Dropdown menu

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lord, I just want to be happy by Leslie Vernick

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Lord, I Just Want to Be Happy

Harvest House Publishers (October 1, 2009)

***Special thanks to David P. Bartlett of Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***


Leslie Vernick, a licensed clinical social worker with a private counseling practice, has authored numerous books, including The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong. She completed postgraduate work in biblical counseling and cognitive therapy. Leslie and her husband, Howard, have been married more than 30 years and have two grown children.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (October 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736919236
ISBN-13: 978-0736919234

This book could not have come into my life at a better time. I started reading this book while dealing with some struggles that had me in a fog. As I read the book, and went through the discussion questions, I found some practical tools for getting past it and getting on with my life. Her writing is so engaging that it's easy to say "one more page" and finally have to close the book to get some sleep. This is a book for the reference shelf, to go back to on a regular basis and review. I've already recommended it to a couple of friends, and I have a feeling it'll be on their reference shelves too.


Stories and Scripts

Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well.

Epictetus 2

Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting a bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.

Dennis Wholey

Janet came into my office upset, anxious to share her latest litany of what was wrong with her life. Her friend Dana hadn’t invited her over last Sunday like Janet had hoped she would, and Janet felt hurt and rejected. Over the course of our counseling, I had learned that most of Janet’s friends didn’t support or love her as faithfully as she wished they would. She hated that she wasn’t pretty enough, thin enough, or popular enough to gain the attention from others that she craved. Her job didn’t satisfy her, nor did it pay enough, and the people there weren’t very friendly either.

Janet’s mother also irritated her. She described her mom as too busy living her own life to care that her daughter was a single mom and often needed help with her kids. That prompted me to ask Janet about her church family. She said she didn’t get anything out of the sermons and no one from the Bible study ever invited her out to lunch—so why bother?

Janet wasn’t clinically depressed, but she was miserable with herself, with others, and with life. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. Nothing was ever the way she wanted it to be, or the way it should be. “I just want to be happy,” she moaned. “Why can’t God make it easier for me? I hate that life is so hard, so unfair.”

Perhaps your situation isn’t as extreme as Janet’s, but I think many of us can relate to her feelings. Life does disappoint us at times. Others don’t give us the love or attention we want or expect, and as a result we feel angry, hurt, gypped, and sad. We hate that we’re not perfect or popular or powerful or pretty enough to feel confident or attractive or worthy. Jesus’ promise of an abundant life seems hollow. We get stuck living in a mind-set of, If only I were more ___________________ or had more ___________________ , then I’d be happy. Or we tell ourselves, If only ___________________ would change, then I could be happier.

Take a minute and fill in the blanks for yourself. What might you put in? During one session, Janet said, “If only I were more popular and could lose ten pounds, then I’d be happy.” At another session, she said something different: “If only my mother would change and help me out more with my kids, then I’d be happier.”

What about you? Perhaps you tell yourself you’d be happy if only you were more beautiful, talented, or intelligent. Others say they’d be happy if only they had more money, more time, or more energy. You might believe you’d be happier if only you were married instead of single, or married to a different person instead of the one you’re married to. Or maybe you’d rather not be married at all. Still others think that if only they had a baby, or better-behaved children, or a more attentive spouse, or a more prestigious or powerful job, or a bigger house, then they’d finally be happy.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for making changes when possible and appropriate. But I’ve discovered in my own life, as well as in the lives of people I’ve worked with, that much of our misery is caused by the stories we tell ourselves about how things should be…rather than what actually is.

Unrealistic Expectations

Janet told herself that her unhappiness resulted from not being good enough, thin enough, or pretty enough. She was unhappy because she didn’t make enough money, because people let her down, and because her life was unfair.

But those things weren’t the true source of her suffering. Janet’s misery was much more a result of her unrealistic expectations of herself, life, and others than of her actual life situations. Although she wasn’t aware of it, Janet lived her life out of a mind-set, or way of thinking, that was largely false. She created an internal story line of how things should go—and when they didn’t go the way she thought they should, she felt sorry for herself. For example, she believed life should be easy and fair. When life was hard, she found it impossible to handle her disappointment without falling into self-pity because, after all, life shouldn’t be so hard.

Janet also told herself that people should be nicer to her and that they should be more willing to give of their time and efforts to help her out. She wasn’t aware she did it, but she also scripted out what other people should say, how they should say it, and what they should do for her, especially if they claimed to be Christians. When they failed to follow her script, she felt hurt, disappointed, and angry with them. Not only that, but she also clung to those negative feelings for days, nursing more resentment and hurt.

But perhaps the biggest source of Janet’s unhappiness was her own unrealistic view of herself. She regularly dwelled on her flaws and weaknesses and imagined that others did too. She fantasized she’d be more desirable, lovable, and popular if only she were thinner and more attractive.

In order for Janet to change and experience true happiness, she needs to become aware of the story line and scripts she has made up about herself, life, and others. Then she needs to reevaluate them according to what God says is true, good, and right. In addition, she must learn to handle the painful emotions that come with losses and disappointments in a different way, without falling into her habits of self-pity, resentment, or self-hatred.

You see, whether by nature we tend to look at the glass as half empty or half full, our perceptions determine our inner reality. By nature I am a pessimist, and because of that leaning, I often make up internal stories about the worst things that can happen. When my daughter started to drive, I made up all kinds of stories of dreadful accidents, carjackings, or mechanical failures. (None of which happened, I might add.) When my mammogram results came back suspicious, you can imagine where my mind went. As a result of my thinking habits, I often feel anxious, and my peace and inner sense of well-being vanish.

Optimists can make up some pretty unrealistic stories too. I once watched a man playing blackjack lose $20,000 thinking positively. He told himself (out loud) that this was his lucky day, he was the man, and tonight he’d strike it rich. He allowed his unrealistic story and script of how he wanted things to end to capture his heart, overrule his rational mind, and control his decision-making. (And in chapter 4, we’ll see how a woman named Cheryl continued to believe her fantasy story line of a perfect fiancé—despite evidence to the contrary—only to wake up to an abusive husband.)

In order to learn how to be happier, we need to recognize 1) our internal stories and scripts and then 2) how they create expectations that, when unmet, often lead to foolish decisions as well as feeling anxious, miserable, sad, angry, discouraged, and even depressed.

Core Lies We Believe

There are many story lines and scripts that lead to misery and unhappiness, but the first clue in discovering your particular one is to look for the words should, shouldn’t, ought, supposed to, and deserve and then listen to what comes next. Let’s examine three of the most powerful ones.

“I should be better than I am”

Many people suffer because they fail to live up to their own expectations of themselves. Keith worked three part-time jobs just to put himself through college. He was proud of his accomplishments, but he started getting anxious and discouraged when some of his grades slipped from A’s to B’s and he fell behind in his rent payment. He studied long into the night, often forsaking sleep. He was cranky, exhausted, and definitely not happy.

But when I challenged his schedule, he insisted, “I should be able to handle this.” He refused to accept reality. His self-concept was based on an idealized image of himself, not the truth. Keith is not a god—he is a mere mortal. He has limits. He can’t function at his best with only four hours of sleep. He isn’t able to work three jobs, study all night, sleep adequately, go to college full-time, and get straight A’s in all of his subjects. Yet his expectations that he ought to be able to do it all, and his self-hatred for failing to live up to his idealized image of himself, was great.

People who are perfectionists may have a hard time admitting they actually expect they should be perfect all of the time, but deep down that’s what they want to be. And they grieve deeply when they fail. They can never be happy, because although they might achieve a moment of perfection, it’s unsustainable. Eventually they mess up, can’t do something, aren’t all-knowing, fail, or make a mistake. The internal shame, self-hatred, and self-reproach can be lethal.

Some individuals may not recognize they have unrealistic expectations of themselves, because they don’t expect perfection in every area of their life. For example, Elle wasn’t compulsive about her home, but she obsessed over her physical appearance. Every inch of her body and clothing had to look perfect, or she would beat herself up. “I shouldn’t have eaten dinner last night” or, “I should exercise more, I’m so fat,” she’d moan. She even slept with her makeup on so she would look good in the morning. No one was allowed to see her until she was ready, including her best friend.

