Monday, April 27, 2015
Unglued by Lysa Terkeurst (Book Review #34 of 2015)
Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions
This book was a free download at ChristianAudio.com a while back. My wife listened to it and found it to be a fairly accurate description of how she often thinks and feels; she recommended I listen as well. (Men, if you're not reading books that speak to your wife then I suggest you're not connecting with her like you could/should.) I am reading Brad Bigney's Gospel Treason at the same time, which is primarily about idols like pride and sense of self-worth as being the root of our conflicts, and find a lot of common ground between the two books. (Bigney would call the sources of our false thinking and lies ultimately our idols of pride and acceptance by others.)
I will address the weakness of the book first, although I think a highly critical review I read at The Gospel Coalition (TGC) is overblown. Critics argue that Terkeurst is weak on the Gospel, and I agree to a point. First, this book was written for an already-Christian (predominantly female) audience. I found it no different than books which discuss spiritual disciplines, communication, leadership, etc. We don't always have to make every book we read or write a deep theological treatise to pass some critic's litmus test. Second, the book is subtitled "Making Wise Choices," and needs to be viewed in this frame. It is ultimately a presentation of principles for having crucial conversations with people, understanding the root of your defensive and hostile emotions, and how to use Scripture to combat false thoughts and "inside chatter" that come from your deceitful heart. It is not a pep talk and Terkeurst doesn't advocate severing painful relationships-- she espouses using Scripture to combat lies we tell ourselves, focused prayer, practicing a Sabbath, and practicing Ephesians 4:32. That said, she avoids calling angry outbursts at others and performing for self and others instead as for the Lord "sin" or acknowledge it is a result of our fallen, sinful natures.
Terkeurst also grates on some in the Reformed crowd because she calls this process of sanctification "imperfect progress." Whitacre writes: "God is not clearly presented as the holy judge of the universe who demands perfection (not “imperfect progress”) and who justly pours out his wrath on sinners." That's because Terkeurst understands Christ bore the full brunt of God's wrath on the cross and now that we are imputed with His righteousness there is no condemnation for us. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says "And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." Not that we are BEING transformed, the process continues. Ephesians 2:10, which Terkeurst repeatedly cites reminds us that we are God's workmanship. The Apostles wrote epistles to the church to remind them that the Christian life requires daily discipline lived out in community. Jesus reminds us that our cross must be taken up "daily" (Luke 9:23). Hebrews 3, 1 Thessalonians 5 and other passages are written to admonish Christians to encourage one another daily, to pray without ceasing, etc. 1 John reminds us that anyone who says he is without sin is lying, hence the life we lead is progress and we make mistakes along the way--imperfect progress. John Piper has his phone send him a daily reminder with the text of Ephesians 4:32. If a giant in the faith like Piper still needs that reminder frequently, might we all?
How does one live that out while dealing with critics, disobedient children, cultural expectations, etc. in the 21st century? That's what Terkeurst is addressing. Could she have reminded readers more frequently that it's only Christ on the cross that tears the veil that gives us access to God a little more? Sure.
My biggest criticism of this book is that it references so few other books, which is a problem of Christian pop culture (the Bigney book above and most others in the last decade guilty of the same). Some parts of Unglued reminded me of Ann Voskamp's 1,000 Gifts, but that book was neither referenced nor mentioned, although I've seen Terkeurst recommend that book elsewhere (perhaps she hadn't read it yet). The best books inspire you to read other books, and Unglued does not.
Terkeurst writes that we should examine our emotions and reminds us that we do not have proper perspective on this earth of how God is working things for our good and His glory. Job did not know his possessions would be restored and multiplied. While in prison, Joseph did not know he'd be elevated to rule the land and save his people. Only time perspective can give us that.
We're always faced with critics and the biggest critic is often ourselves. I wish Terkeurst had used the idol language that Brad Bigney did. Our self-esteem or how we want to be seen by others are often idols. "Labels only stick if we let them," is a good reminder that our identify is in Christ alone (Romans 8:1). We have to identify what is actually true, and the only way to do that is by meditating and memorizing Scripture. Scripture is the sword we use to combat doubt and the "inside chatter" that tells us we're not good enough, or not really forgiven, or not really loved. "Don't buy the lie that you will always be a slave to emotions and false thinking," our minds are being conformed and transformed (Romans 12:1-2).
At the same time we're being honest with ourselves, we have to be honest with others. Terkeurst terms communicating with a combination of honesty and humility "soul integrity." This is where Ephesians 6:19 comes in. Make the gospel known whenever you open your mouth. Don't explode. Think through things with the godly honesty of soul integrity. (There was quite a bit of similar advice to Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People here):
1. Begin by honoring the person who is offending you. (God loves them.) Forgiveness is mandatory but reconciliation is not.
2. Keep your response short and full of grace. (Acknowledge their hurt, complaint).
3. End by extending compassion. Offer love. Don't fake it.
She closes the book with an example of an email one of her staff crafted to someone who was upset with something said on her radio program.
Before responding, take a quiet time out. Make the choice to turn to God and cast your burden on Him. Memorize scripture, keep it on 3x5 cards with you wherever you go so that you're thinking rightly. See past the emotion to what you really want (this seemed almost like plagiarism from Crucial Conversations). Don't "stuff the hurt" and sever the relationship. We will not always see eye-to-eye with everyone who is beneficial to us. We all have blind spots of ignorance to where we're either hurting others or being socially awkward-- but we need people to love us unconditionally. Therefore, don't confuse silence with godliness. "Don't build barriers but do have boundaries." You can't change the other person, but you can pray and ask God to help you empathize with their hurt and where they're coming from. You can also pray that god will help remove the pain from this relationship/situation, even if that means taking them out of your life.
There's a reminder for marriage-- conflicts grow a relationship. If we all agreed with each other all the time, we'd be lying and never learning or growing. So long as there is trust in the relationship, conflict is good.
Always be sure to take your expectations to God and compare them with Scripture. Too often, Terkeurst found she had not met her husbands expectations in her mind, when later (after exploding on him in an ungodly fashion) she found out he didn't have those expectations-- they were all a figment of her mind and deceitful heart.
In moments of crisis remember:
1. Who you are (in Christ).
2. Redirect your focus to Jesus. This involves praying deliberately in the moment.
3. Recognize that God's job isn't your job. Trust and obey.
4. Shift from attitude to gratitude. Give thanks repeatedly in all situations. (again, like Voskamp, but never mentions her)
5. "My actions determine my reach." How you handle the crisis determines who and how you impact.
She gives good questions to ask yourself when you get an angry email or a sense that something is amiss from someone. Ask yourself: Did someone really say this, or am I making it up? Am I putting words in their mouth? Am I immersed in the truth of God's word? Have I taken a Sabbath rest to meditate on truth and scripture? (Remind yourself on the sabbath to find the good on the non-sabbath.) Where am I going my own way instead of with God? What idle words are going out that I'm going to give an account for in the end?
When others "unglue," remember to show the grace to them that you wish they'd show you. Understand their hurt comes from something else-- it's not all about you.
In all, I give this book 3 stars out of 5. I wish she had drawn from other reference points, or cited all her sources. The lack of her Gospel emphasis was also a minus. Her words and advice are similar to so many others, but put in a style that appeals to Christian women who feel they have too many expectations heaped upon them. This book brought me closer to my wife by helping me understand how she thinks and the temptations she faces from the "inside chatter" of false expectations and wrong thinking. I'd be curious to read Made to Crave or her other works.