Resilient Spirit: A Conversation with John Eldredge

We’re joined again by author John Eldredge to talk about the hope that we can hold onto as we work through the collective and personal trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is not accomplished through a to-do list, but rather through small practices that gently guide us deeper into the hope and restoration that God offers.

John’s latest book, Resilient: Restoring Your Weary Soul in These Turbulent Times, identifies the warning signs of post-pandemic weariness while also pointing to the resilient human spirit and the hope we have in God.

About our guest:

John Eldredge is a bestselling author, a counselor, and a teacher. He is also president of Wild at Heart, a ministry devoted to helping people discover the heart of God, recover their own hearts in God’s love, and learn to live in God’s kingdom. John’s newest book, Resilient: Restoring Your Weary Soul in These Turbulent Times, is out now. John and his wife, Stasi, live near Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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Episode transcript:

Dan: John, welcome back. I have the great privilege for another week to have my dear, dear friend John Elridge. Join us to talk about his new book Resilient. And it’s such an obvious statement, but it’s like buy it. buy it. It will be a great gift for your summer reading. Now, when I think of summer reading, I don’t usually think about a book like this, but I think there is no better summer reading than to engage what has kept us, but also what will restore for us, something of our heart of joy, a sense of the goodness of God and the land of the living. And just to know no chainsaw at the beginning of our time. So…

John: No chainsaws! No chainsaws this week.

Dan: I put it aside, you know, I cut down as many trees as I thought I would rightfully I told Becky about my chainsaw comment and she said, do you remember the one time you actually rented a chainsaw and your son… think he was like 12 or 13. So this is like 20 years ago, literally collapsed and began crying because he was sure that I was going to cut a limb off and like… Yeah. So the idea that I was chain song really is it’s not a good image.

John: Well, I, and I know the idea of summer reading. Honestly, there are many, many, many people who are saying again because the effects and the cascade and all that we’ve been talking about, I can’t read very much these days, listen to the audio book, get audio books. I got, I did. I got the funnest permission. So, Matthew McConaughey’s book, Greenlights, on his audio book. He, he just riffs and he tells stories and he goes off script. And so I went to my publisher and said, can I do that please? And they said, sure. So on the audio book, not only do I just get to read to you…

Dan: Wait, wait a minute, wait a minute. Let me double check on this. You, the fact that you read your own book, I found it to be so much torture that I refused to ever do it, but you, you actually get to play with the categories while you’re also reading the book.

John: Yes, yes. I stop. I tell stories, when it comes time for the there’s guided, reflection prayers at the end, we start playing music and it moves into this very lovely experience. So it’s really fun. So if that sounds more restful to you, the audio book is very life giving.

Dan: Yeah. Well let’s step back into what you’re trying to accomplish through the book, what you’re doing through the new app that is the 30 day restoration of resilience. And I just wanna see if we can capture a few of the core categories that people can anticipate reading or hearing more about, like, what is it that our hearts need to grow and to, in some sense, flourish in the midst of this long season.

John: Yes. Now you and I are gonna get, we’re gonna have some fun for a moment because we have to establish, we have to establish a context. One of the context is we are all children of the enlightenment, whether we want to admit it or not. And we still hold to the idea that more information will somehow bring about the restoration that we seek. Okay. And, and that’s, that’s just simply not true. This isn’t, this isn’t about the acquisition of new insights in and of themselves. That’s a very outdated model, but the church is still enamored with it. The second thing I want to clarify that I think will really help folks is that we as human beings are amphibians.

Dan: This was hilarious. Yes.

John: Okay. This is really helpful. We are amphibians. We live in a natural world that has all sorts of nourishment for the human soul. Dinner with friends. Laughter. Great movie. A walk on the beach. I mean, fill your summer with that stuff. Folks like that works. It’s beauty, heals, nature heals. Yeah. Time away, all that. We live in a natural world, but we also live in a spiritual world and we are meant to move as comfortably in the spiritual as we do and the physical. But in John chapter 3, Jesus has the engagement with the Pharisee named Nicodemus, who seems like a really good guy. He’s a good hearted man. He is asking the questions and Jesus says to him, he says, how will you understand spiritual things? If you cannot even understand natural things like he’s frustrated with his refusal to be an amphibian. He is. Let me tell you why this is important because the book was born out of a prayer in the book of Ephesians in chapter 3. Where St. Paul prays for us. And he says, I pray that your creator would fill your inmost being with a new glorious strength from his spirit, that indwells within you. That is so gorgeous. That is so filled with hope because it shows us that gospel resilience is not bootstraps. This isn’t one more program gang of get your act together. Come on, be more disciplined, go to church, read your Bible. Like, like those things are helpful as part of an overall, you know, a life of wellbeing, but gospel resilience is imparted into your humanity from heaven, from God, from the kingdom of God that there are resources that come to us. And so Paul’s describing a process whereby the spirit of the living, God, inside the depths of your being right down there in your depleted reserves begins to replenish and renew you by the presence of God within you. I find that very hopeful.

