Rushing for Relief: A Conversation with John Eldredge

A lost train of thought, a lost sense of motivation, a lost temper… these are just some of the things we may have lost as a result of the personal and global trauma of the pandemic. As restrictions have lifted, many of us are rushing for relief, finding comfort in the things we lost like dining out, going to concerts, and taking vacations. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying these activities, we may be using them as quick fixes to soothe the pain and isolation experienced over the past two years.

Our guest this week, John Eldredge, has written about the need for acknowledging the trauma from the COVID-19 pandemic in his latest book, Resilient: Restoring Your Weary Soul in These Turbulent Times. In this conversation with Dr. Dan Allender, John points out the warning signs of post-pandemic weariness while also pointing to the resilient human spirit and the hope we have in God. 

We invite you to slow your pace for the next half hour or so to thoughtfully consider this conversation with us.


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: Folks, this is one of the great joys and privileges to have one of my dearest friends on the earth join us today. John Eldredge. John, welcome to a conversation about your new book, Resilient.

John: Oh, thanks, Dan. I’m actually really looking forward to this conversation with you, in such a formal setting as a podcast.

Dan: Yeah. Come on. We’ve had, shall we say multiple conversations actually about the book and about the material in the book for quite a while, but yeah, formal and I also have to admit that if you hear a little bit of what could be called a chainsaw in the backdrop, I’m actually cutting a tree down while we’re doing this.

John: Putting away firewood for the winter Dan?

Dan: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, people who know me know that I often just pull out my… I even forget the name of it. What what’s the saw again called? Chainsaw.

John: Chainsaw.

Dan: Yeah. So, actually, it’s being cut in my yard and there’s nothing I can do about it. So if it’s disturbing, please just view it as actually, I think you used the word texture in the backdrop. Kind of a realistic experience of there are noises in this world, which we’re gonna actually talk about kind of the noises.

John: Yeah, it’s part of the environment.

Dan: Well, but it’s also part of the distractions that.

John: Yes.

Dan: Can easily be, somehow frustrating our ability to do and to live as we would most with. But let me just step into this exceedingly necessary and brilliant book. And to invite you into this conversation to say, look, you wrote a book in the middle of a pandemic, inviting us to engage what the pandemic and the trauma of it has brought. And that essentially brings us to the category of why are we all so depleted, at times discouraged, demoralized, irritated, if not polarized, enraged, you know, the category of resilience is crucial and…

John: Yeah, humanity is not well. Humanity is not, I mean, humanity is not ever exactly been shining. But this is a, this is a rough moment to be a human being actually.

Dan: Yeah. Well, and do you mind if I quote some of your words back to you?

John: Sure.

Dan: I just think, follow me closely, now you write, “to be suddenly stripped of your normal life to live under the fear of suffering and death, to be bombarded with negative news kept in a state of constant uncertainty about the future with no clear view of the finish line. To lose every human countenance behind a mask. May I point out that this is exactly the torment that terrorist regimes do to break down prisoners psychologically and physically?” I just remember well more than a year ago, reading that and just again, laughing, not because it’s comical, but because it is so well said about the nature of what we have all been in the middle of. So help us get a handle on what is happening to, in some sense, ruin our resilience.

John: Yeah, I think, first off to assure our listeners, this isn’t about politics and it’s not even about epidemiology. It is about global trauma and we are now in the after effects. You have the car accident and actually your adrenaline gets you through, you know, the police report and the towing away of the car and gets you home. And it’s oftentimes it is weeks, if not months later that you realize you have headaches and can’t quite place, why am I having these headaches or your back, or, you’re now experiencing anxiety to get into the same automobile or one like it. So we’re in that stage. We, you know, the world is trying desperately to put all this in the rear view mirror. Uh, you know, we got concerts back, come on, we can travel internationally, like, tacos at the beach. Life is good. Folks don’t even wanna talk about it, but we are now living with the cascade effect, right? We’re now living with the after effects. And I feel it, you feel it, our clients feel it, our colleagues feel it. And I just think it would be kind if we could name it for people and name a path towards recovery and wellness. That’s, that’s my hope. So here’s what I wanna do with you. I think this would be very fun. Let’s start naming the effects that we are personally feeling okay. So how about the mental fragmentation?

Dan: What me?

John: Pick up my phone. I have no idea who I was going to text I in the three seconds milliseconds, it takes me to lift my phone. I don’t remember anymore. What, why?

