It’s that time of year again! As in years past, here are the books that most changed how I live, not merely what I think.

  • Mindsight (Daniel Siegel). Psychiatrist Daniel Siegel describes the cognitive-behavioral techniques he developed across his career – together with their neurological basis – to help people develop the critical life skill of metacognition: thinking about our thinking. What he wrote was so impactful for me as he drew together and systematized what I had been reading in various counseling, educational, and contemplative sources. Not an explicitly Christian approach, but a powerful one for self- and other-awareness.
  • Acedia & me (Kathleen Norris). I have wrestled for years with acedia, a Greek word translated variously as ennui, listlessness or despondency. Author and poet Norris does a wonderful job of explaining the phenomenon and its cure (embracing routine) by drawing on many writers in the Christian tradition and sharing of her own struggle with it throughout her life.
  • Prayer (Ole Hallesby). I re-read this classic on prayer this year and it has only gotten better. Written in 1920, this simple book on prayer takes away a lot of the anxiety that surrounds it. We make it harder than it has to be, Hallesby insists, and then describes a simple way of praying that consists simply of bringing the situations in our lives and others where we feel helpless and leaving them at the feet of Jesus. No need to work up feelings of love or “faith” within ourselves, nor any need to convince God to do what you want. His approach was so freeing, and I was left with the sense that, “I could do that!” One of the only books I’ve read on prayer where I actually pray more for having read it.
  • Prayer: The Cry for the Kingdom (Stanley Grenz). Another prayer book that impact how I actually pray, this is more theological while still having a goof practical focus. Grenz addresses some classic questions on prayer like how prayer works, what praying “according to God’s will” means, and how to do it. He helped me a lot with the puzzle of importunate prayer: why does Jesus teach us to be persistent in prayer if the Father knows what we need and desires to give us good things?
  • Teaching Discernment (Timothy Gallagher). Written by a Jesuit scholar and teacher of the principles of the discernment of spirits developed by Ignatius of Loyola. This book not only gave me insight into how to tell whether my inner promptings are from God or the Enemy, but also how he teaches these principles to others. Since his teaching method is easily adapted to any other spiritual classic, this was both personally helpful as well as professionally.
    • His book on Ignatius’s second set of discernment principles, Spiritual Consolation, is a great companion volume, too.