Dan: Oh, immensely. Well, and the idea that we can be rooted in love and though, that, which is incomprehensible can still be to some, to be comprehended, something of the length, the height, the width, the depth of his love. There’s something about beginning with the category being beloved. That so different than as you put it well, a new program of efficiency.

John: Yes. Yeah, yeah. And what is, so also just luscious in that passage is he says, may you experience the love of Christ. So that the whole perspective of being amphibians is that we experience, tactile, real living experience of the care of God, the solace of God, the love of God for us in very particular ways, this is the hope. And so we just say this, the soul is healed through union with God. The soul is healed for through union with God. But that, that enlightenment, you know, we still, we still talk about the Christian faith a as a set of beliefs, right? Or, or a set of practices. But at its core, it is more like marriage at its core, it is intimacy with the living God, where, where your being and his being become intertwined, where you are being nourished with resources, way outside your own creation. Like you don’t have to come up with this. You don’t have to suck it up and just get on with your life. This is very, very good news.

Dan: So talk about union, because I think a lot of people from a more kind of a biblically static notion have that notion of it’s a positional, we we’ve been given union and…

John: You are good Presbyterian, Dan.

Dan: I am, I’m a good one point Calvinist. Yep. So when you talk about experience, you do know that it raises hackles, but also hope and desire for many people.

John: Yes. Yes. My goodness. Where do we begin? Okay, let’s do this. Let’s do this. I think this will be a fun little romp. Let’s take this. We’ll get to the answer to that question through a fun path. So first there was Eden and Eden was where the intimacy, the joy… Eden’s where everybody’s looking for. Right? It’s the surf vacation you’re dreaming about. It’s the dinner you want to throw for friends. We’re just always looking to recreate, to find the doorway back in. Okay. We lost Eden. And then God begins his redemption of the human race, through the people of Israel, who he intends will be a blessing to all nations.

Dan: The nations.

John: Yes. That’s the repeated phrase. You will be a blessing to all nations. Okay. Well, so where it happens first, there is the tabernacle. And then there is the temple and the tabernacle. And then the temple was where the living God came back to be with humanity. This is the, this is the beginning of the recovery guys. So stay with me here. Here’s the fascinating thing. When you walked into, if you, if you look at the description of the tabernacle in the temple, it is Eden. It is Eden imagery, flowers, trees, jewels, gold, beauty, there’s aromas. All of it. It is meant you are meant to feel like for a moment, we got back into the garden. Okay. So they were little outposts of Eden in the world because God was there. Right. I mean, the tree of life himself he’s right there. Okay. So in the new Testament, the temple changes location.

Dan: Rather dramatically.

John: Rather dramatically to the heart. This is the Ephesians 3 prayer that we were talking about last time to the heart of the follower of Jesus. That is the new temple. This is really, really significant folks. So stay, stay with us here. You are now the temple of a living God, meaning this is where he’s going to abide and dwell and express himself in the world. Okay. The triune God comes to… Okay. Well that means that your heart is a little outpost of Eden. And is meant to experience something of the life of Eden in it. Okay. Now, if you think I’m, if you I’m making this stuff up. So in, the book of revelation, city of God comes down to the earth. John sees the tree of life. And so he is like, oh my gosh, Eden’s back. Right. Eden’s back because the tree of life is here. Okay. And the river of life is flowing right through the city. Okay. Now we’re getting to the application. So in John 7 Jesus says, I want that river to flow through your heart because your heart is a little outpost of Eden in the world. And I want the river of life flowing through your heart. Okay. So now this is why we must be amphibians. It is not purely intellectual. It is not even, obedience or ethical living. It is that the presence of a living, God, it’s so luscious. It flows like a river rivers are unending. They’re, they’re, unceasing, they’re moving, they’re living, but it doesn’t like stop. You know, you don’t get like eight gallons and that’s your allotment for today. You know, sorry. You know, you got, you did your two quarts and then the river just stops. Like the whole imagery of a river is it just keeps going. You know, you go back to the north fork of the black foot every year, and it’s still there. And it’s still flowing. You’re like, holy cow, this thing is just always flowing. Okay. That’s the idea that the presence of a living God, so I’m reading these passages and I’m going, you know what? I never ever ask for it. And so I began to ask, I pray that you would restore Eden in my heart. I pray that the river of life would flow in my heart. And he is very, very glad to answer those prayers.

