Jason Vallotton met the girl of his dreams when he was in high school. She came from a broken family, but healed incredibly rapidly. They were married at eighteen, and had three kids. One day, years later, he realized that she had been a little distant recently, but she did not seem to get closer. They went to counseling for a year, but that did not help. After telling her, he started investigating, and discovered that she had been having an affair with one of his high school friends. Shortly afterwards, she left him and the kids. Jason was devastated.

He felt powerless, and realized that several years prior, when his wife had been going through a difficult time, he had decided that he needed to do whatever it took to keep her, otherwise he would end up with three kids and a broken heart. Essentially, he had given his power to her; his wife was now effectively in control of his life. We were meant for God to have control of our lives. So if He is not, we need to repent (change our mind). We need to start cleaning up any messes that we’ve made. We need to think differently—we are not the victim, we are responsible for our lives. Finally, we need to set healthy boundaries with others. If you have no boundaries, then you cannot flourish within because other people will be constantly raiding you.

Jason felt completely betrayed, and worse, would have to raise his kids with his betrayer. He wanted justice, but he realized that Jesus had paid for our sin. Since we are forgiven of betraying God it would actually be injustice not to forgive her. “Therefore, unforgiveness became an injustice, because a lack of forgiveness nullifies the payment Christ made for us with His own blood. There really is no justice in a broken life!” (70)  In fact, the only way he and his kids were going to get justice was to pray that his wife and her boyfriend become healthy.

Next he talks about the necessity of sacrificing in today so that tomorrow will be better. A poverty mindset assumes that there will never be enough, so there is no point in sacrificing today. Laziness has no vision for a better tomorrow, so does not sacrifice today. Even when we do want a better future, we tend to react to today’s needs that don’t build a better future. Jason gives three recommendations. First, realize that it may be painful to sacrifice today. I assume this is in the context of him wanting to stay in bed all day because of the pain, but realizing that this is destructive long-term. Second, today is the day; do something for your future today. Third, consider it pure joy when you have trials, as James says, because God is using it to create maturity.

From Jason’s counseling ministry he knew that there are only two ways to handle unresolved pain: go insane or stop processing emotions. Often this process starts when we are children, so we may not even realize why we are the way we are. When we stop processing emotions, we remember the pain, but we actually block out affirmation. However, the emotions are not actually the problem; emotions are actually good because they reveal what is going on in our heart. Our heart is actually a separate entity from our heart, so Jason recommends asking our heart “Heart, how are you doing? What do you need to feel okay?” In one talk of his I heard, he recommends that if you have trouble hearing anything from your heart, tell your mind “Mind, I love what you do, but right now I need to hear from Heart, so please be quiet.”

So what do we do with the pain that Heart brings up? Jesus said that those who mourn will be comforted (Matt 5:4), so we need to mourn the loss of whatever it is that is causing the pain. Mourning is how we process pain. Kids do this automatically: they cry for a bit, then they are okay and can go back to playing with whoever hurt them. The thing is, as Christians we tend not only express “valid” emotions, not how we truly feel. Jason says that if someone reads your journal and doesn’t think you are a non-Christian, you’re doing it wrong. We need to mourn over the loss we feel, identify and repent of lies we are believing, identify how we are feeling (e.g. “I am afraid that my kids might bond to my ex-wife’s boyfriend better than to me.”), and ask the Holy Spirit what how He sees the situation. Then agree with Him and change our thinking.

The case of forgiveness is a special case of processing pain. First, we identify with the pain, loss, and hurt inflicted on us. He has his counseling patients imagine the person and tell them what they feel about them; this sometimes results in loud profanity. He also recommends journaling as well as writing letters to the person (which you don’t send). After expressing how you feel, ask the Holy Spirit how He sees the person. This gives us compassion for the person, without which we cannot truly forgive. Then verbalize forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process, and you will need to water the seed of forgiveness by reminding yourself that you forgave the person. Forgiveness does not mean that you necessarily trust the person, since trust is earned. It also does not mean that you necessarily need to reconcile with the person, which may not even be possible, if, for example, they are dead. Forgiveness is simply no longer wishing judgment on the person. “We know when we have truly forgiven, because we no longer want the one who has wronged us to be punished.” (p. 129)

If we are the one who wronged someone, we may need to forgive ourselves, especially if the other person has chosen to remain hurt and bitter. Holding onto guilt and shame is essentially trying to punish ourselves, but Jesus already paid for it. It may feel wrong to repent, accept Jesus’ forgiveness and be happy while they person wronged is still bitter, but bitterness is their choice. Jesus forgave you, so live like it. (Obviously, we need to ask for forgiveness and attempt to reconcile, if possible.)

