Hell in the Hallway, Light at the Door: How to Move Gracefully Through Change into Renewed and Abundant Life by Rev Ellen Debenport, reviewed by Nancy Little, LUT. Bloomington, IN: Balboa Press, 2015, 221 pages.
Rev Ellen Debenport weaves a rich tapestry of hope, wisdom and spiritual insight to enlighten our darkest life moments in her recent book Hell in the Hallway, Light at the Door. She details a multi-step process to serve as both inspiration and roadmap for people navigating unsettling life shifts. She gently guides the reader to regain a sense of coherence, continuity and clarity from a “hellish” place of distress.
After first offering a few insights into her definition of “hell,” Ellen initiates our walk through a journey of discovery, discernment and transformation. Organizing her spiritual guidebook into three distinct sections, she invites her readers first to explore the value of her hallway model by relating their circumstances to the various corridors. Second, she asks us to dig deeper as we work to discern what spiritual nuggets we can unearth from our excavation of treasures in our lessons. Third, she encourages us to expand both our consciousness and our acceptance of the progression of life by opening yet another door for a higher level of growth and discernment.
Having supported thousands of individuals, families and couples on their healing journeys as a licensed professional counselor, I resonated deeply with Ellen’s “hell in the hallway” concept. From both my personal and professional perspective, I felt a sense of gratitude for the powerful and relatable stories.
Throughout the book, Ellen skillfully weaves personal accounts, from both her life and others’, to illuminate the hallways inherent in life transitions and changes. Readers traversing an array of difficult life decisions and a shattered sense of security may find comfort by hearing from those who navigated obstacles and achieved a sense of resolution, at least for the moment. Ellen reminds us of one enduring spiritual truth: change remains a never-ending presence in our human experience to further develop our spiritual progression.
Ellen has crafted an organized resource guide, broad-ranging enough to support the diverse needs of her readers. For those seeking spiritual pathways to explore, Hell in the Hallway contains clear and well-articulated options. As readers settle into her writing, they will enjoy an easy-to-navigate format that offers a similar style throughout. The “Bits of Wisdom,” a bulleted list of key concepts, and “A Prayer for You” conclude each chapter. Although the content may appear repetitious to some, others will cherish the opportunity to distill and more fully integrate the ideas with a recurring emphasis.
Ellen may challenge the reader’s comfortable notions by presenting paradoxical concepts and asking pointed questions about our inherent concepts of God, how the Universe is structured, or the meaning of life. However, she openly shares her own spiritual questions, explores the competing beliefs held by others, and continually reassures us with the assertion that the Universe works to support us.
No matter what our belief system, Ellen insists that we can find good, or the God of our comprehension, and learn important spiritual lessons in the midst of chaos and confusion. Further, she sprinkles powerful messages by wisdom teachers such as Hafiz, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and others through the text for reflection and encouragement.
For me, Ellen’s subtle probing felt thought-provoking and spurred greater self-examination. She has crafted a rich treasure that can be read cursorily for a grounding framework or studied deeply to distill more meaningful insights. The needs of the reader will influence how the concepts are approached and incorporated.
You may initially feel put off if you do not resonate with her concepts of personal responsibility or creating one’s own life circumstances. If you do find yourself bristling with her assumptions, you may be tempted to discard her ideas and stop before continuing with the rest of the book. I suggest you push through your internal discomfort to the end. Feel free to latch on to the concepts that ring true and let go of the rest for now.
Particularly in Part 2 of Hell in the Hallway, rich insights can be derived from exploring your need to forgive self or others, leaning into the power of prayer, or exploring victim consciousness. I ask the reader to find ways to differentiate between what you can heartily accept and what warrants further consideration or integration.
I encourage you to consider the option of writing daily journal entries and/or utilizing The Hell in the Hallway study guide to generate intriguing and potentially life-enhancing food for thought. Often we benefit from delving more fully into our hesitation with perspectives that may initially feel daunting.
Additional Transition Resources
As I began my counseling practice with an emphasis on navigating life losses in the 1990s, I had few well-written books to recommend for clients seeking roadmaps to support their journey through loss and transition. Even more rare were the resources that included tools for self-compassion, ideas for discernment, and strategies for personal transformation.
Ellen’s Hell in the Hallway model offers an innovative, inspired, well-articulated outline for those struggling to find their footing. Written with a similar style and content to two of my most-revered references in the transition and loss category, Hell in the Hallway scores higher in readability due to a darker, larger font and pages with more white space—important for readers in crisis.
Readers may also benefit from the wisdom of another articulate and compassionate author, Dr Elizabeth Harper Neeld. She provides additional food for thought with her wisdom and articulate writing style in Seven Choices: Finding Daylight After Loss Shatters Your World and Tough Transitions: Navigating Your Way Through Difficult Times.
Ultimately, I read Hell in the Hallway, Light at the Door twice: once for me as the reader and again for me as the reviewer. Both times I received rich nuggets of wisdom to consider as I pause for reflection on my evolving spiritual path. My journey of exploration culminated with a sensation of peace, an aura of wonder, a feeling of comfort, and a heartfelt glow from a new resource to share with friends, students, congregants and colleagues.