Dan: Yeah. Part of the question that rises within me, because we we’ve been to many rivers together, small streams and some pretty vast, large rivers. That question of how do you find the river of life in one sense replenishing you? I mean, the awareness that I don’t have joy now is a huge beginning point to say, I believe, and I’m practicing, but there’s something in the experience of what you’re describing as foreign, maybe foreign for many people like in a totality, maybe more circumstantial over the last year or two, but that sense of how easy it is to feel guilty. That I don’t know that joy rather than being able to say, how is my awareness? That there’s just not the joy. There’s not that flow. There’s not that replenishment. That seems to be evident in what we’re being invited to.

John: Yes. Okay. Yep. If you look at the purpose of spiritual practices down through the ages that they are designed to put us into a position that we can receive more of this, of this life, of this presence. I mean, the mind blowing thing is the temple was filled with the glory of God. Your humanity is actually meant to be filled with the glory, meaning the regenerative power of God. It’s the… John at Cana, when he turns, Jesus turns water into wine, it says he revealed his glory. Like it’s glory that turns water into wine. Okay. Paul in Roman 6 says it’s glory. That raised Jesus from the dead. So it’s not just like shiny. Okay. It’s not weird. It’s not, you don’t, you don’t have to be a charismatic to, to tap into this folks. You are an amphibian, the regenerative presence of a living, God is meant to dwell within the temple. Well, you’re the temple now. Okay. So practices that put you in the place to receive it. One is simply asking for it, like, go pray Ephesians 3:14-19. It’s lovely. It’s so nourishing ask for it. Pray John seven, where the river of life say, I want that, please. Yes, I’m here. Okay. But then you do, so we’re now we’re back to union. It all flows out of our union with God. There are things you do every day that erode your union and things you do that restore your union with God. Okay. And you were talking about the distraction, the technology, the compulsion to pick up your phone again, all that stuff, erodes. It erodes your union with God. It depletes you. Okay. You are fragmented by it. Okay. Quiet a walk in the park, sitting at the beach, listening to beautiful music that restores your union, cuz it brings you back to yourself and it centers you with the presence of God. Okay. So I would suggest that you find a few things where ,for you as an individual, it might be riding your road bike early in the morning. It might be listening to Kowski it’s um, you find yourself centered as a person, not fragmented. You’re like back to yourself, you’re back in your body and you are experiencing the presence of God, however, gently, however subtly. That’s okay. He’s very, very gentle. He doesn’t just come walking in with like fireworks and strobe lights. Okay. He’s very, very gentle with the restoration of the soul and asking for, I need union with you. I need union. I don’t, I don’t need answers. I need union with you. Heal my soul’s union with you. And therefore these other graces can then begin to flow in us. Then we can be amphibians and we can receive these things.

Dan: Well, if union is seen as merely positional, rather than an experiential joy, then it is hard to then step into a kind of assessment. Like where am I? Am I in union with him? And I think this was years ago, but even restored again through both the book, but also the 30 day restoration. Just asking Jesus for more, but also being very aware that my union needs to be healed on a daily basis, just as comparable to the fact that the tensions between Becky and I need to be acknowledged. And I, you know, some time ago I said to her, are we well? And she said, our union is well. And it’s like, again, that question of, oh, if I’m asking my wife, if we’re well, why am I not actually saying Jesus, I need my union with you restored and on a daily basis, not what I’m only most aware of it, but almost on a presumptive basis that there will be assaults against my union that require that invite that actually sweetly, restore this amphibian play of the two worlds.