Terminally Unique

Cindy failed to live up to her idealized version of the perfect Christian wife and mother. In a moment of sin and passion, she committed adultery with a co-worker. Her sorrow was great, but her repentance shallow. Her grief was not because of her sin against her husband or against God, but because she became small in her own eyes for failing to live up to who she thought she was. “I can’t believe I did that,” Cindy lamented.

“Why is it so hard for you to accept you’re a sinner, just like everyone else?” I asked.

“I don’t want to be like everyone else,” she replied.

“That’s part of your problem,” I gently told her. Much of Cindy’s suffering was because she expected herself to be better than everyone else.

People who believe they should be better than they are can’t be happy, because they are morbidly preoccupied with themselves. They become prideful over their perfection or filled with self-hatred at their flaws.

As with Janet, one particular variation on the I should be better than I am story line is feeling disappointed with one’s self over never being good enough, pretty enough, worthy enough, thin enough, spiritual enough, rich enough, or smart enough. You get the picture. The goal becomes I want to be enough. The question we must ask ourselves is, By whose yardstick will you measure yourself as “good enough”? Inevitably it is one’s own standard, not God’s. Even nonperfectionists like Janet become self-conscious about their limitations, weaknesses, and flaws when they tell themselves that they shouldn’t be that way, or if only they weren’t that way, then they would be happy.

When we live by these scripts, we will never feel happy. We (or someone else) will always find some flaw. Let’s be honest here. Who could ever say that he or she feels good enough in every area of his or her life? Feeling “good enough” is never the answer to lasting happiness. As soon as we feel good enough in one area, there are ten others where we feel insufficient or inadequate.

When we believe we should be better than we are, we become self-focused, self-centered, and self-absorbed. This leads to anxiety and compulsion, not joy and peace. In later chapters, we’ll learn how to accept our not being good enough so we can learn to be happier without having to be perfect.

“I deserve more than I have, and more ______________ means more happiness”

All of us have desires, longings, and wants. Much of the time these longings are legitimate, and there is nothing inherently sinful about them. In the introduction I shared about Francine who wanted a loving husband. She desired a better than average marriage. She wasn’t asking for too much.

Rhonda had different longings. She wanted more power, more impact, and more purpose in her life. These also are good desires. The problem is when they switch from desires to demands, from longings to expectations. Then whatever we get will never be enough because we deserve more. The story line becomes, It’s all about me and all for me. When our legitimate hopes, dreams, or desires move into the category of expectations, they escalate into demands—things we feel entitled to or deserving of. And when the demands aren’t met, we can feel quite miserable.

Janet had many expectations and demands of others that were unhealthy and unrealistic. Again, most of them included the words should or ought. For example, Janet believed that her mother should be a better grandmother. Her friends ought to care more about her needs and feelings than they did. Since she continued to live her internal story as if she were both the main character and the most important one, she felt entitled to other people’s attention and believed they should put her at the top of their priority list. Her needs, her rights, her wants, and her feelings should come first. Janet often told herself, If they really loved me, they would care more about my needs and my feelings. Therefore, when others failed to meet her expectations, she not only felt hurt and angry, she felt unloved.

Janet didn’t just desire her mother to be more attentive and interested in her children, she expected her to be that way. You might argue, What’s wrong with expecting your mother to be a good grandmother and to show interest and love for her grandchildren? Nothing’s wrong with it—except it didn’t line up with the way things really were. Janet’s mother was not that kind of grandmother, and as long as Janet kept expecting she should be, Janet would continue to get hurt and disappointed.

The truth is, no one ever gets everything in life that he or she wants or desires. When we live as if we deserve people’s love and attention all of the time, then we’re not living in reality. Instead of learning how to handle in a mature way the inevitable disappointment of not getting all that we want, we stay miserable.

In addition to our own internal unrealistic expectations, we also live in a culture that encourages people to demand their rights and to feel entitled. After all, we’re worth it! Because of this mind-set, people sometimes make terrible choices. They tell themselves they have the right to be happy and to pursue whatever it takes to be happy, even at the expense of others. I recall a woman I counseled telling me this very thing. She had fallen in love with her boss at work. She was a Christian, yet she believed God wanted her to be happy, and therefore he wouldn’t want her to stay married if she found her true love elsewhere. Despite my fervent warnings to think more carefully, she chose to end her marriage in order to get what she wanted.

When we are the main character of our story line and it is all about us, then we justify pursuing what we think makes us happy, even if it makes those around us (like this woman’s husband and three children) very unhappy. But we will never find true happiness at the expense of others. That will lead only to more heartache.

Whether our expectations are unrealistic, unhealthy, or just unmet, we become unhappy when we believe we’re entitled to have more than we have. Instead of feeling thankful for what we do have, we grumble and complain about what we don’t. The apostle Paul told us that he had discovered the secret of being content, whether he had a lot or a little (Philippians 4:11-12). The secret is surrendering to God’s plan—not getting all your needs, wants, desires, or expectations fulfilled.

“Life should be easy and fair”

When we pine for an easy life, we forfeit a fulfilling life. We become bored and apathetic, not happy. Author Gary Haugen tells a story of going on a trip but missing the adventure. During a camping and hiking vacation to Mount Rainier with his father and brothers, his dad wanted them all to climb the rock formation heading to the summit. Gary felt afraid and asked his father to allow him to stay behind at the visitor’s center where he could watch the videos and read about the wildlife and history of the mountain. After much pleading, his father finally relented. Here’s the rest of Gary’s story:

The visitor’s center was warm and comfortable, with lots of interesting things to watch and read. I devoured the information and explored every corner, and judging by the crowd, it was clearly the place to be. As the afternoon stretched on, however, the massive visitor’s center started to feel awfully small. The warm air felt stuffy, and the stuffed wild animals started to seem just—dead. The inspiring loop videos about extraordinary people who climbed the mountain weren’t as interesting the sixth and seventh times, and they made me wish I could be one of those actually climbing the mountain instead of reading about it. I felt bored, sleepy and small—and I missed my dad. I was totally stuck. Totally safe—but totally stuck.

After the longest afternoon of my ten-year-old life, Dad and my brothers returned flushed with their triumph. Their faces were wet from the snow; they were famished, dehydrated and nursing scrapes from the rocks and ice, but on the long drive home they had something else. They had stories and an unforgettable day with their dad on a great mountain. I, of course, revealed nothing, insisting that it was my favorite day of the whole vacation.

Truth be told—I went on the trip and missed the adventure.

When Jesus tells us that he has come to give us an abundant life, he doesn’t mean a safe and comfortable life, but a meaningful one. He calls us to a purpose beyond pleasing ourselves.

As we’ve already seen, Janet expected life to be easy and fair. She seemed mentally, emotionally, and spiritually unprepared for life’s ordinary bumps and hurdles. Yet Jesus clearly tells us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus warns us that life isn’t easy or fair, and he tells us this so that we can experience peace and find courage in the midst of life’s hardships.

How? You’ll find some specific tools in later chapters, but it starts by seeing things as they really are. Jesus tells us that if our eye is healthy, our whole body will be full of light (Matthew 6:22). Happiness, joy, peace, and an internal sense of well-being are never found in having an easy life or in a life full of possessions, power, or popularity. We only have to look at some of the Hollywood celebrities gracing the news these days to see individuals living an easy life. On the fairness quotient, they have the deck stacked in their favor. They have most of the things we tell ourselves we need to be happy. They are thin, beautiful, rich, popular, powerful, and have lots of possessions. Yet many of them appear purposeless and empty and actually look quite unhappy. These men and women may have pleasure, power, prosperity, and popularity, but they do not have happiness. Never confuse those things with a genuine inner sense of joy, peace, and well-being.

In fact, it is often when life is easy and good, plentiful and prosperous, that God warns us we are in the most danger of losing sight of what brings our soul true delight. When the Israelites were entering the Promised Land, God warned them,

When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (Deuteronomy 6:10-12).

