Carey Nieuwhof, pastor from Canada and popular podcaster, published his first book in September 2018, Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges that No One Expects and Everyone Experiences. He wants to help readers identify and stop seven of the most common problems to plague our modern lives and make us miserable. If we know how to be prepared for disillusionment that life will inevitably hand us, we can deal with it in healthy ways.
What Happens When We Aren’t Looking
We are busy people. We over schedule, overeat and overwork. There is no end to the things we need to do each day. And one of the results of that ever increasing pace of life is we forget to take time to nurture our inner lives. We don’t take the time to give our soul a sense of peace or our community true connection. There are consequences of ignoring these personal and interpersonal needs. Sometimes they push us to the edge and sometimes they sever our relationships.
Our idealistic 20s turn into the mundane 30s and sometimes slide to a cynical and disconnected 40s. While the trauma of burnout and emptiness can happen at 25 or 65, we never anticipate it or prepare for it. We are consumed with the daily tasks of working, caring for children, attending meetings, scrubbing kitchen floors, folding laundry and millions of other small tasks. While some are necessary, they create so much mental clutter that we neglect self-care and nurturing relationships.
Carey draws heavily from his own experience when writing this book. He reflects on how life veers off course while we have our heads buried in daily tasks. Sharing the development of burn-out and desperation brings to life these challenges and helps the reader to see the creep of disillusionment and apathy in their own lives. He teaches us from his own experience of pushing himself way past his breaking point and the work and time it took to heal from that pressure.
What are the Problems that Lead to Disillusionment
Carey identifies seven major challenges that most people experience sometime in their life, but are unprepared for and have trouble rebounding from. Cynicism sets in as life becomes routine and mundane. We no longer hope for a different, better, ideal life. We settle for what we have, even though we are miserable about it.
Compromise and disconnection both happen so slowly we tend not to notice until one day we don’t recognized ourselves. Unfortunately, at that point we realize we have no one to bring us back to who we want to be. Disconnection is so much more viscous than spending a few hours a day starting at a five inch screen. We have to learn to thrive in conjunction with technology. Accepting our world as it is and still finding ways to be healthy is essential.
Irrelevance is easy to diagnose in others, but painful to see in ourselves. We all know someone who has refused to send an e-mail or maintained old stereotypes. The world is always changing and in order to speak into it, we must adapt to the change. But even when we are keeping up with society, we are easily sucked into a sense of pride. We spend irresponsibility, look to others for approval and refuse to accept help. Pride is a built-in feature of this life and it takes concerted effort to avoid falling head-long into full-blown pride.
The term “burn out” was first used in the 1970s, but today everyone has heard and used the phrase. This deep, desperate place of being unable to function normally slams on the breaks. Relationships are severed. Occupations are abandoned. Families are destroyed. All because we push and push until we are rung dry, left hanging on by our fingernails.
Finally, emptiness seems to be the hallmark of this generation. At a time when millions of people are available at the push of a button, we have fewer meaningful relationships. The deep knowing associated with living in proximity and working through life together is missing.
Getting Back on Track
So often we don’t realize how far off track we are. While it feels like we were fine one day and the next we are drowning in a pit of hopelessness, it’s generally a long slow process. Little bit by little bit we compromise. “Implosions often come as a surprise,” Carey says in his introduction. They didn’t see it coming “until they had crossed a line of no return.”
At that point, it’s a lot of hard work and dedication to put life back together and recover from disillusionment. But what if we could see it coming? This book is the big yellow sign in the middle of the road warning of what’s to come. We can’t see the cracks or uneven pavement or gaping twenty foot wide hole before we arrive, but there are caution signs along the way.
For example, I never thought to connect a disappearance of confession to a lack of connection. And not just in a relationship with God. “You won’t address what you won’t confess.” If there is a problem in any relationship, we aren’t talking about it any more. We are ignoring it and hoping it is magically solved the next time we interact. Yes, we are distracted by devices, but really we are disconnected because of our self-absorption. We are too busy with ourselves to look up and have honest and fulfilling relationships with other people.
If we noticed these small insidious changes, we could get back to real relationships and a fulfilled life quickly with a few small adjustments. Carey testifies to the fact that we just wait too long. He is honest about the burnout he experienced and how it affected every part of his life. He waited until he fell off the cliff of despair and overwhelm before seeking help or making changes.
Turning the Tide
“What do I need to do (or not do) so I can live today in a way that will help me thrive tomorrow?” Carey asks us to consider this in most chapters of the book. Evaluate what you need to thrive. Seek out the things that feed your soul and nourish your spirit so you can do the same for someone else.
To create a life where you can effectively navigate all the situations you will undoubtedly face, the most important thing is self-knowledge. As John Calvin said, “Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God… Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.” This intimate self-knowing is what enables us to see what is coming, know what we need, connect with others and form meaningful relationships. Self-knowledge is the key of how to be prepared for disillusionment.
It is also what turns our eyes on God. The Divine provides the grace to accept where we are and turn to where we want to be. We want to be connected to God and to others, but if we are unhealthy, we pass those unhealthy behaviors along into our relationships. We can’t tenderly hold others if we are absorbed in our own messes.
A relationship with God is based on grace, and we fail to extend that grace to ourselves or others when we insist on pushing past the breaking point. God wants a connection with his people but, just like a relationship with a spouse or child, it takes time and energy. We can’t spend everything we have chasing a moving target of success. Relationships, especially the one with our own fragile souls, must be a priority.
How to be Prepared for Disillusionment in Real Life
It would be valuable to read this book every few years. Every time you reread it, you will be in a different stage of life and see the struggles and challenges in a new way. It’s a great method of testing if one of the seven struggles is creeping up on you. Readers will be able to make small adjustments on a regular basis instead of waiting until the crisis hits.
It is not a matter of if, but of when. These insidious characteristics sneak up on us with out warning or consent. When we think we are being conscientious and responsible by taking care of other people, we are neglecting so many interior struggles. Ignoring the pain of disillusionment feeds it. Eventually, it will be big enough that it is impossible to ignore. But armed with warning signs of future disaster, we can change course before the implosion. Carey provides us with the clues to be aware of our life slipping into despair. Heed the warning to save your own heartache and relationships.
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