Resources For The Recovering Legalist (Or Homeschooled Kid.)

After I wrote A Letter To My 18 Year Old Self and shared a little of my ultra-sheltered, conservative upbringing, I’ve received a lot of emails asking what books I recommend reading.

So, I’m working on putting together a little resource list for each of you dear hearts. It’s by no means complete, but a core selection of reading material that helped me move out of one world into another. If you have something to add to this list, PLEASE do! Leave it in the comments.

Please, please do not let money come in between you and these books. Rent them at the library, or find them through Or carve out time in your week to go sit at Barnes & Noble and read them on the floor. That’s how I read most of them.

Waking The Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive – John Eldredge :::::: “The story of your life is the story of a long and brutal assault on your heart, by the one who knows what you could be, and fears it.” Enough said. Read it.

Sex God – by Rob Bell :::::: We never talked about sex. Ever. It was dirty, sinful, wrong. I recommend this book to every person regardless of their past or present.
Captivating – Staci Eldredge :::::: READ. I was the ugly duckling growing up. On top of wearing “homeschooler clothes,” I was gripped with devastating insecurity through middle school and high school. I read this when I was 18, and thank God I did. Girls, you are beautiful. And you were meant to be beautiful. It’s OKAY to be beautiful.

Sex & The Soul Of A Woman – Paula Rinehart :::::: Girls, this is a must-read. Even if you haven’t had sex. You are an absolute gift to man. Paula writes about sex and heart-stuff in a way that only a woman can.
Ragamuffin Gospel – Brennan Manning :::::: The gospel is simple. The church has complicated it. Get it un-complicated.
Think Differently, Live Differently – Bob Hamp :::::: This book will change the way you view absolutely everything. It’s no longer about doing more right, more good. It’s about knowing that “more right, more good” won’t get you any closer to the life Jesus created for you. It’s about living from the Tree of Life, not from the branch of Good on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
What’s So Amazing About Grace – Phillip Yancey :::::: Get this, or at least get the Visual Edition for starters. Weeks after I ran out and away from my family, I probably wouldn’t have read anything other than the super-awesome visual edition. This book showed me, for the first time, that Jesus loved me. No matter what. And that all of us were sinners, and equally dirty. No matter what.
Longing For Daddy: Healing From The Pain Of An Absent or Emotionally Distant Father – Monique Robinson :::::: I had a close relationship with my dad the majority of my life, but not so much in high school. And I haven’t had an eye-to-eye conversation with him in six years. No matter where you are in your relationship with your dad, this book helps you look at fathers (and your heart) the way God does.
Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How To Say No – Cloud & Townsend :::::: This book is important for every single person, and absolutely necessary for someone who grew up in an controlling or manipulative environment. I am a people pleaser, I can’t say no, I over-commit, & I get irrationally emotionally involved. For the first time in my life, I know it’s okay to do what I want with my life.
The Hidden Heart* – Bob Hamp :::::: The idea that “the heart is deceitful above all else” and must be ignored and smothered, is something that has been grossly mis-interpreted in a lot of conservative Christian circles. I was racked with guilt and ended up severely depressed because of it. Read Bob’s brief *blog post on how you are SUPPOSED to treat your heart.
Radical – David Platt :::::: The gospel in its simplest form. Learn to live how Jesus lived.
Homeschool Blindspots* – Reb Bradley :::::: If you are planning on homeschooling, or are homeschooling, read this *blog post. Also, if you were homeschooled, this might set you free a bit from your parents mistakes, and help you measure out grace where it is needed.
Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith From Politics – Alisa Harris :::::: If you were raised in a very political-oriented family like I was, read this.
A Tale Of Three Kings: A Study In Brokenness – Gene Edwards :::::: Very, very short book. If you’ve lost family members, moved away, or gone through any sort of grief – read it.
Redeeming Love – Francine Rivers :::::: This is a pretty hefty novel (yes! novel!) about a prostitute. This book I hid in my room when I was 17, and it pulled at my heart strings just enough to give me the courage to leave home and seek out a God who was this loving, this forgiving, of a woman He dearly treasured.