Dan: Yeah. I was cleaning out, uh, one of my early tasks for the summer is to try and bring order to a level of chaos that exists in the garage, including my office and trying to clean out the garage, which should be moderately easy. We’re not talking about years of debris, but I literally bounced around the garage doing one thing. And then thinking about doing another thing I could not organize. Becky came in and said, why don’t you divide the garage into quadrants? And I’m like, whoa, it’s a brilliant idea. And she said, stay in one quadrant until it’s done. I couldn’t do it.

John: Yep. Yep, exactly. Yeah. And, and so you really fall through the cracks when you go from one task to another. So I might have clarity on the text I’m sending, but then if open email? I don’t remember why. And so trying to go between different technologies, different platforms. So that’s, that’s an example. And then how about the loss of a sense of time? What day is it, Dan?

Dan: Oh, that’s really not kind. I’m literally stammering, it’s either Tuesday or Wednesday. I have no clue.

John: Yeah. That’s what everybody feels. It’s either Tuesday or Wednesday. I think it’s towards the end of June. But if you were to ask me for the date? And gang, I know that Dan and I are in our sixties, but this really has very little to do with age. My 20 somethings on my team. They’re all reporting the weariness, the fatigue, people are going to bed at eight o’clock.

Dan: 7:45 last night. Yeah.

John: Yeah. Right. And the mental fragmentation and, and loss of, you know, a sense of orientation. And, and so, yeah, this is all things that you have written on.

Dan: Right. But I’ll bring a third. Like today I met a good friend for breakfast and, there were five cars in front of me. And I won’t say viciously by any stretch, but I hit the steering wheel and I was talking to Becky at that point. And she was like, did you just hit the steering wheel? And I went, yeah, there are five cars. And I’m like, she’s like with everything else, helping happening in the world, you’re getting angry over five vehicles blocking your ability to proceed. And it’s like, I understand how foolish I am, but it felt so legitimate at that moment. My and our, I’ll blame us all, our capacity to hold frustration is at a very deep, low.

John: Oh gosh, I was going to name that as one of the symptoms. I used to have a little bit, a little bit of grace for irritating people. You know, the guy that gets in the 15 items or less line at the grocery with like 27. And I used to be able to let that go. I’m just shocked at my quick reactions to things, the quick irritation, the quick anger, the quick dismissal. Um, yeah. And then, then there’s the, why does it feel like a relief to get out of social obligations?

Dan: Yeah.

John: I don’t know if it was the New York times or the Atlantic ran an article on this, that, last minute cancellations is the new thing.

John: People are looking for a way out. Just get me some relief. I don’t wanna go to that tonight, honey, do we really have to go to that barbecue please? Can’t we? And a friend of mine, who’s a very gregarious guy back during, you know, over Memorial day was saying, “oh, thank God. No, one’s invited us over.”

Dan: Again, you’re hitting almost everything that I would put words to the fragmentation, the numbing, but also the accentuation of intense emotions that seem disproportionate to whatever the circumstances are and that isolation. So as you, in the book, particularly you underscore look, we’re coming out of years of living in a comfort culture, and everyone’s at some level going, when are we going to get back to normal and to say, I’m sorry, it’s a, it’s a lovely little city in Illinois, but there is not a return to normal. And that sense then of the disruption beyond all that, we’re putting words to the kind of disruption that we have been thrown into, is exposing a whole lot more. And I think you put brilliant words through the entire book about what’s getting revealed about our hearts in the process of this.

John: Yeah. Well, one of the things we can name, um, and again, the goal of the conversation is that we hope by naming these things, there is, we’re gonna overcome some of the isolation. It’s not just you. I had a colleague admit to me this morning. He says, I am embarrassed and ashamed that I am not doing better because I lived well, the last two years I made good choices. I, I thought that I was handling it all well. And yet, so one of the, one of the things we’re experiencing is depleted reserves. That when you rally for anything in life, an automobile accident, or the birth of a child, we rally for good things. You rally for weddings, you rally for international travel. You rally to go to grad school. When you rally, you tap into your reserve tank and everybody’s reserves are shot.

Dan: Yeah.

John: And that is a, that is a precarious place to be. And then you get these airline incidents. Okay. Like prior to the pandemic, I was trying, I wanna get my data right prior to the pandemic. There were 10 what they would call like passenger disturbance incidences, passenger needing to be removed from an airplane. There were 10 a month globally, which I think is fairly impressive for like, way to go people! Like you, everyone was behaving themselves. I mean, that’s a lot of, that’s a lot of flights. Okay? 2021, five hundred.

Dan: Wow.

John: Five hundred. 2022, right now we’re at like 360 right now in June. So we’re gonna…

Dan: We got a chance. We got a chance to beat 2021.