The Adaptation Principle

If we want to increase our capacity for genuine inner happiness, we must begin to debunk our belief that having more _______________, or changes in our life circumstances, will make us significantly happier than we already are. The problem with this thinking is that it feels true. Losing weight, or getting a new job, home, or husband does make us feel happier for a time, but it’s only a temporary fix. After we get what we want, our mind naturally moves on to the next thing that is wrong, or what we want, or what we believe will make us happy.

When Janet finally found a new job that she liked and that paid well, she felt much better. But her newfound happiness lasted about two weeks. Then she was right back where she had been—unhappy with her life, even though she liked her new job. Psychologists have called this the adaptation principle. Over time, we become accustomed to or get used to our new life situation, whether it is better or worse, and eventually return to our normal happiness range.

I’ll Be Happy Forever, Mom!

I remember my son, Ryan, endlessly nagging me for a special toy. He was convinced that if only he had this one gadget, life would be good. He was so persuasive, I believed him. Eager to make him happy, I bought him the toy. He was thrilled. But three days later, I saw it lying under his bed. Now he was pleading for a new plaything he needed to be happy. As adults, often we’re not any different.

The writer of Ecclesiastes discovered this truth much earlier than the psychologists did. This book is written by a king who had an easy life. Most believe it was written by King Solomon, King David’s son with Bathsheba. Solomon had everything he wanted and enjoyed the things our culture promotes as giving us a satisfying life. He had enormous power, whatever pleasure his heart desired, plenty of possessions, a productive life, popularity, and over 700 wives and 300 concubines. Yet in the end, when he looked over everything in his life, it felt empty. Power, possessions, popularity, and prosperity weren’t enough to bring him true happiness.

The king discovered, as we all must if we want to find authentic happiness, that he had wrongly depended on something other than God to give him what only God could give.

Dismantling Our Story Line

To begin the process of learning how to be a happier person, we must see the deception of our internal story line and replace it with the truth. Most of us feel powerless to do this without some outside help. God already knows our weaknesses, and so what he often does to free us of our illusions and delusions is allow disappointment, pain, and suffering into our lives. This gives us the chance to wake up and see what matters most.

Recently, I was talking with Beth, who, like Francine, has been chronically disappointed and unhappy in her marriage. Her expectations for a loving and intimate relationship with her husband have never been met, and her years of heartache over such disappointment were laced with resentment and anger. But through some unexpected health problems, she has begun to wake up to her life and to a deeper walk with God. As a result, she’s appreciating the smaller things and noticing what’s good in her marriage instead of what’s wrong. She has learned to let go of her expectations without deadening her desires for a better relationship. And that’s an important distinction. It’s not that we don’t desire certain things, but we don’t demand them anymore!

“It hasn’t been easy finding this path of joy and contentment,” Beth said. “I can easily slip back into my old resentment and depression. This new road feels as thin as a thread’s width. But I want to learn to stay on it.”

Jesus tells us that the road that leads to life is narrow (Matthew 7:14). I don’t think he is referring merely to eternal life; he’s speaking about the abundant life. The king in Ecclesiastes pursued what he thought was the abundant life in all of his accomplishments, power, possessions, and pleasures. But through the disappointment of success, he realized that even those wonderful things didn’t offer him all he thought they would. He left these final words for us so we might glean understanding into what brings the heart true joy:

Light is sweet; how pleasant to see a new day dawning.

When people live to be very old, let them rejoice in every day of life. But let them also remember there will be many dark days. Everything still to come is meaningless.

Young people, it is wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do. So refuse to worry, and keep your body healthy. But remember that youth, with a whole life before you, is meaningless.

Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” Remember him before the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to your old eyes, and rain clouds continually darken your sky…

Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 11:7-10; 12:1,2,6,7 nlt)

The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us a powerful lesson. We will always be disappointed with life (or others) when we ask it to do something it wasn’t designed to do. If we can learn to appreciate our life, our marriage, our job, or our family for what they are, then we can experience joy, wonder, and gratitude more readily.

Through Janet’s disappointment with herself, other people, and life, she began to ask some important questions as well as gain some new insights that led her to see Christ, herself, and her life through a new lens. She finally began to grasp that it was her expectations that were causing much of her pain. She realized that when she expected so much from others, life, or even herself, then even the good things she did have or receive, were never good enough. As she surrendered her internal story line, Janet was surprised to discover some peace and happiness even in the midst of painful situations.

The psalmist also felt sad and perplexed over life’s disappointments. But he came to understand through his suffering, that he needed to put his hope in God, not in other things (Psalm 42). Jesus loves us too much to leave us thinking or believing that a rich and meaningful life is found in anything other than loving and serving him. He tells us that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also (Matthew 6:21). Another way of saying this is, where our pleasure is, our treasure is also.

Jesus has come to set the captives free. Whether we realize it or not, many of us are captive to the lie that something other than God will bring us happiness and fulfill our longings. When we put our hope in or expect something or someone other than him to fill us and make us happy, he will surely frustrate us. But he doesn’t do it to punish us. He does it to rescue us from our disordered attachments and delusions, and from ourselves. God promises to meet our needs—but what we feel we need, and what we truly need, may be very different.

Our disappointments and sorrows in life are gifts given to help us see things correctly. C.S. Lewis writes, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  Disappointment can lead us out of illusion and into truth and reality. Sorrow teaches us to let go of our attachments to false or lesser things and to seek after God. True prosperity is never acquired through worldly accomplishments or possessions, but rather through the awareness and ability to live in God’s loving presence.

Peter tells us that suffering teaches us to be done with sin and to live for God’s purposes rather than our own pleasures and evil desires (1 Peter 4:1-5). Why? Because suffering helps us surrender our illusions, desires, and expectations of what life should be so we’re freed to live as God designed us to be (1 Peter 1:6).

Can you begin to let go by surrendering these lies to God, trusting him that he knows what you need to be happy? If you can’t just yet, don’t despair. He will help you. He wants to give you a new script to help you live a new story—a story that will bring more peace, more joy, more love, and more hope to your life.

Questions for

Thought and Discussion

1. How did you relate to Janet? Have you considered that some of your unhappiness may come from unmet expectations of God, others, or life?
2. If you haven’t already, fill in the blanks: “If only I had more __________________ or a better _________________, I’d be happy.” Recall a time when you got what you wanted. How long did your happiness last?
3. What do you think of this observation: “Expectations are longings and desires that have become demands”? What are your demands of God, others, or yourself?
4. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer stated,
All striving springs from want or deficiency, from dissatisfaction with one’s condition, and is therefore suffering so long as it is not satisfied. No satisfaction, however, is lasting; on the contrary, it is always merely the starting point of fresh striving.

How have you experienced this in your own life?

5. Which core lie do you struggle with? How has it affected your happiness levels?
I ought to be more than I am
I deserve to have more than God gave me
Life should be fair

6. Reflect on the author’s statement, “When we believe we should be better than we are, we become self-focused, self-centered, and self-absorbed. This leads to anxiety and compulsion, not joy and peace.” How have you found this to be true in your own life?
7. Read Psalm 73:12-14. Listen to Asaph’s unspoken expectations of God as he surveyed his life and what was going on around him. Why did he feel he deserved better?
8. Discuss the difference between acknowledging the truth and emotionally accepting it. (For example, I know I’m in a difficult marriage, but I’m not okay with it.) Next, review each core lie:
I ought to be more than I am
I deserve to have more than God gave me
Life should be fair

In what ways do you acknowledge the truth throughout this chapter, but still resist emotionally accepting it? How does your refusal to emotionally embrace God’s truth contribute to your unhappiness?

