the shepherd and even how she began to see love and hope blossom in her heart.
- The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom: I’m not sure what category to put this in but often in seasons of suffering I need to get my head out of my story and hear the story of another. This is a beautiful and honest story of hope and redemption and how Corrie Ten Boom’s faith grew in the midst of much suffering as her and her family helped to aid and hid Jews and eventually became a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp along with her sister.
Specific to those who have experienced infant loss:
- Safe in the Arms of God: Truth from Heaven About the Death of a Child by John MacArthur: He answers the question that all of us baby loss parent’s want to know with assurance… is my baby in heaven?
- I Will Carry You: The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy by Angie Smith: She tells the story of her daughters fatal diagnosis and choosing to carry her. For those who are in the same situation this is a beautiful and heartwrenching read. I took my time reading it through out my pregnancy with my firstborn, Sophie and couldn’t read the chapters that I had yet to experience but it was good to read a story of someone who had walked this path when I didn’t know anyone who had at the time.
- A Symphony in the Dark: Hearing God’s Voice in Seasons of Grief: by Barbara Rainey and Rebecca Mutz: Rebecca lost her daughter soon after birth. I devoured this story shortly after Sophie died and was struck by the faith of this family and the ways they pressed into the Lord in a season of great grief.
Specific to those who are carrying to term a baby not expected to live:
A Gift of Time: Continuing Your Pregnancy When Your Baby’s Life is Expected to Be Brief by Amy Kuebelbeck and Deborah L. Davis, Ph.D: I absolutely hated that I even owned a book with such a title but I have to say that this is the best and most comprehensive book on continuing your pregnancy and I would even go so far as to say every couple in this situation needs this book. It goes through everything from the emotions you’ll experience, the differences with your spouse, making medical decisions, funeral arrangements, a birth plan… I mean EVERYTHING! Very helpful guide as you go through this unchartered territory.
Bonus Children’s book:
There’s a Party in Heaven! by Gary Bower: a beautiful book for kids and adults painting a picture of heaven… get out the tissues for this one!
**There are many categories that I know I’m missing here, namely helping children deal with grief and of course books more specific to different losses. There are so many more amazing books out there and I encourage you to look for the ones that would be additionally helpful to you and your family! I will update this list as I find and read new ones!
If you are reading this list to know what to recommend to a friend please use discretion and caution. What is helpful to some is not helpful to others. Some may be offended if you send a book with a title that seems to add salt to their wounds. Unfortunately you will probably have no idea what that would be! But please don’t let that keep you from sending a book that you feel led to send. If you are unsure of how your friend may receive it or if it is a very fresh loss perhaps include a note saying something like this:
“Someone who has experienced loss recommends this book, it may not be helpful to you but I wanted you to have it in case the time came when you did want to pick up a book like this. If it’s not helpful please feel free to pass it on or burn it or do whatever would be helpful for you. I just wanted you to know I care about you in your loss.”
Now a note like that would be both disarming and potentially amusing and your friend may truly thank you for giving them freedom to use or not use it. It’s like the friends of ours who sent us their Christmas card that said “Happy Holidays” and crossed out “Happy”. Kevin and I laughed and felt so known!
So… Happy Reading! Or maybe “
Happy Reading”is more appropriate.
I pray this list serves as a great resource for you who have experienced some kind of loss or has a friend walking through loss. Ultimately, I pray that God would use these books to give you permission to grieve and serve to draw you closer to Him, that you would begin to see Him becoming more real to you as you press into your pain and discover a deeper hope and joy than you’ve ever known. At least, that’s my prayer for my husband and I and our family!