John: I mean, Dan, they are turning around international flights to their destination to kick people off and have them arrested. Like people’s reserves are shot and, and now they’re acting out. And yeah. Okay. So that’s, that’s one thing you were saying what did the pandemic reveal in us? I think another thing it revealed in us is our divided allegiances. I mean, we all, we all got a real clear glimpse of where we go for relief and security. Right? And a sense of wellbeing and control. Okay. Like that all got, that all got exposed.

Dan: Yeah. Well in some sense, we keep thinking it will restore us. Like, you know, I have the chance to go fishing over the last couple weeks. And because of the immense amount of rain, our rivers are blown out and each time, you know, the place we were gonna fish, the fishing report came back. Essentially. You’re a fool. If you dip your toe into this water and each time what I would read it, I mean, I had the data, but there was a finality in reading the report and it took me hours again, not proud, but hours just to like, come back to a, well, how will you now handle this? I mean, the disruption of a distraction that I thought could bring me, a certain degree of goodness. And again, what you, what I, at least as I read your book, there’s something about that desire, which is so holy and good. And yet when it becomes, you know, a passage you use in Jeremiah 2:17, when it becomes a cistern that will not hold water to be able to provide for your deep thirst, it actually exacerbates and intensifies the sense of desolation. So…

John: Okay. Okay. So this is what I’m actually most concerned about it’s actually not our current condition. It’s what’s coming. Because we are rushing out looking for relief. They’re anticipating this to be the biggest airline summer in decades, you know? Yep. Everybody’s trying to get some joy and, with all my heart, I hope you do. I really do. But you know, a week at the beach, two weeks at the family cabin, won’t address the full recovery. We need the full healing restoration, wellness, and folks are gonna return to their normal life and realize, oh my God, I thought that would take care of it. And it didn’t. And the sense of despair, this is what I’m concerned about. And this is why I wrote the book is that, you know, we’re gonna kind of jump ahead for a moment, but just say, there, there is resilience available. There is… you know, Psalm 23 is not a lie. He does restore the soul. He really does. But our current approach to it, which is concerts, travel, tacos, you know, this mad rush to get relief, your fishing trip, my recent fishing trip, you know, that, will not be sufficient. I think it’s important. So I don’t wanna take that away from anyone, but it won’t be adequate yeah. To the need.

Dan: And two sides to that, because I saw photos of your recent fishing trip and it was, it was glorious and the fish were almost prehistoric large, but the fact is mine bore more ongoing frustration, like least in a couple days ago, 6,000 flights were canceled. And our family, our daughter-in-law, son and grandchildren are heading to Mexico and they’re each and every day wondering, checking in, even though it’s days away from flying, they’re just getting the temperature of whether or not they’re gonna make it to their long awaited vacation. So I think between the reality that there are even more egregious frustrations, travel being one in particular, but even when there are moments that work out well, it’s as if we have come to depend upon them to restore the reserve and, feels like that…

John: Well, the, the essential problem with vacation is that you take yourself with you.

Dan: Damn.

John: Like there you are in all your stuff, you are right there on the beach with you. Yeah.

Dan: Yeah. Well, it puts you in that bind that whether it works or it doesn’t work, there are likely things are going to be exposed that need to be addressed. And I think you’re looking at the long run of what many have been saying, but not quite as articulately as you have offered, that trauma, even though it’s been a pretty brutal two years, we’re looking at a whole new series of issues that are going to even be more demanding than what we’ve endured. And that’s more than polarization, more than gun violence, more than inflation, et cetera, et cetera. And that’s that sense of depletion of the soul?

John: Yes. Yes. Because then, you know, if you watch, if you watch any of those nature documentaries, which I adore them, I love whales. I love watching the great migrations. I love watching nature. If you watch the predators, the wolves, the lions, the jackles, they just hang out. It’s really astounding. All those African photos, like there’s, the zebra is at the waterfall, but if you look back 200 feet, there’s a lion, you know, and they’re just waiting for the vulnerable. This is the concern, right? It’s in our, in our weariness, we are vulnerable. And, you know, first it’s the slamming on the steering wheel and then come the deeper agreements, you know, things will never change. I’m just not getting better. My friends are doing better. I’m not gonna, you know, and then as you and I have talked about, then something like desolation tries to come in. And, and this is partly the human condition, but it’s also partly the powers of darkness wanting to orchestrate a moment where the relief we’re seeking doesn’t last, or doesn’t come through, you don’t get to Mexico, your flight gets canceled, you know, and then the despair sets in and the disillusion I’m, I, I truly am concerned for, for our dear friends about that.