9. Read Acts 14:15. How has disappointment and suffering helped you turn from vain things and turn toward God?
10. Read Psalm 63. What steps can you take to be more satisfied with God and less hungry for other things?
11. Jesus came to set the captives free. How have you been trapped in your stories and scripts? What do you need to surrender in order to experience greater happiness in your life?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Don't Quit in the Pit by Danette Crawford

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Don’t Quit in the Pit

Whitaker House (March 2, 2010)

***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling of Whitaker House for sending me a review copy.***


Danette Crawford is an author and evangelist who founded Joy Ministries in 1989 and serves as the organization’s president. Danette earned a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and a minor in Bible from Lee University and a Master of Arts in counseling from Regent University. Joy Ministries, based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and focuses on serving the needs of low income women and families. Her television ministry, Joy in the Morning with Danette Crawford, is syndicated around the world, reaching over 165 million homes each week. She has been featured on ABC, CBS, NBC, and TBN programming and has appeared on the 700 Club, Living the Life, and Paula White Today.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (March 2, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603741844
ISBN-13: 978-1603741842

I have to admit, I wasn't into the book at first. It took me a while to get into it, but I'm so glad I did. Because as I got into Danette's story, I was able to see more into her heart and wonder why this was the first I'd heard of her. It's so important to hear of God's transforming power, and how trusting Him can get a person through any circumstances. Her story is powerful, and really brings God's power to light.


Don’t Quit in the Pit
Are you in a storm the size of Texas? Are you looking up from a dark pit with high walls but see no ladder in sight? I want to extend a rope of hope to you!
If you feel like you’re in a pit, relax. You’re not the first person to find yourself looking up from within what feels like a deep, dark hole. In the first book of the Old Testament, Genesis, we read about a guy who found himself in his own pit—literally! His name was Joseph, and he was the eleventh son of a great patriarch named Jacob. The worst thing about Joseph’s pit was that Joseph’s brothers were the ones who threw him in there. Talk about rejection! For Joseph, that pit looked like a dark dead end, but it was truly a pathway to the palace—a direct route, at that. (See Genesis 37:11–37; 39:1–6, 20–23; 41:39–44.)

In the New Testament, we read about the apostle Paul, a respected Jewish leader who became a Christian, won souls for Jesus, and consequently found himself in his own pit. You see, being in a pit is a situation common to everyone—rich and poor, male and female, young and old, privileged and blue-collar. Paul’s pit was in the shape of a ship in a raging storm. Everyone wanted to jump off that ship, but God told Paul, “Don’t abandon ship—you’ll come through this!” (See Acts 27.)

I want to encourage you today—don’t abandon ship! Yes, you may be in the midst of the biggest storm of your life. Yes, your pit may seem overwhelming. But I can promise you that it’s only temporary. This too shall pass. It’s temporary as long as you make good choices and wise decisions as a result of your obeying Father God and doing what He tells you to do.

No, you are not alone; the Lord is with you no matter how deep and dark your pit may be. And no, you are not the only one who has ever been in that pit!

Both Joseph and Paul needed a rope of hope. There’s a rope of hope for you, too! It’s here right now in front of you. The other end of your rope is tied directly to the Word of truth—the Bible. God’s Word provides a map to guide us out of any and every pit that we find ourselves in. Psalm 34:19 says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (nkjv). In other words, we all experience “pits” in our lives, but we must grab ahold of the rope of hope and be determined to climb out.

John 8:32 says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The truth on its own doesn’t set you free; it’s the truth that you know that sets you free. Our map to get out of the pit is the Word of God, but we must read the map. We must study the map, or we could stay lost in the pit. I travel a lot by car, and I always study the map before I leave. (I don’t like to use a GPS!) If I don’t study the map or refer to it during my trip, I’m just about guaranteed to get lost. Finding my way is as easy as reading the map, but I have to read it. I can’t obtain the knowledge by osmosis. The same is true with our map out of the pit.

(Insert call-out box) READ IT…’CAUSE YOU’LL NEED IT!

The good news is that every pit has the potential to be temporary because the Word assures us that God will deliver us from every affliction. One important key I have learned is that I must never quit; I must never give up. If I never quit, if I never give up, I can never be defeated. But if I decide to quit and give up, I will spend the rest of my life in the pit. The choice is really up to me. If I have a pity party in my pit…well, I’ll be there for a while! But if I grab ahold of the rope of hope every day, I can climb out of the pit and be back on the path to the palace.

What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten. (Joel 1:4)

As an adult, I can look back and recall many times when the enemy sent locusts into my life to eat away at the blessings and the life that my heavenly Father had for me. These “locust attacks” became pits, and I had to choose not to allow them to be permanent states or seasons in my life.

Years ago, I was reading the Bible when I came across the above Scripture, Joel 1:4. I didn’t really understand it at first, but then the Lord started showing me that it described my life—one locust attack after another. And those locusts had stolen years of my life from me.

The locust of rejection had eaten away at my joy and self-confidence. The locust of anger had eaten away at my peace. And the locust of unforgiveness had eaten away at my very being. What wasn’t stolen in one locust attack was stolen in another. Years of joy, peace, and happiness were stolen from me when I was in the pits of abuse, divorce, and abandonment. I then began looking to the people who had hurt me to repay me for all of my losses.

Joel 2:25 says, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.” In other words, we are assured that the Lord repays us for all the years that the locusts have stolen from our lives. Other people can never repay us for years that have been stolen—only the Lord can. In reality, it’s not people who have stolen from us but the hand of the enemy. When we look to other people to repay us for our pain, we dig a deeper pit due to the unforgiveness and bitterness in our hearts. That’s a dangerous place to be, because unforgiveness prevents us from ever getting out of the pit!

Every day of our lives, we make hundreds of choices. Those choices always produce either increase or decease in various areas of life. For example, when I decide to get up early and exercise, I make a choice that increases my health, even though it may decrease the amount of sleep that I get. Stop and think about it. Every decision creates increase or decrease. We must be led by the Holy Spirit and choose wisely.

When we panic in the pit, we often grab ahold of anything we can get our hands on—anything that we think might keep us from going deeper into the pit. Actually, the opposite usually proves true. If we panic in the pit, the thing we grab on to actually serves as a shovel and takes us deeper.

You’ve probably seen this before—a person who grabs on to, for example, a new relationship in an attempt to get out of a relational pit. What happens? Instead of getting out of that previous relational pit, she winds up going even deeper into it. Or perhaps you know someone who grabbed a drug or a drink in attempt to numb the pain from his pit, only to find himself in a deeper, darker, even more painful pit. Don’t panic in the pit. The key is not to react out of our flesh, or carnal instincts, but to act out of our spirits!

A good example of acting rather than reacting is found in the twentieth chapter of 2 Chronicles. Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, heard from some of his men that a vast army was coming against him, and that they weren’t far away. They weren’t just an army; they were a vast army—a really, really, really big army! And they were not only coming after Jehoshaphat; they were also coming to destroy the whole city and everyone in it. They were advancing quickly. (See 2 Chronicles 20:1–2.)

It’s one thing when a storm or a battle is coming, but it’s a whole different thing when that storm is the size of Texas! The Word tells us that Jehoshaphat was alarmed, yet he did not react out of his flesh. Rather, he acted out of his spirit, meaning he took a deep breath and went to God with his troubles. (See verses 3–12.)

When we react out of our flesh, we freak out. We cry, we scream, we yell, we emit any other series of unproductive responses. Some people even run away from God at the very time when they need to run to God the most. Jehoshaphat didn’t react out of his flesh; he acted out of his spirit. Verse three tells us, “Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah.” And in verse four, we read, “The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord.” In the midst of the biggest battle or storm of Jehoshaphat’s life, he inquired of the Lord. He didn’t inquire of his friends, his pastor, his boss, or his spouse. He came before the Lord in fasting and prayer, and he encouraged those around him to do the same.

(Insert call-out box) DON’T PANIC IN THE PIT

Jehoshaphat was alarmed when he learned that a vast army much larger than his was coming to make war with him. He was alarmed, but he did not panic. He did not react. He acted. Many times, we react emotionally to our pit or to the crisis at hand. As a result, we waste all our time and energy, and we don’t help the situation at all. As a matter of fact, we may even make things worse.

