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|Publisher:||Tyndale House Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
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You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas lights.
The sunlight filtered through the window with a gentle grace, and I woke up with a smile. I knew I had a lot to be grateful for that morning — I was visiting a friend while taking a study leave from work, which meant that I was temporarily not in charge of the groceries, the car pools, the lunches, or the dogs. This kind of break was a rare gift, and with the quiet awakening, the beautiful day, the smell of coffee brewing, and the promise of a couple of meetings that I was looking forward to later that morning, I whispered a quick hallelujah of praise. It was a day full of potential, and I had a particular sense that God was up to something important.
But then I actually got out of bed.
By noon, I felt deflated. I had been caught off guard by the discussion in one meeting, and I'd felt unheard and unseen in the other. My writing — the reason I was away from home in the first place — remained untouched. The sunshine didn't seem so bright as I walked back toward my friend's house that afternoon.
I tried to get in touch with how I was feeling. I remembered taking a college yoga class that taught relaxation techniques. The instructor had us lie down on our backs, palms to the ceiling, and take a "mental scan" of our bodies, from head to toe, looking for places of stress. Trying to help myself, I employed the same yoga-lady technique, but with a focus on a "mental scan" of my soul, looking for why the day had started so well and now I could barely put one foot in front of the other. That only led to some incriminating self-talk. I huffed a sigh of frustration as I thought: I can't believe I even felt stressed in college. Life is so much more confusing and complicated now that I am a real adult with real problems.
Since I was feeling worse than ever, I tried to be kinder to myself. I took on the tone of a nonjudgmental counselor. Mmmm, how did that meeting make you feel? That got me nowhere, so I went with the boot camp instructor approach: All right, Nicole, get it together. You are in California, for goodness' sake! It's beautiful here! The sun is shining! What the heck is wrong with you? (Scolding myself, by the way, never works.)
This is the gap between real life and the good life. I was claiming in my mind that I was now a mature adult walking in paradise while also berating myself in my soul for being so bad at merely existing. I sometimes think my brain and my heart are like a cranky old married couple, always bickering about why the dog is barking and what they should do about it. Brain told me that disappointing meetings were no big deal and I had no reason to be so upset, while Heart whined back to Brain that a whole day had been wasted, and it really was a big deal, and why would God have it be like this? Brain felt judgy and mean. Heart felt slighted and disappointed. The arguing in my head wore me out, and when I made it back to my friend's house, I headed straight to the guest bedroom, kicked off my shoes, got into bed, and pulled the covers over my head.
As I hid under the covers and closed my eyes, I sighed out a whispered help me prayer. "Help" prayers aren't just about God showing us the way forward with decisions. Often my help prayers are more about grounding and direction:
Help me understand me.
Help me understand why this feels the way it does.
Help me understand what this struggle is really about.
Somehow in the space of a few hours, I had gone from praising God to practically cursing Him. Oh yes, I know what it feels like to struggle over small things, to tug on a weed of frustration or insecurity or doubt, only to realize that you are actually pulling on a deep, wiry root embedded in your soul, one that goes much deeper than whatever your seemingly insignificant struggle might be.
When I woke up from that nap, an important truth was clarified, one that I wish I didn't need to keep learning. I am tempted — over and over again — to believe that a state of happiness is a direct result of God's favor. I am all about the hallelujahs when I'm happy. But because the day didn't turn out the way I planned, because I experienced the state of anything-but-happiness (regret, frustration, despair), I figured that must be a direct result of God's distance (He doesn't care about me) or disfavor (He doesn't like me). Then I wondered, Why do such minor disappointments, such small bumps in the road, cause me such inner turmoil? I realized my struggles that morning in California had not been one isolated event but were connected to a series of frustrations that relate to something bigger in my soul.
As I thought and prayed about this discouraging morning in the weeks that followed, I was reminded again that the little struggles are often related to something much more important: Let's call that the Struggle. The Struggle is about something much deeper than the everyday challenges. It's about the disconnect between what I believe and how I act, how I understand the promises of God and my actual experience with God. The Struggle is the frustrating place between who I want to be and who I actually am.
The Struggle Solution
The good news about the Struggle deep inside each one of us is that we don't need to resolve it on our own. In fact, as I discovered in my rounds of self-talk, that only makes things worse. Instead, we need to look outside ourselves, both for a new way to understand where we've come from and a clear way to move toward the good life we are desperately seeking. Rather than hiding or scolding or "fixing" ourselves, we need a new way to understand both the little struggles and the Struggle, and we need direction on what this good life actually looks like and the steps we can take to get there.