John: Yes. The, the apathy creep. We were talking about the lethargy creep that we ended the last episode with, that is trying to get to the epicenter. It is trying to get to your union with God. And erode it through fear, worry, hatred, accusation, self contempt, just all that stuff. Right? Fragmentation, distraction, alcohol. I mean, whatever it is that, that you are going to, but I just have to come back to, so John opens his first epistle first John, with this, he says, look, that which we have from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched. Okay. Okay. So he is describing experience. Experience. He says, we proclaim to you so that you also may have fellowship with us and our fellowship with the father and with his son. Jesus. Okay. It, he invitation is you get to experience everything. It is deeply experiential. You get to hear Jesus speak to you. You get to experience his presence within you. I mean here. Okay. Here’s another fascinating thing. Like you understand, like we are opening up massive categories and we’re trying to do it in a, in a 35 minute podcast, but where is Jesus when you pray? Where is Jesus when you pray? Is he up in the heavens? Are you praying to the Lord of the heavens? Is he by your side? Because, he moved inside of you. That’s where he lives. Now you’re the temple, the presence of God. And this is Ephesians 3 again, Christ may fill your hearts. Okay? So I’m suggesting a new way of praying that you begin to give your attention. And I would suggest affection, cause this will really get you there. You begin to love Jesus who lives within you. You begin to turn your attention inward. Okay? Jesus, within me. I love you. Jesus within me. Now I know, I know. I know there’s. I mean all these little things of but I’m not sure about this. I’m not just, just stay with this. The, this is Thomas à Kempis. This is Teresa of Ávila. This is John of the cross, like honestly, gang. Like this is so rich in the Christian tradition. It is Christ in you, Paul says that is the hope of glory of regenerative power. Okay? So you begin to give your attention not to the God of the heavens or the God of the forest. The two, the God, the incarnate God in Jesus Christ, who is now dwelling within you. And you commune with him there.

Dan: Again, what it invites. At least my heart too, is a stance that requires a different kind of listening, a different kind of attentiveness, a quiet, that I am not naturally drawn to.

John: No one is. But some people less than others.

Dan: Yes. Well, and again, what I would say is I have the ability to listen well to others, and to stay with their story, the complexity of their own experience. But I found through the process of almost having to say, I need to listen to my own heart as if it’s one of my clients. I, again, I’m not a terribly mature man, but that really was helpful to say, let your heart speak. Listen to the different parts within you that are actually either noisy or unwilling. And you do talk about the reality of unconverted, parts of us.

John: Yes. Because see what we’re doing, Dan is we’re laying out a whole new concept. It’s not new. This is, this is not new. I just read 1 John. We are recovering an understanding of salvation. Salvation is the regeneration of your original created design. It’s a rescue plan. It takes place when you are inhabited by Christ in your emotions, in your appetites, in your rage, in your fear, in your intellectual life, that Christ comes to inhabit more and more of our humanity. This is what it means to be saved. Because then you find, you know what? I actually forgive that person. I was working so hard on that. I just do. I just forgive them. There’s a grace there now. You find, you and I confessed that we were both turning a little bit too much to alcohol in the early stages of the quarantine.

Dan: Indeed.

John: And I come from a long alcoholic background and I looked at that and went gadzooks, like that does not have a good future on it. And there the Christ inhabit my desire here. And this is where the grace comes from. This is where the help comes from. It is as we are more and more inhabited by Christ. So you mentioned the unconverted places. This stuff just shows up. It shows up in, in traffic, it shows up with, you know, irritating people. It shows up with your relatives. What we normally do is shame it and exile it. Right? We, you know, rebuke it and we send it to the basement, but that doesn’t do anything that doesn’t, it doesn’t help anything. No transformation takes place there at all. Instead, what I am recommending is you say, oh my gosh, here it is, Lord. Would you inhabit this? I ask you for salvation here, which is to be inhabited by Christ in this place, my sexuality, you know, whatever it is. My lack of planning, my refusal to engage. It’s Christ. I don’t just need to be a disciplined person. That’s insufficient. What I need is the presence of the living God inhabiting the unconverted places in me so that more and more… it was C.S. Lewis’s secretary, Walter Hooper, who after Lewis died, they were asking him, you know, what it was like to live with with C.S. Lewis in his later years. And Cooper said he was the most converted man I ever met.

Dan: Mm. What a statement.

John: And by that, he meant there was more of his personality, more of his humanity inhabited by Christ than most of the other people Hooper knew. That’s what we’re after.