After waiting many, many years to get married, I found myself in an abusive marriage to a man who had a sexual addiction. After dating for a year, we got married, and I immediately saw a side of him that he had never allowed me to see.

It took me a few years to realize that my husband had a sexual addiction, but as soon as I did, I panicked in the pit! I didn’t act out of my spirit by any stretch of the imagination. I reacted out of my flesh with a full-blown panic attack in the pit.

By His grace, God had supernaturally kept me hidden under His hand of protection, even though I had been raised in a fatherless home. I was very naïve in many areas, and I was vulnerable to my husband’s deception as a result.

When we find ourselves at the edge of a deep, dark pit, reacting out of our flesh is the worst thing we can do. When we react, we react out of our flesh, our emotions, or our natural minds. Reacting to the pit or the battle you are up against acknowledges how big and how powerful the enemy is. But when we act out of our spirits, we acknowledge how big and powerful God is. This enables us to come successfully out of every pit that dares to entrap us.

Unlike me, Jehoshaphat acted. Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast that he might hear from God on how to handle the situation at hand. Not only did Jehoshaphat seek the Lord, he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. Everyone in the surrounding towns came together to fast and to seek God’s direction. The people responded according to how Jehoshaphat handled the situation. If Jehoshaphat had panicked and had come unglued, the people around him would have done the same thing. When we react out of our emotions and we don’t act out of our spirit, we give place for the enemy to defeat us. But, if we act out of our spirit, if we look to the Lord for how to handle the situations we face, then we always come out on the winning side.


“Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord.” To resolve essentially means the same thing as to determine. So, Jehoshaphat determined to inquire of the Lord—not his friends, not his coworkers, not his family, but the Lord! And think about Joseph. That young man was totally alone in his pit, without a friend or brother in sight. So, whether we are alone in the pit or sitting there with the opinionated words of others swirling about our heads, our first and best option is to inquire of the Lord and get His opinion on things.

When the people of Judah all gathered at the temple, Jehoshaphat stood up and prayed. He started his prayer by acknowledging God as the all-powerful, all-knowing God. He prayed, “Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you” (2 Chronicles 20:6). When we acknowledge God for who He is, we don’t have any trouble letting Him be in control. But when we forget what He’s done for us in the past and doubt what He will do for us in the future, we start acting out of our own strength; we want to take control ourselves.

Jehoshaphat acknowledged God in his situation. As a result, he looked to God for the solution to the problem. The Bible instructs us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5–6). We need to recognize and acknowledge who God is in the midst of our pits and battles. Sometimes, we can get so caught up in acknowledging how big the opposing army is or how deep our pit is that we get distracted and forget that God is bigger and is still in control.

When we panic, we try to do in the flesh what can be done only in the Spirit. When we get in the flesh, we can dig an even deeper pit. It is my desire that you will refuse to grab a shovel but grab the rope of hope instead and determine to climb out, no matter how deep your pit may seem today!

Jehoshaphat was determined to inquire of the Lord. Determination will get us just about anywhere we want to go. If we are determined to go in a direction that’s opposite from God’s direction for our lives, we can. It won’t be pretty, and it won’t be fun, but our determination can take us in that direction—at least for a little while.

The Bible is full of great stories of men and women of God who went from pits to pinnacles in their personal lives or careers. Have you ever heard someone comment, “Today was a Jonah day”? When someone says that, you know she means that she’s had a very hard day or experienced an above-average rough time! Well, let’s look at how rough it got for Jonah.

The Lord directed him to Nineveh, where he was to convict the people of their wickedness. But Jonah was determined to go to Tarshish instead—and that’s exactly where he set out to go! His trip didn’t last long, and it wasn’t pretty, but that’s the direction in which his determination took him.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. (Jonah 1:1–3)

Jonah paid the fare to go in the opposite direction from the Word of the Lord. At the time, the fare seemed cheap, but the fare for disobedience is always extremely expensive. Sometimes, it can cost us everything, including our lives.

Because of God’s great love, He sent a violent storm to give Jonah another opportunity to use his determination to take him in the right direction. The storm was so violent that the ship on which Jonah was traveling threatened to break up. As the seas became rougher and rougher, Jonah admitted that everyone on the ship was going through the storm as a result of his disobedience.

Storms can come in our lives as a result of our disobedience, other people’s disobedience, or directly from the hand of God to prune us and cause us to be even more fruitful. Job is an excellent example of this.

When we walk in disobedience, God often allows storms to come into our lives to get us back on track. Not only does He allow storms to get our attention, but He supernaturally provides a way out of the storms, as well.

After Jonah confessed his culpability for the storm, he directed the sailors to throw him overboard. So, “they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:15, 17). After the storm subsided, Jonah woke up in the whale’s stomach with his head in a tangle of seaweed. Now, that’s a pit! What was the first thing Jonah did when he realized his predicament? He prayed.


Always pray in the pit! If you aren’t sure how to pray, you can borrow a few words from Jonah!

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God. When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.” (Jonah 2:1–9)

Immediately after praying, Jonah was delivered from his pit. “The Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land” (Jonah 2:10). God repeated His command for Jonah to preach His message to the people of Nineveh, and this time, he obeyed.

The Lord brought Jonah up out of the pit, and He will do the same for you today. It doesn’t matter how or why you got in the pit. The important thing is that you don’t quit in the pit, but you grab ahold of the rope of hope and climb out.

(Insert call-out box) FROM PITS TO PINNACLES

There’s nothing like a pit to get you to pray. Some of the best prayer meetings that I have ever had have been while I was in a pit! Don’t quit in the pit, but pray like you have never prayed before.

If we are determined not to quit, we can successfully make it out of whatever pit we find ourselves in. As a young Christian, I felt as though I didn’t have any gifts that I could use to bring glory to God. I told God, “I can’t sing, I can’t play the piano…God, I don’t have any gifts.” It was years later when the Lord said to me, “Danette, your gift is the gift of determination.”

Well, I had never considered determination a gift. But all of us have gifts that we don’t even realize. God gives us whatever gifts we need to fulfill His call and purpose for our lives. As I look back over my life, I can definitely say that God gave me the gift I needed the most—the gift of determination.

Perhaps it will help you if I share some of my very personal “pit stops.” Or, maybe I should say “pit pauses,” because I had to remain determined not to stop at the pits. My prayer is that this book will encourage you to make your times in the pit temporary seasons. Yes, we all have pit experiences. So, in the following pages, I want to teach you what I have learned over the years. But most important, I want to encourage you to be determined never to quit in the pit but always to grab on to the rope of hope—God’s Word. And remember, the Word promises us double for all of our trouble! (See Job 42:10.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Us by Daniel Tocchini

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:


David C. Cook; New edition (January 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***


Daniel L. Tocchini has worked with more than 5,000 couples through personal marriage coaching and the unique and life-changing marriage seminars offered through his organization, the Association for Christian Character Development. An ordained minister, chaplain, author, and highly successful speaker/coach, he lives with his family in California.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (January 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434764737
ISBN-13: 978-1434764737

This is definitely not a fast, easy, feel-good read. Then again, neither is making a good marriage. I thought there were a lot of really good and practical things people can use in this book. My suggestion would be to go at it like a Bible study and take one chapter per week. This book is a good tool for anyone wanting to improve their marriage, and would also give some great questions for people thinking about marriage to consider.


The Consumer vs. the Kingdom

“The level of thinking that created the problem is not sufficient to solve it.”

Albert Einstein

This book is about challenging the marriage assumptions that have prevented you from seeing new possibilities in the unchartered waters of Us. The first assumption that simply must go is that you or your spouse needs to change in order for your marriage to improve.

As difficult as it may seem, I want you to consider the possibility that nothing about you or your spouse needs to change.

Nothing at all.

Beyond this, I ask you to consider the reason that you began thinking that one of you needed to change. Could it be that you have unwittingly embraced the consumerism of our culture and applied it to your precious wife? Your precious husband? Such that you began to think of that person as a commodity? That's exactly where Mark and Rene were at when they came to see me. (I should mention that there are times couples are counseled by me and my wife, Aileen. We do this on an as-needed basis.)