The book of James says, "If you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You'll get his help, and won't be condescended to when you ask for it" (James 1:5, MSG). What I love about this promise is how certain and complete it is. It's a promise to all people, it's a promise related to everything that requires direction, and it's a promise that God will give the answer without any stipulations or requirements. God isn't going to judge you or find fault with you. He's going to give His help generously and freely and completely. That's a true and reliable promise. It means that when I have a day that goes from good to bad, when a conversation goes sideways, or when I find myself disappointed or discouraged or confused, God promises to provide what I need most — the spiritual smarts to understand what's going on and the spiritual conviction on how to move forward.
But here's the thing — God does give one requirement in the second half of the passage below. God offers to give to us freely and completely, but He also asks something of us that sounds pretty radical.
If you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You'll get his help, and won't be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who "worry their prayers" are like wind-whipped waves. Don't think you're going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.
JAMES 1:5-8, MSG (EMPHASIS ADDED)
In the second half of the passage, God asks us to surrender something that we like to hold on to very tightly — our right to doubt. We are a cynical bunch, we humans. We reserve the right to decide whether or not we want to believe in all kinds of things. We are constantly second-guessing what's worth believing in. A recent article said that more than half of Americans believe in at least one conspiracy theory — from JFK's assassination to what really happened on 9/11 to the idea that the world is flat. That may seem preposterous to you, but conspiracy theories stem from the human condition of reserving the right to not believe what we hear. In some ways, I think we are all conspiracy theorists when it comes to God. We find ourselves doubting His intentions when the story lines don't make sense. When it comes to deciphering the world, our culture relies on logic and emotion, not on tradition or authority. Perhaps the most radical thing God could require of us is to believe what He says.
In the midst of our confusion, God lays down the rules of the game. He's going to give you the whole of Himself and help you figure out your true story, but you have to put something on the table too. You have to suspend your right to doubt and actually take Him at His Word.
Dave and I have a child who practically came out of the womb screaming "Don't believe the hype!" I have never met a human being who finds such joy in punching holes in any plot or argument in which the reasoning doesn't make sense. He has spent the better half of his fifteen long years on an endless quest to debunk anything that is less than fully logical. Recently we began watching a TV series called Revolution together. The show's premise is that some nefarious force was able to extinguish all electricity from the earth. The entire series is built on that concept and doesn't make sense if you don't go with it.
Yet within ten minutes of the first episode of the first season, my son was plotting out all the ways the characters should have been able to harness electricity. I told him that the source of ultimate truth, Wikipedia, calls this show a "post-apocalyptic science fiction television series." I repeated multiple times: "It's fiction, honey. Fiction." But he just couldn't suspend his own logic. The other morning over breakfast, he told me that he wasn't sure he could keep watching the show because the characters didn't try to use a windmill to generate power. I looked at him with a slightly crazy eye (it was early and I hadn't had coffee and I wasn't ready to debate wind power). I said, "Son [that's what I say when I'm about to lay down some parental wisdom and don't want anyone to talk back], you are going to need to suspend your reality if you plan to enjoy that TV show."
While the far-fetched plot of a TV program may not drive you as crazy as it does my son, I bet there are parts of your own story that have you puzzled. We are always going to seek to understand the Struggle — it's our human nature to do so. But if the way you are doing life is just getting you to "fine," it's time for a new way. If you want to get a different result out of life than you are currently getting, you are going to have to suspend your own understanding of reality for a time. You've been operating with certain assumptions for a while — deep-seated beliefs about who you are and how life works. This is a normal and grown-up thing to do, but to tap into the transforming power of Christ, you must first "change and become like a child" (Matthew 18:3, CEV). In other words, this new way of life requires you to take all your assumptions about how the world works and put them aside, and to engage in a mind-shift, a heart-shift, and a will-shift toward the reality of God rather than the reality you are currently experiencing.
As you seek this understanding from God, you are not making a onetime transactional relationship with Him, in which you ask only about the areas in which you want help and receive only the answers you are looking for. It's not about dialing in the right formula so that He can dispense just the right amount of advice. God is not like a Dear Abby column. To actually seek His direction — fully, the way James describes here — will take a much more intentional approach. It will require more than just your desire and your faith — it will require your willful choice and action.
So how do we get this good life? We find it when we know what really matters in life. We find the good when we handle the four most important relationships on earth — our relationship with God, our relationship with ourselves, our relationship with others, and our relationship with the world at large — in the right way. To enter into God's way is to be willing to see all four relationships from God's perspective. It means suspending our own reality and willingly choosing to see things God's way.
In my life, much of God's view of the world stands outside of my own logic or reason. God's wisdom is like the master key that opens me up to understand all the rest of it — what matters in my life, in my choices, and in my relationships. This kind of wisdom is freeing, not confining.
Good living is the side effect of a transformed relationship with Christ. Dallas Willard says that a heart transformed by God creates people who live "in such a way that doing the words and deeds of Christ is not the focus but is a natural outcome." God does the transforming, but we have an important part to play. We have power in the relationship — the power to choose. We have to want what God offers if we are going to enter into the work it takes to get there.
