The Profound Impact of Books on Spiritual Development {Book Club}

Today we start A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter by Miriam Huffman Rockness. Clapping, clapping. Happy, happy. This is exactly the kind of book I like to read in community over several weeks. I’m afraid if I read it all in one chunk and then we showed up to discuss it, I’d make a meaningful comment like, “Wow, this book provoked many thoughts and I really liked it.”

I know. Deep upon deep. 

But when we read in shorter chunks, I’m able to gather my thoughts and (hopefully!) contribute to the conversation more than: “Wow.”

I’m assuming each edition has the same foreword, but in case our books have different forwards, mine was written by Lyle Dorsett. In part, he said, “Reading biographies and autobiographies of nineteenth-and twentieth-century saints has shaped my spirituality, encouraged me in my walk with God, and caused me to ponder anew the role of books in the process of spiritual formation.” He goes on to talk about the “profound impact of books” on spiritual development.

Well, wouldn’t it have been nice if we read this quotation last week when the theme was read. Thankfully, it still applies to fostering a colorful and vibrant spiritual life. I have shared before when the leadership team was dreaming up the various parts of Velvet Ashes, we put a stake in the ground and said one of our values would be reading and discussing books in community. A snapshot of the recent choices on our spiritual development testifies to God’s attributes at work: laughter, looking for character development and growth, keeping souls fertile, grieving, exploring fears, children’s biographies of “gutsy girls,” and a Young Adult novel with themes that apply to us all.

Just think if (a) we hadn’t read them or (b) we read them by ourselves. Left to my own, I wouldn’t have read some of them (just being honest) or have been enriched by the conversations we’ve had. Again, a high-five to us and a grateful, “Thank you!” for reading!

My book then had a second foreword that contained this jewel from Lilias’s diary: “One learns as one goes, not to fear the detours by which God leads.” The author fleshed out some of what Lilias went on to face over the course of her life. If we could internalize the truth of what Lilias said, what a difference it would make, eh?!

Moving on to the preface, Lilias asks another question that we could camp on: “How does one measure the sacrifice against the yield?”

From her young childhood, I like hearing how she got the nickname “Tiger Lily” and could picture her with older siblings, needing to hold her own. I was also struck by how the death of a parent truly reverberates throughout a life time.

In this section, I felt a bit restless and wanted Miriam to speed up the telling of Lilias’s story and get to the meat! Yet, it was good for me to read through what formed and informed Lilias. A podcaster I listen to often says, “Success leaves clues.” I think our lives do too. I’m working on my next book and in doing research have been reading through my old newsletters. I have been a bit surprised to see themes I thought I’d only been talking about for the last six-or-so years show up in newsletters more than 15 years ago?! What? I was wrestling with that then too? Oh.

None of us hatch fully formed onto the field. Reading about Lilas’s early life I am curious to hear more about your childhood and how you see tendrils of it in your today life.

I especially like the chapter titles for the final two chapters we read for today:

  • A New World: The Journey Inward
  • Beyond Oneself: The Journey Outward

So true, isn’t it? The journey needs to be both inward and outward.

Since I don’t have the Kindle version, were they able to incorporate some of Lilias’s sketches? I hope so!

What were you thinking about as you read this section? See you in the comments!


P.S. Here is the reading plan for A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter by Miriam Huffman Rockness:

July 5: Forward – Chapter 5
July 12: Chapters  6- 10 (or chapters 6-8 in Part 1 and chapters 1-2 in Part 2)
July 19: Sabbath (reading a larger section)
July 26: Chapters 11-21
August 2: 22-26 (the end)

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Photo Credit: Cristian Bortes, CC by 4.0


  1. Karen July 4, 2016

    I also have been thinking a lot about the two chapter titles about “the journey inward” and “the journey outward.”  I continually am amazed and challenged that the Christian life so clearly includes both.  God is so very practical, in the sense of having us live in human ways in the day-to-day world, and yet He calls us to live and think ways are so very different from what our world considers “practical.”  I don’t think that I’m exaggerating to say that some of the biggest challenges in my spiritual life have been in the process of learning to trust Him to guide me along both journeys at the same time.  This can feel like a contradiction to me, though I know for Him there is no such contradiction.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

    I am so thankful that you’ve introduced this book to me!  For many, many years Amy Carmichael’s works have been a blessing and companion to me.  I was excited to discover in this book that Lilias Trotter and she shared many common spiritual influences and also exchanged letters; also that Hannah Whitall Smith was such an influence in the early Keswick conventions — two things I’d never known.   Since hearing about this book through Velvet Ashes, I’ve also been enjoying reading bits of Trotter’s Parables of the Cross and getting back into Hannah Whitall Smith’s books.  These women all really challenge me to see the Bigness of God and to trust Him to cause our lives to bear fruit, believing he can do far more that we can imagine.

    I agree with Amy that I’m excited to get into the rest of the story!

    1. Michele Womble July 7, 2016

      It’s interesting that knowing that these folks knew each other makes it – them – more real in some way…to me, anyway. Brings them to life.