Mark and Rene, a forty-something couple with fifteen years of marriage under their belts, spewed venom back and forth at each other during our marriage coaching session. The verbal onslaught was tough to listen to, even though I’ve worked with hundreds of couples and heard it all.

Mark furrowed his brows, glared at his wife, and then looked at me. “You know Dan, I can’t stand being married to Rene any longer! If I had known this marriage was going to be like this I never would have gotten married. Now we have four children and I feel like I’m trapped!” Mark’s rage bubbled over. It was obvious he was purposely trying to hurt his wife with his words.

Rene looked disgusted. “Married? Really? You really believe we’re married? If that’s true, you don’t act like it at all!” She spoke with contempt in her voice. “For starters, you have a girlfriend in New Mexico. If you think you can continue to carry on with that woman, I want a divorce.”

Mark escalated the attack. “Well, you drove me to her. She pays attention to me when I’m around and actually cares about what I do. All you do is gripe at me for not being enough. Besides, you kicked me out so what am I supposed to do? Just wait around until you feel like inviting me back home?”

I was silent and let them duke it out with their words for a bit. I knew exactly where this conversation was going.

In a soft voice, as tears dripped down her cheeks, Rene turned to me. “Dan, I just got tired of waiting for him to do the things he said he would do.” Then she whipped her head around and faced her husband. “When you were home with us, you would get up early in the morning and go to the office, where you worked all day with women. Then, while I was stuck at home with the kids, you would go out to dinner with them. I got tired of feeling abandoned and so I decided since you were never home and always out with other women, we might as well make it official. That’s why I kicked you out. I hoped that you would soon realize what you had lost and begin to court me again. That never happened. You seemed glad to have left. Anyway, even while you were here, there wasn’t an ounce of romance left in our marriage! How do you think that makes me feel? I want a man who will put me first in his life. Honestly Mark, when we first met twenty years ago, I believed you were that man, but now I don’t even know you.”

Mark bristled and took a deep breath, doing his best to maintain some semblance of composure. “Dan, I’m in the fashion business. Most of the people I work with are either gay men or women. I can’t help that! Why can’t Rene support me? After all, I’m the one who provides a great home and pays for the kids’ private school, the medical care, food, clothing—geez, nobody has had to go without anything. I wasn’t seeing anybody until I realized that I just couldn’t go on like that any longer. I was beginning to feel like a hermit. All Rene was doing was getting back at me for what she felt I owed her. When she kicked me out I got an apartment and, sure, a girlfriend on the side. But I needed a companion, somebody who made me feel like I mattered. I just couldn’t take the nagging and complaining anymore!”

Rene turned away so that Mark couldn’t see her cry. Then she said something I’m sure many of you either say yourself or hear from your spouse.

“But what about me, Mark? What about my needs?”

It was the classic “I-need-I-need-I-need” complaint. Yet each one was only listening to their own needs.

The frustrating part for me was that Mark and Rene had the tools they needed to turn their marriage around. It wasn’t like they didn’t know what they needed to do. Though I had worked with them for about two years, they were not getting anywhere. If there was any chance of this marriage not ending in divorce, one thing needed to happen.

They needed to renew their thinking.

Specifically, Mark and Rene had to come to a transformation of how they viewed their marriage. It had nothing to do with changing their behavior or actions towards themselves and each other. Change in that sense is superficial and many times it is temporary. God has called us to rely on Him, not for changing even what we consider “wrong” with us or bad, but in how we relate to God, ourselves, and each other, as well as what we cannot not change. We don’t need to change, fix, or better the bad stuff about us, we need the kind of change we call transformation—changing how we view ourselves, our spouse, and our marriage. In other words, the way you view your spouse or a particular situation you are in—whether you are fighting again about the same thing you fought about yesterday, or your kids are rebelling in the worst way, or there has been betrayal—is what determines the quality of your life together.

This is what Mark and Renee needed to do. They had to look at their union in a completely new way. If this didn’t happen, all the tools and applications and skills they had learned to save their marriage would be useless. Why? Because they had begun to view one another as products—something they thought needed to be different or better. Therefore, they would use those tools, applications and skills to try and “fix” what they thought needed to change, like a defective product, radically distracting them from what could be new without having to fix anything. In fact, if you pay close attention to the language they use, it is not much different than the language we might use when researching a purchase. It was time for them to stop tallying their expenses and start counting the cost.

Luke writes how Jesus was once followed by a large crowd. Jesus tells these folks something very powerful about what it really means to follow Christ and His Kingdom.

“Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won't shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple. Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn't first sit down and figure the cost so you'll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you're going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn't finish.’” (Luke 14:25–30 MSG)

Jesus was saying that before we even consider getting into relationship with Him, we need to count the cost. He clarified His statement by specifying that the potential cost could be loss of familial affections and those close to us, as well as the death of the traditions and habits that are a part of these relationships. Jesus pulled no punches. The cost is great.

Marriage is one of God’s tools for building His kingdom, and if we are to pioneer the possibility of a kingdom life together we must prepare to make life-defining sacrifices. We must prepare to change the way we view life or change our purpose for living together.

This call doesn’t make any sense when it comes to our culture. Why? Because we live in a “consumer”-oriented culture. It is a part of who we are because it is what we were born into. Our relationships, in particular, are immersed in consumerism.

A consumer views marriage as if it exists for individual fulfillment. If a spouse isn’t being fulfilled, then that “consumer” looks for another relationship or even falls into an addiction to fulfill their particular needs—whether to look good, feel good, be right, or be in control. Mark and Rene’s marriage is a prime example of a consumer marriage. Remember some of their complaints?

Mark talked about his reason for dating a woman in New Mexico. He said, “I needed a companion, somebody who made me feel like I mattered. I just couldn’t take the nagging, whining, and complaining!” Mark wanted to feel good by being appreciated and not be asked to live up to what he had promised. He also wanted to be right and in control, so he used his interpretation of Rene’s asking him to move out as a way to justify his going out with the other woman.

Rene remarked, “I got tired of feeling abandoned and so I decided since you were never home and always out with other women, we might as well make it official. That’s why I kicked you out. I hoped that you would soon realize what you had lost and begin to court me again.” She also wanted to feel good and be in control. She longed to be romanced, and her way to control that outcome was to kick her husband out.

Notice the price Mark and Rene were willing to pay to manipulate the other to get what they wanted—the looming dissolve of their marriage. Many Christian couples approach marriage this same way, as a consumer, because they don’t know or understand what God intended marriage to be.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Mark and Rene had entered the death spiral of the consumer marriage. For all their talk about their “needs,” they were missing their real need: A new way of understanding what marriage is all about for them as citizens of the kingdom of Jesus.

Jesus steps on the scene and says, “Where's My kingdom in all of this? Your personal fulfillment and satisfaction are the means to the end. There's nothing temporary about your marriage, and it is not disposable. You stick with each other and work diligently to develop your oneness, even if it is deeply dissatisfying and unfulfilling for long periods of time. Abandon your consumer marriage mindset and come and follow me. I will train you in how to stick with something and not be stuck with it!”

I don't have a program to prescribe, or a list of marriage pointers to post on the fridge. I want you to enter something completely new, together. Set the past aside. Don't even look back there, not even as a frame of reference. What I'm offering is total transformation, something truly, completely new. Something unprecedented, unparalleled.

Surrendering Certitude

The question before us is, Will we take Jesus up on His offer or will we allow our precious marriages—our families for generations to come—to go down with the ship of the consumer mindset? Let's focus in and look at the difference between the two types of marriages in greater detail.

The consumer marriage says: “I will be who I ought to be as long as, and to the degree, that you are who you ought to be.” The kingdom marriage says, “I will be who I ought to be whether you are or not.”

If you are anything like me, you're probably asking, “Why would I be who I ought to be if the other person is taking (or may take) advantage of me?” or “Why should I change if my spouse doesn’t (or may not) want to change?” or “Why should I do all the work if my spouse doesn’t (or may not) want to work just as hard as I am?” These questions are all grounded in the fear of the unknown, which is a huge part of consumer thinking.

