Carey Nieuwhof, Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences (New York: WaterBrook, 2018), 211 pages.
In this book Nieuwhof draws on personal events within his own life as he outlines seven challenges we all face. For each challenge, there is a chapter describing the problem followed by a chapter on strategies for pushing through the challenge and into a new and more vibrant way of living. All the chapters open with stories that describe in a personal way how the challenge arose or how it can be handled. The blend of stories, insights, and suggestions made the eading enjoyable.
The seven challenges and the antidotes for each are:
- Cynicism. (Be curious)
- Compromise (Develop character)
- Disconnection (Slow down)
- Irrelevance (Love the Mission, not the Method)
- Pride (Gratitude)
- Burn Out (Live today so you can thrive tomorrow)
- Emptiness (God’s Kingdom)
My own personal experiences did not always mirror Nieuwhof’s. He saw cynicism as a problem for those in their 30s, when he face this problem. As I read about it, I saw myself as a cynic in my late teen and early 20s. Have grown up when issues of race, integrations, Vietnam and Watergate were in the forefront, I was filled with cynicism. By the time I entered my 30s, I was becoming more hopeful. I agree with Nieuwhof that Christians should be the most hopeful people around, but we know that is often not the case. I also agree that curiosity can lead us beyond cynicism to a more hopeful future.
In his chapters on disconnection, he notes how technology makes an age old problem of being disconnected with others worse, but it is not the only reason we are disconnected. We have a need to slow down and to learn how to have conversations with others.
As he discusses irrelevance, he shows how we are wired to resist change and how the older and more successful we become the more conservative we are, which may lead to our own irrelevance. Addressing the church, he argues that we focus on the mission, not the methods. The mission never changes, but the methods are always changing. While the world around the church is always changing faster than the church, the church will need to change to have influence on the world.
With pride, Nieuwhof begins with a humorous story of spilling someone on a pair of pants and how he was so worried with how the person he was going to meet with was going to judge him. This allows him to make the helpful distinction between narcissism and pride. We all suffer from pride. Narcissism might seem to be pride on steroids, but it is actually a clinical condition that requires professional help. When we can foster humility and not be comparing ourselves to others, we can avoid the pitfalls of pride.
The chapters on burnout were very personal, as Nieuwhof describes going from a high (a once-in-a-lifetime experience) to the depths of depression. He admitted his thoughts on suicide and how normal things that used to bring him joy were hollow. While he encouraged spiritual connections, he also noted the need for trained counseling to help overcome depression.
Nieuwhof shows how one who has been very successful in his field (he is an attorneys and the founding pastor of one of Canada’s largest and fastest growing churches) will when at the top of their game feel empty. Too often that comes from us putting the focus on what we’re doing, not on what we are working for. We need to become excited about God’s mission, not our individual tasks within it. He correctly notes how people don’t become involved in a church to fulfill the pastor’s dream, but to become a part of God’s work in the world. This is a helpful distinction.
In his closing chapter (Calvin meets Hobbes) and to my pleasant surprise, he draws on the great theologian (John Calvin) who insisted at the beginning of his Institutes of the Christian Religion that without self-knowledge, we can have no knowledge of God. He suggests (as others have done before him) that Calvin is the alternative to the philosopher Thomas Hobbes belief that “life is nasty, brutish, and short.” Then he links Calvin’s internal exploration to Daniel Goleman’s idea of emotional intelligence (I highly recommend Goleman’s, Emotional Intelligence). We have to know not only ourselves, but how we affect those around us, if we want to be successful. Our self-awareness will draw us back into the arms of our loving Creator God.
My favorite quote and something to ponder: “‘The gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.’ If you read this text purely as a commentary on becoming a Christian, it’s inconsistency with the rest of the New Testament message, which says our salvation doesn’t depend on our goodness; our salvation instead depends on our trusting our lives to Jesus…” (51)
I was provided an advanced copy of this book for an unbiased review. The book is scheduled to be published in early September 2018.