Larry Crabb begins the book by saying that modern Christianity tends to suggest that enough obedience or faith or prayer will bring a truly joyful life, usually thought to be life without pain. When we inevitably find ourselves not being joyful, we often ignore, cover, or soothe the problem because Christians are supposed to be joyful. But if we take the problem of a joyless life seriously we generally find little help in the solutions, although it may take many years to discover that.

The common paths to a joyful life, obedience, reliance on the Spirit, and working through the problems (usually with counseling) all fail. Obedience, diligence, and intellectualism produce discipline without love. Reliance on the Spirit fails to address the deep problems inside. Counselling generally fails to repent of deep sin.

People have three types of needs: casual needs (things which can be satisfied without another person), critical needs (needs for relationships), and crucial needs (the need for unconditional love and for meaning in life that only God can satisfy). Ultimate satisfaction comes only when all three types of needs are fulfilled. We try to fulfill our needs from the outside in, that is we satisfy our casual needs (nice house, good food), critical needs (good friends), and crucial needs (God) in that order. However, this is in reverse order of their importance to us. We are designed to need God fundamentally and until that need is satisfied, satisfaction of the other needs will produce an empty shell. We need to seek God first, fellowship with others second, and our casual needs third.

Seeking God involves first realizing our thirst then realizing it will not go away. Our pain demands relief so immediately that often we assuage it without examining why we feel the pain. So we need to ask the hard questions (why did God allow this?) and explore how our relationships have failed us. Feeling pain is not wrong, it is a natural result of our desires being thwarted. But the pain will not go away until we get to Heaven because this world is fundamentally broken. Instead, we must let our pain drive us to God.

Next we must repent of our deep sin. This is not merely violations of commands of God but violations of the command to love, God and others. Our sin is self-protectiveness, the desire to get rid of our pain. The method we employ takes many subtle forms, avoidance of conflict, avoidance of close relationships with intellectualism, etc., and may masquerade as something desireable (getting along well with others, in the case of conflict avoidance). Whatever our self-protectiveness is, it needs to be repented of. Only then can we change deeply.

This change will not be quick, it will not be easy, and it will be a process. Expect to have more pain initially, not less. Expect several stages. We begin by changing our conscious direction, finding our sin, repenting, and recommitting to God. Then we must change our approach to relationships from trying to be satisfied by them to loving others without expectation. Finally we must change the direction of our being. We will need to be shattered, to have the illusion that things are not too bad to be broken. Things are bad, and only the hope of God will keep us from despair. “When we realize that life can’t give us what we want, we can better give up our foolish demand that it do so and get on with the noble task of loving as we should.”

Crabb ends on a happier note by noting that change to a joyful, but pain-filled, life is possible. The Bible consistently mentions it, Crabb himself has experienced it, and he has seen others who have been changed. And in the meantime, don’t wait for perfect motives before loving others, ask the hard questions, and enjoy what is enjoyable about life.

Crabb presents a picture of the Christian life that clearly explains the fallacies of Christian clichés that conciously feel right but intuitively feel wrong. He offers a well thought-out discussion of the problem and solution with illustrations that not only illustrate his points, but back them up as well. As the book jacket says, his style is warm and personal, although I am not sure that it will weather time as well as C.S. Lewis'. Unfortunately, the book is not very clear on the first reading, requiring a second reading before the structure, and therefore, the essence, of the book can be understood. However, the content, once grasped, is excellent and I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is pondering their suspicions of disillusionment with life.
Review: 8.9
Although the content is excellent, useful, and I would assert, necessary, I am not convinced that this incarnation of it will last the 50 years necessary for a 9.0+ rating; the style seems to similar to books that I know will be short-lived and the difficulty of discerning the underlying structure will problem result in a better incarnation in the future. Although this last point should bring the value down, the content is good enough that this is still a must read.