Here is what I mean: The one thing we as consumers want from products is predictability. We want to know exactly what we will get, how they will work, who will be delivering them, when they will arrive, and how much they will cost. In short we want to have as much control as we can possibly get, with the most efficiency and convenience possible. Anything outside of that is unknown, uncertain, and definitely uncomfortable. Therefore, we strive to maintain control at all costs and eliminate any risks of encountering or dealing with the unknown.

Surely it is no accident that because of our innate need for this type of certitude, God calls those of us who desire to be united with another to be married. This union, in His eyes, depends on submission instead of control. In marriage, when we submit to the unknown we become open to the rewarding depths of its mysteries. One of my favorite passages about this concept is found in Ephesians and is a pictorial example of a kingdom marriage that counters the consumer lifestyle.

Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.

Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They're really doing themselves a favor—since they're already “one” in marriage.

No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That's how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” (Eph. 5:21–31 MSG)

What strikes me most when I read this Scripture is the way Christ treats the church—through loving, honoring, respecting, and giving. This illustrates for us the manner that each husband is to treat his wife and how each wife is to honor her husband. Paul’s commission to us powerfully aligns with Jesus’ words in Luke about counting the cost. In both passages we are called to submission. If we want to be Jesus’ disciples, we must submit to Him and follow His example. If our marriage is to be a blessing to us and our community, we must submit to each other.

While our culture has taught us that the highest reward is to be served and be the master of our own destiny, we are told something contrary in the Bible. God reminds us that the greatest value in life is to submit and give ourselves over to God and one another. Becoming a servant will bring forth a greater blessing than this consumer world could ever give us. As it relates to marriage, submission is an opposing force to certitude, our need to be in control, and our beliefs that we know everything. The bottom line is that being a know-it-all is an obstacle to embracing mystery in marriage.

Think about this. Do we know everything about God? Of course not. Actually, the one thing we can be certain about is how inexhaustible the mystery of God is, as Job declared.

Do you think you can explain the mystery of God? Do you think you can diagram God Almighty? God is far higher than you can imagine, far deeper than you can comprehend, stretching farther than earth's horizons, far wider than the endless ocean. If he happens along, throws you in jail then hauls you into court, can you do anything about it? He sees through vain pretensions, spots evil a long way off—no one pulls the wool over his eyes! Hollow men, hollow women, will wise up about the same time mules learn to talk. (Job 11:7 MSG)

The foundation of life is God, and He has revealed Himself as mystery. This characteristic and the way He has invited us to discover and experience who He is reflects the very nature of mystery inherent in marriage. When we abandon our certitude and instead submit to God and then to one another, we open the door to the possibility of continual renewal. We stop pigeonholing ourselves, our spouse, and our marriage into what we think we know about them. And it is only by embracing mystery that we can begin to experience a transformational kingdom marriage.


One night, Mark showed up at my house with steam pouring out of his ears. It was obvious he was desperate. “Dan, I need to talk to you. I can’t take Rene’s nagging any longer. All she wants to do is try and control me. She is so insecure that I can’t stand being with her! I can’t do this anymore. It’s over.”

Frankly, I was taken back by his certitude about where Rene was coming from, so I asked him how he knew she was insecure. For the next hour, Mark and I talked about that supposed surety. Mark also remarked that there was more bad than good in the marriage.

I reminded him about the “for better or for worse part” he uttered in their marriage vows and asked, “Isn’t that what you promised her? That you would stick around for better or for worse?”

Mark thought for a moment and said, “Sure, but she just won’t submit to me!” (Ah, spoken like a true consumer. I have heard this same thing from so many people of faith.)

After talking with him a bit, I learned that many of Mark’s Christian friends thought Rene was rebellious. I asked him to consider another point of view. I brought up the passage in Ephesians about submission and asked him what level of submission men are called to.

Mark replied confidently, “We are to be the head of the family!”

“Actually,” I pointed out, “it says we are to love our wives as Jesus loves the church and gave Himself as a sacrifice for her. My question to you is, if we are to love our wives as Jesus loves the church, who actually gave themselves first, Jesus or the church?”

“Jesus did.” Mark said in low tones.

“And who was crucified for the church to see her resurrected?”

“Jesus was.”

“The Bible says Jesus’ love was ‘marked by giving not getting,’ yet when we talk about your relationship with Rene,” I said. “You dwell on what you are not getting. I wonder how anybody would tend to feel if they were constantly reminded of their insufficiencies?”

“I get your point,” Mark retorted. “But the bottom line still is that all she does is gripe.”

I probed further, “Are you certain that is all she does?”

“Okay, not all the time. I know it isn’t healthy to use the words “always” and “never,” but she does it most of the time!”

I asked Mark if he was certain what Rene was doing was complaining. Could she, in fact, be doing something else that he was not able to see because he was so blinded by what he was so sure he knew?

Mark thought about what I said for a moment and then looked at me. “I am so tired of this relationship and how hard it is to just connect on anything. I think I just want to be done with it.”

I paused for a minute, weighing my response. “Mark, I do get you are being honest about how it feels for you, but do you think your certainty that the relationship is what you have described has anything to do with your despair? I mean, if Rene is who you are certain she is, and there is no possibility that she could be any other way, then I understand your despair. But what if things were NOT exactly the way you have them set in your head? Would it matter? If there was another possibility, would you like to know about it?”

“Yes, I would want to know if I am missing something.” Mark let out a frustrated sigh. “But it just doesn’t seem worth the time!”

“According to who? You? Rene? Your kids?” I asked with an edge in my voice.

“You’re right. I guess there can’t be much possibility if I am so certain about who she is, how she will respond, what she says, and what she wants.”


“Mark, what if the loss of your romance for Rene had little to nothing to do with her?” I inquired.

A sense of surprise came over his face and he inquired, “What do you mean?”

“If you think you know who she is, what she will say and think, as well as how she will react, then there are no new possibilities available. There is no mystery in the relationship and therefore no sense of anticipation for what God may be doing between you. No mystery equals no romance!”

“Perhaps that has something to do with the despair I’m feeling,” Mark mused.

I wondered out loud and asked, “Do you think seeing Jennifer contributes to that sense of despair?”

“Why would you say that?”

“It seems obvious to me that the more you see her, the more you will need to be right about these judgments you have about Rene so you can justify seeing Jennifer. That way you don’t have to be open to who you and Rene can be together. But sooner or later, Mark, you will have to explain this to your children. The prices are huge for the few fleeting moments of self-satisfaction you are gaining with Jennifer. Now that is a real formula for despair.”

Mark sat still for a few moments and then came back strong. “All this wondering about my certitude about Rene seems like a waste of time. I have been with her for fifteen years. I really do feel like I know how she will react.”

“Mark, I am asking you to consider and explore what you are making up about her reaction. When she complains about things, do you investigate her complaint? Have you stopped and wondered what she is trying to communicate by her complaining?”

His answer was immediate. “Yes. She is trying to control me because she is insecure.”

“Are you certain she is insecure? Perhaps part of submitting to another is being open to who your spouse is outside of your prejudice of them. I know you have your historical evidence to validate your judgment of why Rene reacts the way she does, but how much time have you spent questioning that certainty?

Mark still wasn’t fazed. “Dan you don’t understand what it is like to live with her and her nagging. She doesn’t care and I don’t see any good what could come out of this. This is just too much suffering to have to go through.”

I made one last attempt. “Mark, you know the suffering Aileen and I have gone through in our marriage, right?”

He nodded his head in acknowledgment while I reminded him of my story. “My wife and I were discussing divorce and were separated in our own house for a year. We saw no possibility that we would ever care enough for each other to ever be intimate again. But we decided that our son deserved the chance of us trying. We needed to at least try and trust God. We needed to at least try to devote some time to exploring our own judgments of each other. We needed to at least try and understand where the other was coming from outside of the record of wrongs we had built up to bolster our judgments of each other.