Another important part to healing is to love ourselves like God loves us. We cannot love others more than we love ourselves. If someone loves us more than we do, we will either sabotage the relationship to avoid them rejecting us once they find out what we know about ourselves, or we will become co-dependent. God says that He knew us before the world was created, and carefully made us in His image (Ps 139). Our self-talk must reflect this. When we see ourselves like God does, we can truly love, which is sacrificing for another. Love is not selfish love, which looks sweet but will not sacrifice for another. It is not someone who has no needs because this type of person hopes that by having no needs and always giving, someone will give to them. Finally, it is not an emotional love which throws caution to the wind in a desperate attempt to get a love fix. It can often be diagnosed in someone who claims that no one understands them. “Love without a standard is not love at all. It is just brokenness trying to find a home. ... Love is not love unless it costs me something. Love is not love unless it seeks only the highest good of the other person. Love is not love unless it leads to more freedom.” (pp. 139 - 140).

Emotions like insecurity, anger, loneliness, rejection, self-pity, and frustration are signs that we are believing lies. Emotional health lies in knowing how we are thinking, feeling, and needing. These emotions are an indication that some need is not being met, so we need to identify the need and find a legitimate way to meet it, starting with the greatest unmet need. Note that what we think are needs may not be true needs. For instance, we don’t need sex (we won’t die without it), but we do need intimacy.

Intimacy is being completely vulnerable, which is incompatible with hiding parts of ourselves. As we build trust with people, we need to also reveal our darkness and fears. This is why some people become Christians and are healed of addictions and why others are not: when we are willing to reveal who we are, we can receive acceptance by other people and by God, and ultimately, healing. When we hide, cannot be intimate, but because God created us to be intimate we people, we end up with an unfilled need. Pornography and masturbation are attempts to fill that need, as they offer the brief appearance of intimacy without risk of rejection. Sex outside of marriage is also an attempt to fill that intimacy, but because it is not based on trust, it is simply setting yourself up for pain if/when the other person leaves (rejects) you.

The last two chapters are written by Jason’s dad, Kris Vallotton. Kris seemed to be impacted by Jason’s wife leaving him almost as much as Jason was, in part because she was a daughter to them, and in part because she betrayed his son and his three grandchildren. For a long time he avoided her in the church parking lot. His grandson inadvertently helped him process by asking questions of his own, so that when she unexpectedly ran up to him one day, crying and begging his forgiveness, he was cognizant that he needed to forgive. Even so, it was still hard. Although the marriage was not restored, Jason’s ex-wife remains a friend of the extended Vallotton family, Jason and his children have healed well, and Jason recently married a wonderful woman.

In a talk, Jason described this book as being about walking through pain (the publisher thought “supernatural” would sell better, so he added the eponymous chapter). He does an excellent job of clearly packaging the pieces of the healing process. Jason himself is an intense, straight-to-the-point speaker, and his book is no different. He distills the process to it’s essential principles and provides brief illustrations. As a result, he has produced a book of rare timelessness in the Christian circles.

The book flows well, but it is a little unclear if the order of the topics represents the order he went through them in his healing process, or whether they are good principles, loosely organized. It is also a little unclear if he went through all the processes he described, or whether some of them are derived from counseling others. They are valuable either way, but since the book is framed in the context of working through the pain of his wife leaving him, it would be nice to know which parts were relevant to that process.

I was a little surprised that I did not connect with the book emotionally very well, although I liked it and it helped me work through some things. I heard several lectures on the book before reading the book, so I had already heard the key concepts. Also, it is harder to convey emotion in writing than in speech. He apparently started writing the book midway through the process, so the current pain may have led to him being a little dispassionate in order to actually finish the book. Or perhaps he turned on Counseling Mode while writing.

I really liked the clarity of thought the Jason brings with this book. He clearly thinks deeply, and has distilled out the essentials. The concepts he introduced in the book and lectures (which were mostly condensed excerpts from the book) have changed many of my views on processing pain. In particular, I found that telling God exactly how you feel about a person or situation has been helpful. I think the concepts he presents are timeless and essential, and he presents them in a way that makes me feel like I can follow them.

Review: 9
The clarity and succinctness of the steps to working through pain he presents is excellent. He has good illustrations. After reading the book, I feel like I know how to do the process and could actually do the process when it becomes necessary. His clarity leads to a timelessness that is not often found in Christian books describing what people learned from their painful experiences, so this could potentially be a hundred-year book. The only odd thing is that I did not connect emotionally with the book. The lectures he gave were definitely very intense emotionally, so I do not know if the lectures sapped the emotion content from the book when I read it, or whether the dispassionateness is intrinsic to the book. Perhaps the book would have benefited by being written after he had processed things, but it is still excellent.