Blog Posts I’ve written on my experiences:

A New Definition Of Love
How To Deal With Pain
Letter To The Girl Without A Father
Grief, Lightning Storms, & A Broken Spirit
Jesus Will Change You
When Christianity Says You Aren’t Enough
Love Was The Plan

Very important note:
At the end of the day, no book or author is going to heal your heart. If you’re human, chances are you’ve undergone heartbreak, heartache, or trauma. On top of being born broken. There are no words better than God’s, no love closer than Jesus’s, and no friendship closer than the men and women who are called your brothers and sisters in Christ. If you’re a recovering legalist, or don’t know much about God, take a little break from the rest of the Bible and spend significant time reading just Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Get to know Jesus first. We come to God through him, and we begin to live our new created lives through him.
If you’re having trouble reconciling the love of Jesus to the harshness of God that you used to know, read Hosea, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. Learn that He has written His words on your heart, and will never forsake you or be angry with you again. Hear that He has forgotten your mistakes completely. He has bound you up your wounds in loving kindness. God has fought in your defense since the day He created you. You are safe, and He is NOT disappointed.

– – –

Were you raised in a too-conservative home? Homeschooled? Dealt with severe loss or grief? Have a past you’ve needed recovery from? Broken relationships with family?

What books do you recommend? PLEASE share them in the comments.


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  1. Kris says:

    I, too, was homeschooled. The major difference being that I consider it a positive experience and an alternative education style that can have wonderful implications. Depending on the child I think it can fulfill a lot of needs. In short, it bothers me that you included it on that list of overwhelmingly negative experiences. I understand that it is often carried out through an act of control but it need not be an isolating experience.

    Having said that, have you read Blue Like Jazz? Maybe Wild at Heart (I found this much better than Captivating)? God's Smuggler is excellent, as is The Cross and the Switchblade. I devoured those in highschool. Max Lucado also has some good writing. I don't read a lot of Christian literature but when something is recommended to me I give it a shot and am often touched in some important way. 🙂

    Thanks for your blog. Good luck in your journey and congrats on your marriage!

  2. says:

    Hi Kris!!

    Homeschooling can definitely be great. I firmly believe that it's a wonderful schooling alternative, and it can be done SO well. Unfortunately when mixed with bad theology, controlling parents, and other things that I try to not talk publicly about, it's very harmful and injuring. 🙁 I usually try to clarify that it's those extra things (and not just "the homeschooling") that I disagree with, but I left them out for brevity's sake on this particular post.

    I've read Blue Like Jazz and Wild At Heart – both excellent, excellent books. I haven't read God's Smuggler yet so I'll have to check it out! Thanks for recommending. 🙂

  3. Just me says:

    There is this whole world of books like this that I genuinely never knew existed. I was introduced to Captivating this year and it was fantastic. I echo Lauren's recommendation wholeheartedly. And I really want to read Wild At Heart too.

    There are a couple of your recommendations that I'd really like to try – in particular the Longing For Daddy and Boundaries ones. It's so exciting that there are all these resources out there to help us through different things – or even to teach us things we didn't know we needed to learn.

    Thanks for this, Lauren!

  4. The Autumn Rain says:

    Hi Lauren. I can't even remember how I stumbled across your blog anymore (via the Good Women Project, maybe? And that via someone else?). Like Kris, above, I was homeschooled and it was a great experience. But it's definitely not a one-size-fits-all solution, and I appreciate your willingness to share your journey with the rest of us. You have a beautiful heart and a great vision.

    All the best,

  5. Kathleen says:

    Captivating itself is probably the most-read book on my bookshelf and houses a whole slew of underlining, margin-notes and dog-eared pages 🙂 It's touched me in deep ways every time I've read it and I think every woman and girl needs to read it. I'm up to 15 copies bought/given away to friends and I will continue to do so 🙂

    Another book that has really touched me is The Land Between by Jeff Manion. "Welcome to the land between: where is not as it once was, where the future is in question." A woman in my church gave it to me when I had just painfully ended a long-term relationship. It's basically all about what we can learn in our journey through the "desert", using Old Testament stories and New Testament principles (ie. the Israelites having exited slavery in Egypt and en route to the Promised Land). I highly recommend it to anyone who is facing grief, big life changes, relationship breakdown, etc. Mainly anyone who is dealing with any sort of uncertainty in their life and feeling like they just don't know where to go next. It is probably one of the most hopeful and challenging books I have ever read. And it's for all of us, because who isn't, hasn't or one day will face uncertainty or "desert" periods in life?

    Just as a note: I was also homeschooled for part of my education and it was a highly positive experience for me. It gave me a lot of the self-motivation and self-learning skills that I now have which carried me to great success in university and has blessed me hugely in my career.

  6. Anonymous says:

    There is so much I could say in response to this post, but I will keep it simple.