“Our hope and prayer was that God would somehow draw us into some new possibilities for each other. We realized we had loved one another once before. We experienced great passion for one another, much like you and Rene have shared in the past. We kept believing that God would open possibility in the suffering if we were willing to love each other as we wanted the other to love us. We were determined to get out of the consumer mindset that had done nothing except ruin our marriage.”

Something hit home. Mark promised to think about it and we ended the conversation.

Mark needed to abandon the what’s-in-it-for-me mentality and discard his certitude about Rene’s feelings, thoughts, and actions. He needed to embrace the possibility that could emerge from exploring the mystery of who she is and who they could be together.

I know this because this is what saved my marriage. I gave mystery a chance. The second I was able to allow mystery to seep into my thought process about my wife … the second I was able to admit that perhaps I didn’t know what she was thinking or the reasons for how she would react to particular things … the second I was able to allow God to intervene and transform my heart to give without expecting … was the second that the possibility opened for transforming our relationship.

Letting Go of Yesterdays

Experiencing this renewal and other possibilities that emerge from embracing the unknown is impossible until we let the past die. We need to let go of yesterday. The record of the past is the foundation upon which we built up a structure of false assumptions. The more we attempt to recapture the past, the more we miss the “new” God is doing now.

In the Bible God tells us, “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun” (Isa. 43:19 NLT). Part of counting the cost and picking up our cross is trusting God in letting the old die so He can begin a “new.” This is what it means to embrace the kind of mystery Jesus talked about of losing your life in order to gain it (see Matt. 16:25).

Embracing mystery and letting go of the old is never a comfortable process. It is ambiguous and uncertain. But this is what prompts us to cling to our faith in God. And this is what demands His intervention.

You may be thinking I don’t know if I can let go of feeling neglected or I’m not sure how to stop thinking about my wife’s infidelity or Can my husband and I really find peace in the middle of this tumultuous marriage with all we’ve been through?

The beauty of a kingdom marriage is that the designer is God Himself. He is the one who is able to renew our marriages by eclipsing the past with new possibilities. Even in the midst of the suffering, pain, and brokenness of a failing marriage, if we submit to God instead of submitting to our selfish, consumer-oriented desires—wanting to be in control, be right, look good, and feel good—He can renew our inner being and, ultimately, our marriage. This only happens, however, if we reinvent our relationship to the past, which will transform the power it has over us and give Him permission to bring about transformation.

When we allow God to get into the middle of our marriages and submit to His will, He not only transforms our character, but He transforms the value of the very things that caused us harm or were unhealthy in the past. God’s intervention in these things creates an opportunity for healing and renewal. Even our failures as spouses can be turned into learning lessons that can bless our marriage and even those around us.

Sure we have to designify our past—the hurts we’ve been caused, the hurts we’ve caused—but there is more to transformation than just that. God has the power to take the bad things, even what we consider our character flaws, our lapses in judgment, our bad decisions, and turn them into blessings in disguise. God transforms us by taking those things we judge as bad or evil that we have thought, said, or done and turning them into strengths or gifts, if we are willing to live in the light. This is what spiritual transformation is all about.

A year or so after counseling Mark and Rene, they shared with my wife and I how God transformed a particular aspect of their marriage that relates exactly to what I’m talking about.

Mark admitted that he finally realized how selfish his need for Renee’s attention had been, especially when it came to their sex life. He said they had a breakthrough in this regard because not only had their sex life increased in quality and quantity, but their intimacy in conversation had been dramatically heightened during this time.

Rene nodded her head in agreement. “When Mark turned that sensitivity from himself on me,” she explained, “I was completely overwhelmed by his love and appreciation. He recognized things about me I didn’t know anybody could see or appreciate. It transformed the way I view him and I began to experience respect where I formerly experienced contempt.”

Mark chimed in. “In the beginning, I couldn’t take Rene’s sharp edge and eye for detail. To me she seemed critical. But as I began to understand her perspective and she made room to investigate her own assumptions, her griping transformed! The ‘edge’ that I viewed as a threat was really a powerful commitment to integrity and congruity. Instead of hearing her as if her intentions were solely to criticize and knock me down, I started considering what she was seeing. This transformation opened up my eyes to other areas that we had been lacking in, like finances and our relationship with our kids. Though our willingness to be so open initially made us uncomfortable and even hurt in some ways, I realized how powerful it is to have a friend who cares for our future more than just living in the status quo. We are truly becoming a family because we can see specific situations we can pray into and discuss that make a real difference in our way of being together!”

Mark and Renee both agreed that this kind of transformation came through their willingness to suffer through being misunderstood, making mistakes, and feeling alone—all the emotions and feelings that are endured when we let go of past and allow God to step into our suffering and bring light to our darkness. Standing in the middle of challenges like these pays spiritual dividends far beyond what we know is possible.

What’s my point? Suffering in a hurting marriage can bring possibility. It can transform your union and yield the passion to bring you closer to your spouse. It can lead us to love as God has ordained it. Here, in the mere shadows of this world, faith hangs on to the possibility that what looks temporally harsh and horrible can be transformed into something that is eternally passionate and life-changing. Faith is the antithesis of the consumer mindset, which says that anything unpleasant should simply be discarded and replaced.

A New Beginning

Before Mark and Rene made the turnaround in their marriage, they had gotten to the point where I was mediating their divorce instead of trying to fix their marriage. Two years of hardcore counseling seemed to be worth nothing as I did my best to wisely help divvy up their assets. It was a gut-wrenching process to orchestrate.

When the subject of the custody of their children came up, the mood transformed from bitterness to sadness. Mark and Rene burst out, almost simultaneously, that they didn’t want to go through with the divorce. It was a surreal moment. It was as if all the things we discussed came alive in one moment for the two of them. They wanted to give their marriage another chance. They wanted to really listen to each other. They wanted to let go of what they thought they knew about the other person. They wanted to allow God to intervene with His love.

Mark and Rene have now been married for twenty-four years. They are very much in love and are enjoying their renewed, God-designed kingdom marriage. As a matter of fact, they recently shared with me that their romance continues to increase as they maintain their trust in God and embrace mystery while working with the other tools we originally practiced in our sessions. They say no to the temptation of being a consumer spouse. They resist asking, “What’s in this for me?” and continue to let go of their addiction to be right and in control. In doing all of these things, they are influencing the kingdom of God in a powerful way.

When will that surreal moment of surrender come for you in your marriage? What will it take for you to realize that God has called you to a mystery not a purchase agreement? That He has invited you into a conversation, not stump speech to promote your personal agenda? Be encouraged that no matter how bad you think your marriage is right now, there is hope. All is not lost.

If your marriage is not ailing in any way, use these lessons like a business person might use the Wall Street Journal or Forbes Magazine to build their foundation, keep an eye on the market or to better get a grasp on the trends that may be coming up. You can use this book to check, strengthen or expand the foundations of a kingdom marriage so you are better prepared when tough times do eventually come. Understanding how to live marriage in a way that expresses the kingdom will help weather future storms.


A consumer-oriented marriage teaches us that we are the focal point of our marriage. It’s about our needs getting met. It’s about us.

God commissions us to live a kingdom marriage where the relationship is the highest good. We are called to be who we ought to be, even though our spouse may not be who they ought to be.

The first step to experiencing a renewed and transformational marriage is to look at it and start living it from a kingdom perspective. Otherwise whatever tools you apply will be used to accomplish the purposes of a consumer, not a servant in the kingdom of God.

Being in a kingdom marriage means submitting to God and your spouse. We are called to give of ourselves in a sacrificial way.

When we submit in this fashion, we embrace mystery. God is part mystery and so we, created in His image, are part mystery. When we understand that we don’t know everything about ourselves, our spouse, or our marriage, we open the possibility to experience our marriage and our spouse in new ways.

Letting the past go is critical to moving forward into a kingdom marriage, where God is the focal point. He is the one who can bring transformation, even out of our pains and suffering. He is the one who can turn what we thought were curses into blessings.

©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Us by Daniel Tocchini. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.