Dan: Yeah. Well, and again, take those words and I’d love for you to put a few more thoughts to it. Desolation, it’s a lot deeper than mere discouragement, but it’s certainly a root of discouragement that has, in some sense, blossomed into really dark weeds. So when you say you’re concerned about desolation, what are you putting words to?

John: It is a, it is a feeling of bereft. I am bereft in my soul. I have nothing. Not only do I have nothing I’m looking forward to, but I don’t have the capacity to look forward to it either. You see that’s the wariness so that so it is a loss of hope. It is loss of a conviction that God is good. That he will see us through. That he has wellbeing for us ahead that he can’t, that these reserves could even be replenished, that to come to a place to go: this is my new normal. That would feel barren. Barrenness.

Dan: Yeah. Well, I think of Psalm 27, I would’ve despaired, if I did not believe that I would see the goodness of God in the land of the living and that desolation is, I mean you describe not only this book, but many others, that reality of we were meant for Eden and desolation is anti-Eden. It’s everything that a good river, is the point of contrast to. And you speak a bit more about, especially in the first several chapters about that kind of thirst for that, the river of life is meant to replenish, and we’ll spend more time in our next conversation on what, what you understand to be the means by which we’re replenished, but to contrast desolation and Eden. I think it’s really a very important part of what you begin in the book.

John: We have always known at some level that we were looking for Eden. Everybody’s looking for Eden, right? What are the, what are the photos on the cover of magazines that most make you just stop and sigh, you know. It’s the ocean, it’s the mountains, it’s the beauty, or it’s a beautifully laid dinner table with people who are having the time of their lives. It’s those photos, right? There’s just that ache, that longing, there it is. But I have been more personally aware ever before of this ache for Eden. And Stacy and I just did, we did a conference over in Ireland, in May, and we had several days ahead of time to get acclimated to the time change and try and, you know, recover from jet lag. We spent our entire time going to botanical gardens. Because I just couldn’t, I couldn’t get enough. I couldn’t get enough beauty. Solace. Comfort. Eden. And we, I mean, and it was, I mean, God was very kind. We walked in the week that the rhododendrons were blooming and the azaleas and it was over the top beauty immersion therapy. I mean, it was just, it was, but the ache for, please get me somewhere beautiful. Get me somewhere, kind, get me somewhere that’s luscious and let’s go eat a bunch. Let’s go drink a bunch. I just, yeah, that the ache for Eden. Haven’t you seen that Dan?

Dan: Well, it is wild that you say that because literally scheduled after our podcast time today, Becky and I are going to what’s called Bloedel Reserve, which is one of the top 10 parks reserves gardens in America. It’s on our island and, you know, we have a membership. We basically go about every two, three weeks. And because today is like the sunniest, warmest day of our spring/summer, it just seemed like we have to go, it almost felt like, like an appointment to goodness that anything else that would’ve been in the way would’ve needed to be moved in order to do so.

John: Yeah. In the book I call it the primal drive for life. And the primal drive for life is your ability to desire, good things to plan for them to reach, go, you know, engage good things. And then, and then start it over and then to begin to aspire to new things, like that’s the primary drive for life. And the primal drive for life has taken a beating in the last number of years. And again, it’s not just a pandemic. We were all running like rats on a wheel before 2020. I mean…

Dan: Absolutely.

John: Yeah. The madness, the technology, the pace of life, all that. So, I think the war for the human heart is right here. I think the war is over your Eden heart and your primal drive for life. And where, where are you taking it? And can it be recovered if it’s, if it has suffered serious damage, can we, can we aspire once again to good things enough that we plan towards them take hold of them, enjoy them and aspire again.

Dan: Yeah. The contrast to me is distractions. Like I could spend my afternoon with 20 tasks that I know need to be done. And so when I said to Becky, like, let’s go to Bloedel. And we both had this look like, oh, that means getting in the car. It’s a huge 15 minute drive. And we both had to resist. I mean. Kind of consciously resist the distraction and something of that. Oh, just lack of movement. Lack of ability to move when it’s just easier to go. I’ll just sit here and do tasks.

John: Yes. Yes. Okay. This is really, really big.

Dan: What is that.

John: Yeah. Before we, before we wrap up this episode, we have to name this. So, I’m calling it apathy creep, but it, but it’s not, apathy is not quite the right word. It might be lethargy.

Dan: Lethargy feels truer yes.