A Baseline Test
So is choosing to seek God's perspective on your struggles and your story worth it? I believe with all of my heart that it is. But I know that the idea of intentional action toward this vague "good life" might not be at the top of your to-do list. You might be looking for relief from a specific problem, not a general promise that God can help you through some as-yet-unnamed struggle.
So let's enter in together with the baseline test that follows — a way to find out where we are so we know if it's worth the trip to where we are going. There are ten statements that describe a person who lives the good life — using God's definition. God is quite practical about what it looks like to live as a mature and "whole" person. Every one of these statements is directly related to the way God describes the good life in His Word. I invite you to consider each statement from a completely honest place. How many describe you? There is no growth without honesty, so engage with this exercise with all the transparency you can muster.
The Good Life Inventory
Put a check by the statements that currently describe you.
____ 1. I am totally committed to knowing the truth about myself. I am not afraid to ask others around me to help me see blind spots or trouble areas in my life.
____ 2. I have a peaceful and nonanxious presence, both inside and out.
____ 3. Generally I feel that my soul is untroubled and undisturbed. I have nothing to hide.
____ 4. I regularly and sincerely ask for forgiveness from my family, friends, and coworkers.
____ 5. I respect my own heart, body, and soul as something to be cherished.
____ 6. I treat conflicting patterns of thinking and behaving in myself with gentleness.
____ 7. I have a clear sense of purpose in my life.
____ 8. I have experienced deep compassion for someone who has hurt me.
____ 9. I feel total freedom from my past hurts and regrets.
____ 10. I experience joy on a daily basis.
How'd it go for you ... and how do you feel now? Even completing an inventory like this may bring up all kinds of struggles. You may feel bad about yourself. You may immediately punch holes in the logic of this questionnaire, thinking that no one is that black and white, and that life can't be reduced to a series of yes/no statements. You may think that this is all kind of dumb and trite and just another form of cheesy Christianity. I don't even need you to admit those reactions — I know them because I'm the chief cynic of us all. As much as I hate to acknowledge it, my son comes by his annoying habit of not believing the hype pretty naturally.
If you answered this inventory with honesty and humility, you likely discovered that you have a healthy perspective in some areas and work to do in others. When I posted this inventory on Facebook, I discovered that most people answer yes to between two and six statements. Regardless of your number, I bet we'd agree that the people who answer yes to all ten statements would probably be pretty great people to be around (unless they're lying or completely unaware of themselves, in which case they would be terrible to be around).(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Struggle Is Real"
Copyright © 2018 Nicole Unice.
Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction The "Fine" Line xiii
Part 1 The Struggle between the Stories 1
1 The Promise: Real Living 5
2 The Reality: Choose Your Hard 25
3 The Truth: Who We Really Are 45
4 The Voices: The Party in Your Head 67
5 The Vision: The Real Story 85
Part 2 Living Into the New and True Story 107
6 The Rewrite: Follow the Freedom Cycle 111
7 The Listening: Hearing the New Story 135
8 The Beginnings: Know Your Roots 161
9 The New Language: Rewrite Your Thoughts 187
10 The Chapters: Ending Well 217
Conclusion The Beauty in Our Stories 245
About the Author 255
What People are Saying About This
I’ve known Nicole Unice for nearly a decade, and I can honestly say that if she’s anything, Nicole is real and she has a real passion for others to embrace how real God can be in their real lives. In The Struggle Is Real, Nicole pours out this passion in an accessible read. Turning these pages is like sitting with a safe friend in a sunny spot and coming away with a refreshed perspective on the real difference God can make in our lives.
You’re going to love Nicole Unice. She’s bright, funny, observant, honest, and fearless about speaking the truth in love. Her advice in The Struggle Is Real is practical and doable, full of common sense and uncommon wisdom, and her true-to-life stories give each lesson a solid landing place in our hearts. This isn’t a book you simply read; it’s a book you do, with remarkable results.
The disconnect between what we believe and how we act—this changes everything. The Struggle Is Real is a practical guidebook to help us take God at His word and live lives of freedom and power.
Many of us have grown weary of books that offer simplistic steps promising easy transformation. This is not that kind of book. Nicole Unice writes from a deep place of reflection and personal experience about how real is the struggle . . . and how real is the process of true growth and change. I urge you to join her on the journey.
We live in a day when we Instagram our lives to be perceived as more than mundane. We Pinterest our meals and homes to present a perception of the fabulous life. I’m grateful for Nicole’s book The Struggle Is Real because of the way she uses honesty, humor, and the Word of God to liberate us from the pretense of presenting the perfect life.
Max De Pree used to say that the first task of a leader is to define reality. That is what Nicole Unice has done in The Struggle Is Real. But she doesn’t just define it, she gives us the hope to cope.