    First, I was homeschooled, of a version similar to what you describe but for me there was an equal amount of the good and positive mixed with the not-so-healthy and negative. Through a severe bout with physical burnout God began to bring healing and restoration after I became disillusioned with the theology and gospel I had been brought up with. One of the most helpful books that I read was "The Rest of the Gospel" by Dan Stone. It helped me understand the true definition of grace and what it really means to be a Christian and helped me to put behind much of my legalistic leanings.

    A book that I am reading now (so haven't finished it yet) is "How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth" by Gordon fee and Douglas Stewart. One of the things I have learned in the past few years is that my upbringing taught me to read the Bible a certain way, which influenced my belief and faith, and after I realized that my beliefs and faith needed re-constructing I no longer knew how to read the Bible, so I didn't, much, for a long time. This book, though little on the technical side, is written for normal people who aren't studying theology, but want to have a better understanding of how to read and interpret Scripture. So far I've found it very helpful and easy to read and highly recommend it.

    Thanks for sharing and being transparent and vulnerable.

  7. Paige says:

    I highly recommend The Shack by Paul Young, and the work of Baxter Kruger, esp. his books The Great Dance, Across all Worlds, and Jesus and the Undoing of Adam. You can also find him at www. .

  8. says:

    All Is Grace by Brennan Manning. This is his latest book – a memoir of the man behind the Ragamuffin Gospel. Such an amazing story! And I totally agree with your choice of Redeeming Love – I adored that book. Almost as much as I adore your blog 🙂


  9. Katey K. says:

    While in a different vain, I suggest any Al Anon book [the one I'm thinking of currently is 'Courage to Change'– which is more a book of short inspirational lessons and thoughts].

    Honestly, if you've ever dealt with an alcoholic or any sort of addict…these books truly help.

  10. haylestales says:

    'the seven longings of the human heart' by mike bickle – it explores intimacy with Christ and what it looks like. similar to john and stasi eldredge type stuff.

    almost finished it. it's a great read.

  11. eloranicole says:

    probably the most healing book i've read in quite awhile is anne lamott's traveling mercies. i found myself in those pages. also, dan allender's wounded heart. it's a tough read – and i've had numerous people suggest reading it with others and i can't agree more. but. it's speaks truth and aims for freedom in Jesus. it's been life-changing for me so far.


  12. Emmy says:

    I love that you added Ragamuffin Gospel and Redeeming Love… I feel like these are two books I need to read at least once on a yearly basis. I grew up in a conservative Christian home (my grandma would be rolling in her grave right now if I don't tell you specifically that it was Lutheran). It was full of love – but very conservative. Although I feel as though sometimes I might confuse my family and the school/church I grew up with. My Lutheran elementary school was very legalistic. But anyways, I read both of those books in college (along with Captivating) and fell in love. They are some of the many ways God has called to my heart.

    I would also recommend Brennan Manning (I've read A Generous Orthodoxy and working through Naked Spirituality right now)and also The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons. AMAZING.

  13. bethanytwrites says:

    I really want to check out this booklist!

    I did internet correspondence courses at home my last two years of high school (I have been told it doesn't count as homeschooling) but it was done through necessity, not control. It worked out ok.

    This post reminded me of a very interesting article my mom sent me the other day. It is more for parents, but I thought it said a lot of interesting and necessary things.

  14. says:

    @Bethanytwrites – That link to Homeschool Blindspots ( was so amazing I just added it to my post. Thank you so much.

  15. Cara says:

    I struggle with awful depression and fibromyalgia and two incredible books that have strengthened and encouraged me are:

    When Life is Hard by James MacDonald


    Depression: A Stubborn Darkness by Edward Welch.

    Such biblical truth.


  16. Amelia says:

    The Homeschool Blindspots post was a very discussed feature on my FB for a few days after I linked to it. In my personal homeschool experience, I ran across most of the problems listed in the blog. I think I came out okay, but I know so many others who were faced with "real life" and had no idea what to do or how to handle it. Even now, 3-4 years later, working as a server in a fancy restaurant, I realize how "homeschooled" (read: sheltered) I was. My coworkers have no shame talking about sex in causal conversation. Me? We didn't talk about sex. Ever. No sex talk for me, not even a menstruation talk. My loving parents must have just forgot or something. Anyway.

    Another GREAT read is "Grace For the Good Girl" by Emily Freeman. I read a post by her on A Deeper Story and immediately went and bought her book. Devoured it in a couple of days and am now reading it again. It deals heavily with the shame that can come with believing it's up to you to try harder, act better, BE better. I would recommend it to anyone, male or female (even if it is directed towards the ladies).

