Soul Repair: Rebuilding Your Spiritual Life
by Jeff VanVonderen, Dale Ryan and Juanita Ryan
Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2008
Reviewed by Margaret A.L. Blackie, PhD
Soul Repair : Rebuilding Your Spiritual Life is a practical, realistic guide to the kinds of dysfunction which may exist in relationship with God. The book is divided into two sections. The first section describes four types of distortion in spirituality: abusive spirituality; anorexic spirituality; addictive spirituality; and codependent spirituality. Jeff VanVonderen, Dale Ryan and Juanita Ryan apply these well known psychological dysfunctions to spirituality and relationship with God to good effect. The reader is drawn into both a theoretical and practical understanding of each dysfunction through a combination of theory and illustration. In the second section of the book, the authors give tools to help readers find their way from dysfunction to healthy relationship. This includes a mapping of the path that one normally needs to take and an explanation for the necessity of some withdrawal and why this might be challenging. The other tools are fairly standard: prayer, finding a supportive community, spiritual partner, and the need for honesty in the relationship.
There are several striking features in Soul Repair. The first feature is the compassionate nature of the authors. It is clear that they have a good deal of personal experience with the subject matter. They manage to explore this challenging material in a way that is inviting and non-threatening. The overall impression is that the authors have trod this path and offer this book to help others who find themselves in similar predicaments. It is written with an evangelical protestant Christian slant, but this does not limit the readership to that audience.
The second feature is the explicit explanation of the path from dysfunction to healthy relationship. This chapter is extraordinarily helpful and gives a clear model for how one can move to health and freedom. Most significantly, it gives a clear description of the complexity of the emotions a person might experience. The final highlight is the use of the well known psychological dysfunctions, which give clear insight into potentially destructive patterns.
Soul Repair will be useful to spiritual directors, and anyone who is seriously ready to explore the distortions in their relationship with God. Those who find themselves rejected from a faith community would do well to peruse these pages. But I would strongly recommend taking heed of the authors’ invitation to make sure you have a spiritual partner to help you along the way. Seeing destructive patterns and addressing them is not an easy task. This book is a highly recommended addition to the library of any spiritual director. The clear approach will be useful to anyone trying to accompany another person through this challenging territory.
Margaret A.L. Blackie, PhD, trained and worked for four years at Loyola Hall, Jesuit Spirituality Centre in the United Kingdom. She has recently returned to Cape Town, South Africa, to take up postdoctoral research in chemistry. She continues to minister part-time as a spiritual director.