“Human souls hide an Achilles’ heel. We have an astonishing capacity to rally in the face of calamity and duress. We rally and rally, and then one day we discover there’s nothing left. Our soul simply says, I’m done; I don’t want to do this anymore, as we collapse into discouragement, depression, or just blankness of soul. You don’t want to push your soul to that point. But everything about the hour we are living in is pushing our souls to that very point.”
So begins John Eldredge in his most recent book—a book about how our souls, which have a built-in yearning for joy and beauty and goodness, have taken a beating in recent years, and how we can begin to restore our souls through skills of recovery and resilience modeled by Jesus Himself.
We entered 2020 worn down by the madness and chaos of life. Then the pandemic hit, and our already floundering souls were further dragged down by loss, tension, and strife. Now on the “other side,” most of us are eager to get back to normal. Unfortunately, that normal no longer exists and we are ill-prepared to face what’s ahead.
As a trained counselor, John Eldredge recognizes the signs of trauma and points out that we have all undergone a trauma of global magnitude. Much to our detriment, though, “we’re in a sort of global denial about the actual cost of these hard years (which are not over). We just want to get past it all, so we’re currently trying to comfort ourselves with some sense of recovery and relief. But folks, we haven’t yet paid the psychological bill for all we’ve been through. . . . Denial heals nothing, which is why I’m more concerned about what’s coming than what lies behind. . . . Our hearts will need guidance and preparation. It would be a good idea to take the strength of your soul seriously at this time.”
Like any good counselor, Eldredge begins by helping us make sense of what we have experienced in the broken years and calling us back to what he calls our Primal Drive for Life, turning to God rather than chasing relief in our hopes, plans, and dreams. We are living in a story written by the hand of God, and we must remember our place within it as we keep God’s perspective on what lies ahead.
To recover from what has been, and prepare for what will be, we will need strength of heart, mind, and spirit—a strength that comes from being single-hearted in our cherishing of God above all things. Throughout the book Eldredge outlines skills that help us lean into God’s natural graces that fortify us with resilience and equip us to live in both the spiritual and the physical realms. He shows us how to lean into the abundance of God while relinquishing attachments to our own comfort because “the longing for things to be good again is making us vulnerable to all sorts of compromises.” Now, more than ever, maturity is not optional and “wholeheartedness is no longer something we can go without.” Like the wilderness survivors whose stories introduce each chapter of the book, we must train for the journey and remain diligent in our pursuits.
In chapter after chapter and story after story, Eldredge draws our attention back to the bigger narrative unfolding and our place within it. I appreciated this grand perspective, the reminders that there is so much more going on in this world and within each of us than we see or understand. The prayers and meditations scattered throughout the book set my mind and heart back on the Lord as I invite Him to walk with me through making a plan for soul recovery and resilience training.
John Eldredge is a compassionate guide in this recovery process, but he isn’t afraid to speak truths that might be hard for us to hear. In one of my favorite passages from the book, he writes:
“Years in the Comfort culture made us emotionally soft.
If we don’t feel like doing something, we don’t do it.
If we don’t feel like believing something, we don’t believe it.
Folks like to call this authenticity, but it’s really just adolescence. Like a fourteen-year-old, we treat our emotions as some sort of right, the truest part of our existence. If we don’t feel love, we think we no longer love; if we don’t feel God, we think maybe he’s not around anymore. We coddle our feelings when what we need to do is bring them under the rule of Christ, just like our thought life. We build emotional resilience by not letting them control our perspective or our reaction to things.”
Wow, are we a society that needs to hear that right now!
This book makes a great follow-up to Get Your Life Back (Eldredge’s February 2020 book), building on the spiritual disciplines described there and offering new paths and practices geared towards life in a post-pandemic world. As with all of Eldredge’s books, this one can get a bit heady and sort of woo-woo and won’t be to everyone’s taste. Personally, I benefitted from the stories and especially from the written prayers, and while the book felt repetitive and probably too long, I came away with a much healthier perspective on what it looks like to be wholehearted in a half-hearted world, and how to welcome Jesus into the day-to-day of wholhearted living.
My Book Rating: 4 Stars.