    2. Amy Young July 7, 2016

      Karen! The idea of trusting God with both journeys at the same time, yes! Funny how in different seasons, one journey is easier than the others. I just finished a biography on Hannah More (contemporary of William Wilberforce) and highly recommend it too 🙂

  2. Karen July 5, 2016

    After posting my last message, I had a further thought … I mentioned above “the journey inward” and “the journey outward.”  But the whole chapter title of the former is “A NEW world:  the journey inward.”  We have new life in Christ … our new lives are because of, and out of, His life; the seed which has fallen in the ground and died.  If our “journey inward” were just to discover ourselves, as so may in our world and society preach, how hopeless that would be!  But of course, here the “journey” refers to our relationship with Him.  This chapter talks about the messages of the conferences Lilias attended:  “renunciation of all known sin (anything that could block a free and open relationship with God), and then moved on to surrender, or abandonment to Christ, for His wonderful purpose …”   I’m so blessed by the fact that God cares so much about working thoroughly in our hearts and preparing us.

    1. Amy Young July 7, 2016

      And maybe we need the journey inward, to know ourselves as God sees and loves us, to be able to journey outwards . . .

  3. Sarah Hilkemann July 5, 2016

    I’m reading this book for the 2nd time, and so thankful for the opportunity to do so. The first time I read it was back in 2011 as I was thinking about what this journey overseas would mean for me, and I like to think the book played a part in the Father’s confirmation of this direction for me. I’m not always the greatest at remembering the details of books that I read so it has been so good to re-read these chapters on the early life of Lilias. So much of who we are is shaped by our experiences and our family life and I don’t think we can truly understand someone’s story without knowing some of those things. It seemed like she had a wonderful childhood, knowing she was loved and cared for. The spiritual influences in her life were strong and instrumental in her work and ministry. Since we don’t have the chance to sit with Lilias over a cup of tea, or see her in action over days and months, I did wonder what her struggles were or flaws I guess. Seeing just parts of her life through letters and reflections from others brought out all of the best parts of her, which is a little intimidating. 🙂

    1. T July 5, 2016

      I don’t think Lilias, who now enjoys being perfected and one with Him, would mind me writing that I get the idea from people who lived in Algiers after her, that she had a formidable reputation!  Sometimes the pluck that we need to get overseas also includes a little too much determination and hard-headedness!  (yep, me, too!)  Will we be hearing from Miriam R. directly this week??  She could tell us flaws, I’m sure!

      1. Karen July 6, 2016

        I understand.  I had the privilege several years ago of knowing an older lady who had worked several decades ago with many foreign workers.  Some of those workers later became authors who wrote books that have been used by God in my life.  It was so refreshing to hear this godly woman tell me a few stories of daily life when she had known these people:  of mistakes they made, of petty arguments that later needed to be confessed and forgiven, etc.  Hearing her talk about some of my favorite authors as normal human beings who were her friends has definitely given me new perspective on their books.  It’s shown me the “we have this treasure in earthen vessels” aspect — people presenting amazing, deep truths about God while still being very human — showing that this power is from God and not from them.


      2. Amy Young July 7, 2016

        T, I’ve been trying to find Miriam on the internet so we can have her here at book club. Best I can do is “She lives in Florida.” Anyone in Florida know her?! We’d love to chat with her 🙂

    2. Michele Womble July 7, 2016

      I’d like to know more about her struggles and flaws, too – maybe we’ll see more of that later in the book as there is more info about her later years particularly from her own writing? (I haven’t read the book before, so I wouldn’t know). I agree that it can be a bit intimidating when she seems to be so…good and together and perfect.

    3. Amy Young July 7, 2016

      Great thoughts all :). This discussion reminds me of some tip I heard in the writing world, we often compare our “works in progress” to others’ “final drafts” and then feel we come up short. Of course we do :)! We are comparing apples and oranges. Sarah, let me publicly say that girl, you can hold your own next to anyone on the field because you are the only Sarah H from Nebraska, you are the only ones with the gifts and experiences you have, and you are loved, valued, and delighted in by your Father when you are you :)!

  4. Sarah H July 5, 2016

    And yes, the Kindle version has her artwork! 🙂

  5. Michele Womble July 7, 2016

    This may be a bit random (or maybe not) but I was really excited when I saw that Anthony Trollope moved in next door to her family on Montagu Square – by that time he would have already written the Barchester Chronicles (his series that features mostly clergymen and the church of England) – but it’s fun to see all these little connections – interesting to me that the description in “Passion for the Impossible” of high church, broad church, and low church( and where Isabella fell in those three movements within the church) helped me to better understand what Trollope was writing about in his novels…

    I found all 6 of the Barchester Chronicles in English in a regular bookstore in Russia – I had never heard of Trollope at that point and wasn’t expecting to find English books – for me they were a treasure – (I still have them and re-read them from time to time) – and it just does something to my soul (I haven’t quite figured out how to name it yet) to find out that he lived next door to Lilias Trotter for a bit while she was still growing up – it’s a little thing, but the little things can be so much fun and so…encouraging. It’s neat that there’s this connection between 2 things (people) that are important to me and who have impacted (encouraged me) – in different ways, of course, but…

    It’s almost like finding out 2 of my good friends from different seasons of my life lived next door to each other for awhile – doesn’t change anything for me but it’s exciting – and an affirmation, I guess, that all these pieces that to us sometimes seems so random, in reality fit together to make a beautiful picture – the expanse of the picture and yet the intricate details the God holds in his hands and weaves together –

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.