Dan: Well, it, just, the image of shame and exile feels like what it leads to is a certain kind of self righteousness bound to desolation. And when you combine those two together, like I’m doing it right. And I am empty as hell. You’ve got the worst of all forms of fundamentalism, a kind of I’m in control and I am empty and without joy. Yeah. And that kind of disposition again, it’s one of those categories to be able to go, Jesus, I know that’s within me the capacity to shame, exile and feel very proud about it, but also know, I am very, very empty. And just again, this image, because… I’m going back to the garage after I stopped the StairMaster, sat down and you know, your invitation was nothing about feeling shame, but I felt like, oh yeah, I just got caught. I just got caught. And to be able to stop and go, oh no, this is an invitation into the temple to listen in a way that I can pass by in a kind of wrote religious form way too easily. So that tending to our own, in some sense, desolated heart asking, oh, I want more, I want the river of life flowing and I can’t make it happen. But there is something that begins… I’ll use the image of water, bubbling up. That feels like, oh, this could be what the Spirit indeed has for me. And I want more, but there, I find that, you know, you were talking about the enlightenment and, you know, the enlightenment begins with knowledge is power. And then the flip side is, and I’m a skeptic that can undermine all forms of knowledge that doesn’t fit my sense of truth. And that interplay again, of, I want more knowledge, tell me what to do, but I’ll also find fault with whatever you tell me. That kills this process, because there’s something innocent and young that needs to be engaged in order for the heart to be restored.

John: Well, I just wanna say, and how’s that working for you, everyone. How’s that combined power control skepticism, you know, deconstruction working for you is that joy life, hope, love. Is that going great? It doesn’t, it doesn’t bring life.

Dan: Well, and again, that’s one of the benefits. I’m low to use the word, but it’s one of the benefits I think of the pandemic is that what did seem to work has already been exposed as so fallacious, so false. So yes, we’re really back to that question of how much do you want attend to union and to allow your own heart to receive. But again, I love this image of putting yourself in the place to receive. A few more sentences on that before we close.

John: Quiet, you have to get quiet both externally and internally. And that takes a little practice. It’s like learning to ride a bike or play an instrument. That’s okay. It’s bumpy at first, you get quiet. You learn the grace of release. You let go of that email you’re obsessing about. You let go of that YouTube video you just saw that scandalized you that made you furious. You just let it go. You just learn the grace of release. I can’t do anything about that. I let that go so that you can be present to the presence of God. Yeah.

Dan: Well, let me go back to two thoughts before we conclude, the 30 days, I, how did you create it?

John: Oh my goodness. It’s so gorgeous. So, there is a wonderful app out there called Lectio 365. It was built by the prayer movement in England, and then it kind of spread from there. It’s free. You can go get that one so morning and evening meditation there’s scripture. But what I love about it is the, the diversity of voices and, and nationalities. And, but they walk basically, it’s a Bible thing. Like they walk you through the scriptures. It’s lovely. I use it. It’s lovely. So we built something that is more directed towards the restoration of the soul. Like the purpose and intent of 30 days to resilience is to take people through a morning and evening. It’s about 8 to 10 minutes, music, voices, you know, narrative, quiet, pausing, reflection, space journaling that will take you through a progression that will genuinely bring about if nothing else it will bring solace. It will. It’s so comforting, but it does more than that. It restores union with Christ. It allows you to be an amphibian and to receive things like the river of life flowing through you. So it goes through, you know, one module is on mental resilience. Another is on emotional resilience, but it’s very, very kind. This isn’t like a gym membership. This is care. This is kindness. This is, it’s free. It’s on the one minute pause app. So if you, you know, get on the app store, look for the one minute pause. We’re the first answer that comes up. We’re right there. Download the free app, open it up. And you’ll see the very first feature is, Hey, try this 30 days to resilient, morning and evening thing. And you’re just gonna love it.

Dan: Well, my friend, thank you. And may our audience enter fully and richly, into the gift that you through Jesus ,have offered us all. And I do think that there is a certain kind of luscious coincidence that the week we get to spend on the water with you is when these podcasts come to be available to the audience. Oh, that’s very fun. Yeah, didn’t plan it, but let’s just say, I will look forward to being on the river of life further with you quite soon.

John: Yes. Yes. Thanks, Dan. This has been delightful.

Dan: Thank you, John.