John: Yes. So like a lethargy creep, because it’s not that we don’t care it’s that we do not have the wherewithal to see things through. Okay. So here’s, let me name how, how this begins to encroach. It starts on the perimeter, you know, you used to go to the gym, blah, but the gym just feels like such a hassle tonight. Like, let’s skip that, you know, or you used to read a lot and you go, oh my gosh, reading, reading right now, just, I can’t do it. I can do audio books, but I can’t read. So it starts out on the perimeter and it begins to encroach in, it starts moving inward. This, this lethargy creep, this apathy creep and, and it like, let’s not make dinner tonight. Let’s just get takeout

Dan: Go on. I think we need to end the podcast.

John: And it starts, it starts getting into, you know, we don’t really have time for that relationship anymore. It starts moving into really core life-giving things, things that for your life once were very sustaining. I don’t have time to get to that group. I, whatever. I… but here’s the deal that, that the kingdom of darkness, their goal is none of that, that stuff. It’s the epicenter. The apathy creep is trying. The lethargy creep is trying to get to the epicenter. And the epicenter is when you say I’m too tired to pray, I’m too tired to listen to some beautiful worship music. I’m too tired to listen to a great podcast. That’s spiritually nourishing. In other words, right at the epicenter is your life with God. And this it’s literally trying to unplug you from the outlet because you cut the juice off, that you have no hope of recovery and resilience. This is where the apathy creep is aiming for this is the final goal. Okay. And it starts on the outside and it looks very benign. Yeah. Maybe you don’t need to go to the gym tonight. That’s okay. Like, but just watch the creep as it starts moving inward and inward to the epicenter of, I don’t have time for God.

Dan: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And the moment that loss of the heartbeat of Eden begins to become at least fading, if not finished, our hearts are a goner. Um, the temple has been, uh, in some sense, taken over by the false comforts that come with whatever. And that has felt like the real desolation, like my heart for Jesus is now being threatened, but I’m not even aware. I’m not even aware that I’m at that point because it seems so as you put it brilliantly peripheral, uh, I don’t know. Let’s just hang out on the porch instead of driving to the beauty of this preserve, you know, I’m, I’m grateful that we made that decision. went through a little bit of the process, but also knew we need beauty. But in that it’s more centrally said, we need Jesus to be the center of that eidetic experience. So as we begin to have this conversation, we’re not gonna set the audience up here are the five cures, cause you have no quick way to bring people, but there are some real paths that, I wanna underline before we even get much further. And that that’s just to say that with this book, you’ve launched a major, just a major invitation to restoration. Say a bit about that. We’ll come back to it next week, but just a little bit. So people might actually get a chance to taste this before we even offer you some more thoughts.

John: Yeah. Well, you and I were talking offline. If you wanna taste it right now on the one minute pause app, which is a free app that we’d actually developed before the pandemic, it’s a lovely, reflective experience. You can do 60 seconds. You can do three minutes, five, 10. We’ve just released a new program called 30 days to resilient. And it is a morning and evening. Like it’s part, soul care. It’s part contemplative prayer. It it’s part therapy. It, well, you’ve done it.

Dan: Yep. Yep. I got caught once though. And that is, I’m on my StairMaster. And at one point you say, you know, if you’re in the gym, I’m not technically, but if you’re on the gym might wanna just, and I’m like, oh gosh, you’re so right. Like I am doubling up, want to do this, but I wanna… it was hilarious.

John: Well, your listeners and followers know you to be a man of immense capacity.

Dan: That’s hilarious.

John: And you do try to fill that capacity with multiple, on-going events. You were eating lunch at the beginning of this interview.

Dan: Look, multitasking is my middle name, but nonetheless, I’ll just say, no, no, no, but let me just say it was enough to be able to go. You really can stop this. Turn the StairMaster off. You don’t even have to go back indoors, just sit and let the goodness, the beauty, the music, but also the process of being drawn, through the voice, u remarkable voices into what we’ll call that benevolent detachment, a movement to…

John: Eden moments

Dan: Yes.

John: Little, little Eden moments that restore the soul. Anyway, if folks wanna like, okay, you you’ve already talked all about… It’s like that scene from As Good As It Gets. You remember that? Jack Nicholson’s talking to his apartment mate. And he says I’m drowning and you’re describing to me the temperature of the water. It’s like, people are like, I don’t need you to describe anymore how I’m doing. Thank you very much.

Dan: Yeah. Let’s go.

Dan: I would… let’s go. I would say get 30 days to resilient on the pause app. It’s free folks. It’s this gorgeous offering. Try a few sessions. There’s a morning and evening session and you’ll see. You’ll see.

Dan: Yeah. And we’ll come back in a week and get a chance to put a few more words to what our hearts are most meant to experience. Thank you, John.

John: I would love to do that. Let’s keep going.