50 Books: Guest Post: Peace and Balance

Today’s book picks are by my sister, Rosie Herreid, who recommends some very timely reads for Advent:

Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart by Fr. Jacques Philippe

searching for an maintaining peace

I felt noticeable more peaceful while I was reading this book.  At first glance it seems to offer the kind of cliche spiritual advice that is hard to take to heart, but it is actually full of extremely practical advice about breaking destructive mental habits.

Fr. Philippe begins by dismantling the subtle temptation to fight the “wrong battle,” which he describes as the misplaced desire to attain peace by conquering all of our faults and all of the external obstacles to peace.

…if we expect peace…because everything is going well…and our desires are completely satisfied, …then it is certain that we will never know peace or that our peace will be extremely fragile and of short duration.

Instead, the first step towards finding peace is to look for it in the right place: trusting in God.   He describes his own interior peace this way: “The external situation was always the same, there were always problems to solve, but the heart had changed, and from then on, I could confront them peacefully.”  This is a small, extremely easy-to-read little book, written in a gentle and tender tone.

One more snippet, a prayer upon making a decision, which demonstrates how effectively Fr. Philippe cuts through mental confusion and scrupulosity:

“Lord, I have thought about it and prayed to know Your will.  I do not see it clearly, but I am not going to trouble myself any further.  I am not going to spend hours racking my brain….I know well that, even if I am mistaken, You will not be displeased with me, for I have acted with good intentions.  And if I have made a mistake, I know that You are able to draw good from this error….’  And I remain at peace.


God Help Me!  This Stress is Driving Me Crazy: Finding Balance through God’s Grace by Gregory Popcak

god help me popcak

This is the book Fr. Philippe would have written if, in addition to being a wise spiritual adviser, he was also a very practical psychotherapist with an annoying sense of humor.  Dr. Popcak does an impressive job of smoothly weaving together spiritual advice, traditional therapy techniques, and extremely practical, specific, and step-by-step guidelines for extricating yourself from the pit of anxiety.  This is the book for the person who is warily venturing into the field of self-help books, but afraid of running into ideas that clash with Christianity or offer vague psychobabble instead of concrete advice.

Dr. Popcak’s approach combines surprisingly deep theological insights with practical ways to recognize and dismantle bad mental habits.  One of my favorite examples, on the mental habit of magnification:

Imagine standing in the middle of the railroad tracks.  A train is bearing down on you, and all you can think is, ‘How am I ever going to lift this train before it crushes me?’  Never mind that if you stepped five paces to the left or right you would be just fine.  Magnification causes us to feel that our problems are so big there is nothing to do but become paralyzed by them.  We forget that no matter how big our problems are, God always obliges us to act….

Avoid platitudes like ‘Don’t worry.  You’re going to be OK.  God won’t give you any more than you can handle.’  All of these statements may be true, but they lack the weight needed to be any real help to you or anyone else….If you can’t figure out what to do, make that your main mental occupation, not worrying…Put all of your energy into finding solutions, not into nursing your stress.

This book made me realize that God wants me to be healthy in every way, and that includes psychologically; that He blesses psychotherapy and self-help books just as much as spiritual help and taking care of your body, because He wants you to use everything He has provided to make yourself well.


  1. To Rosie Herreid: Thanks for the insightful reviews of these two books. I am ordering the Fr. Phillipe book now. The Popcak volume will be placed on my growing wish list. At my age I am more or less at peace now; the others of my family are clearly not. I will pass these along to them. (As an aside one of my mother’s sisters name was Rosie).

  2. Food for the soul…Thank you. I’m going to remember that train, also the prayer of offering God our intention to do the greatest good when we are conflicted, and afraid we are screwing up.

  3. Rosie, these are great reminders, and the one about the train cracked me up, because it reminds me of the Looney Tunes cartoon where Wile E. Coyote is in a shed on the train tracks and sees an oncoming train through the window and then closes the windowshade. I don’t know if that’s worse or better than worrying about how to lift the train.

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