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  18. Tanya says:

    I wasn't homeschooled but brought up with false guilt in a Southern Baptist home with the expectations of perfection. After going through a terrible divorce in my 20's (married a PK) I hit rock bottom. My counselor had me read "Changes that Heal" by Cloud & Townsend (love Boundaries, too). That book saved my life.

    I also suggest "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse" by David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen. Jeff was one of the interventionists on the popular A&E show Intervention. This book helped me realize and define the abuse in my life and how to stop the cycle.

    Keep up the amazing work!

  19. Brittany says:

    I was raised in the Mormon church, though my mom was often treated as the 'black sheep' by her LDS family because she wasn't "Mormon enough." The expectations, rules, pressure, and overall religion of the faith polluted my perspective of God for many years, and I still struggle with understanding His grace and forgiveness.

    Having said that, I am grateful for my experience in the church and the beautiful, crazy journey God has traveled with me toward the Jesus I know now!

  20. Holly says:

    Lauren…you've come a long way baby! I'm so happy for you. Your growth in Christ since I knew you at the Village Vineyard healing prayer group is astounding. Congrats on the marriage and I pray many happy years to come. P.S. I got married May 1, 2010…being married to a man of integrity who loves Jesus is such a gift.

    I look forward to following your journey.

  21. Greta says:

    Hi, I have just discovered your blog and I am having a hard time tearing myself away.
    Your writing is thought provoking and honest, at times raw and I appreciate it for all those reasons.
    I too was homeschooled and grew up very sheltered.
    Not quite as much as you, it would seem.
    Although my mom did almost have a stroke when she saw my first thong in the wash–after I was MARRIED.
    I cannot reccomed enough the book, Give Them Grace.
    Here's why.
    Being a mom of young kids, I am honestly horrified at the expectation of perfection many parents are placing on thier kids. In my personal experience, I find it to be the worst in home schooling circles. And I home school my kids, so I have seen it first hand.
    There are people out there preaching that kids should be spanked into submission. The pressure for them, and therefore the parent, to appear perfect is intense and I fear the outcome for these kids.
    Give Them Grace is the antidote for any parent struggling with this issue.
    And we all do.
    But this will give a parent the truth about God's grace in their own life so that they can pass it on to their children.
    It is truly an inspring read.
    Sorry for this insanley long comment.
    I am often too verbose.
    Love from,
    PS. I have begun reading your husband's blog too.
    It is blessing me. Thank you both for your honesty.

  22. Anna says:

    This is like a baby-wipe for my heart.
    thank you.

  23. emelina says:

    As a recovering religious addict trained so well by christian apologetics, debate, conservatism, homeschooling, culture-warrioring, worldview training, and a good dose of legalism, I've got a whole list of helpful resources!

    I love the ones you posted, too, Lauren. Thank you for sharing.

    For learning about God:
    Is God to Blame (Greg Boyd)
    Lord or Legend (Boyd/Eddy)
    Repenting of Religion (Boyd)
    Simply Christian (N T Wright)
    The Prodigal God (Tim Keller)
    A Kingdom Called Desire (Rick McKinley)
    Drops Like Stars (Rob Bell)

    For learning about emotional health:
    Boundaries (Cloud/Townsend)
    Compelled to Control (J. Keith Miller)
    Inside Out (Larry Crabb)

    For learning God's hope for women:
    Half the Church (Carolyn Custis James)
    Quivering Daughters (Hillary McFarland)

    For learning from other people's spiritual journeys:
    Angry Conversations with God (Susan Isaacs)
    Blue Like Jazz (Donald Miller)
    Letters from a Skeptic (Boyd)

    For overcoming conservative political obsession:
    The Myth of a Christian Nation (Boyd)
    Raised Right: How I Untangled my Faith from Politics (Alisa R. Harris)

    For breaking religious addiction:
    A Hunger for Healing (Miller)
    The Myth of a Christian Religion (Boyd)

    Most of these authors also have blogs with tons of free content! So google around. Also, find a support group or a mentor. They will be invaluable to you as you learn a new way. A good mentor won't try to shape you into them, but will encourage you to seek the God who created you, knows your story, has promised to make you whole, and who loves you unconditionally.

  24. kfsullivan says:

    Just wanted to say thank you for your words. I always smile when I start to read the Deeper Story post of the day and quickly recognize the beautiful flow of your prose.

    I have a few minutes, so I am happily reading more.

    May I suggest:

    David Dark: "The Sacredness of Questioning Everything."

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