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.
Ch. 1: Head Over Heels
- Jason met the girl of his dreams in high school. She came from a family whose father had left and whose mother could not love her, but found Jesus and became healed more rapidly than anyone Jason has met since. She even liked him! They got married when they were eighteen, although not without a slight bump, when she wanted to call off the wedding because she felt so dirty compared to him. Jason’s father explained to her that Jesus had taken all her sin and shame; it was gone, and she had already been clean.
Ch. 2: Hell Has Come to Breakfast
- Jason asked God for the character of George Washington, which is the sort of prayer one shouldn’t pray without counting the cost first! He found his wife unusually distant, and nothing seemed to help. They went to counseling; she said that she had never loved him and felt like he had no passion. This did not match his actions, so he was very confused. After more than a year of counseling, she still felt distant. He lost trust in her, started investigating (after telling her), and discovered that she had been having an affair with one of his high school friends. Eventually she left him and the kids. Jason was devastated.
Ch. 3: He Who Holds the Key
- Jason felt powerless. He identified a time some years back in his marriage, when his wife was going through a very difficult time, and he realized that he needed to do whatever it took to keep her, because he needed her (otherwise he would have a three young kids and a broken heart). That was when he became powerless: he gave up control of his life; his wife was now in control of his life.
- We were meant to give control of our lives to God, so we need to repent:
- Figure out what you need to repent of, and why you did it. You need to figure out why you did it, so that you can repent of that. “Repent” means to change your mind, and you cannot change you mind until you know why you are thinking they way you are. Otherwise you don’t fix the problem; it is like telling kids to say “sorry,” but they don’t mean it.
- Start cleaning up the messes you made
- Think differently: stop seeing yourself as the victim. You are responsible for your life, not someone else.
- Gives example of a guy who came to him for counseling. Actually, his wife had nagged him to come. He complained that she was difficult to live with and nagged him. Turns out, he never did anything for the relationship. He had turned over the entire responsibility for the marriage to her, which basically empowered her to be his mother. (He owned up his responsibility and they have a healthy marriage now)
Ch. 4: Justice Served
- “For me, it was easy to imagine myself being able to walk away from this disaster and never have to see Heather and her boyfriend ever again. But I was going to spend the rest of my life raising kids with the person who had hurt me the most. And I was going to have to share my kids with her boyfriend, not to mention the fact that he had destroyed his own family to be with my wife and kids. To me, it seemed as though there was nothing more unjust in this wold than the betrayal of a marriage.” (67)
- A greater injustice did happen, though: Jesus was punished for our sin. As a result, we were forgiven.
- “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)
- The only way he and his kids would get justice would be if he prayed that his ex-wife’s family would become healthy.
Ch. 5: The Fruit of Hard Times
- You have to sacrifice now to get a reward in the future. (Example of a farmer: it is hard, blistering work to plow the field and plant the seed, but he does it because of the future crop)
- A poverty mindset says that there is never enough, and is only concerned with how to get through today, so it can never withhold today for a better tomorrow.
- Laziness is lack of vision for a better tomorrow
- How to get out of the poverty mindset:
- Sow with tears of joy (Ps 126:5): it may be painful to take the seed and plant it, not knowing if there will be enough rain for a crop to feed your family, but if you eat it, you will certainly not be able to feed your family at some point.
- Today is the day! We tend to react to needs that do not produce a better future. Instead, identify what is holding you back and work at that. When he had his first kid, Vallotton felt like he had no idea how to be a parent, so every night he learned how to be a parent. Now he is leading thousands.
- Consider it pure joy when you have trials: trust that God is using everything to for our good (Rom 8:28); James 1:2-4 says that trials produce maturity.
Ch. 6: Unlocking the Inner Man
- The heart (emotions) and mind (rational thought) are separate. The only way to deal with unresolved pain (and not go insane) is for your heart to stop processing emotions. This results in the heart being in a prison of ice, where only the pain is remembered but the affirmation falls on deaf ears.
- Usually this process starts when we are children; we may not even remember when we start to do it.
- Emotions are good; they are not the problem.
- We need to start talking to our heart: “Heart, how are you doing today? What do you need in order to feel okay? What can I do about it?” Self-care is taking care of the needs our heart is telling us about, but we can’t even start if we don’t know what we need.
Ch. 7: In the Comfort of Your Own Pain
- Did someone ever teach you how to process pain? Probably not.
- So what do you do with it?
- We often bury our emotions because we don’t know how to deal with the pain.
- Jesus said that those who mourn will be comforted (Matt 5:4). The converse is, those who never mourn are never comforted. Mourning is how we deal with pain.
- Crying gets rid of pain. This is why kids can be hurt by another kid one moment, cry, and then they are totally okay the next moment. If you don’t cry, you can’t get rid of the pain. For each painful memory, we have to cry over, mourn over, what was taken from us.
- Vallotton would write letters to his ex-wife expressing how he felt (he did not send them to her), wrote poetry, shouted how he felt (but alone, so that his kids would not be affected), and journaled over each memory.
- If we don’t mourn, the pain will stay there, and we will not interact with the world emotionally in order to protect ourselves.
- If we are this way, then we are probably believing some kind of lie about expressing our pain. For example, “if I start crying, I will never stop,” or “Pain cannot be cured.”
- Repent of each lie: ask the Holy Spirit what He says about the situation. Renounce the lie, and accept truth.
- Change how you act to conform with the truth the Holy Spirit thinks.
- Don’t process pain constantly; that is like lifting weights all day, you will eventually not be able to lift anything. In seasons of stress, eat healthily, sleep well, exercise and do fun things, in addition to processing pain.
Ch. 8: The Supernatural Power of Forgiveness
- When you are to blame for the situation, the hardest person to forgive is yourself.
- It is easy to use guilt and shame as a way to try to atone for what you did.
- It is especially easy if the person you wronged has chosen to be bitter; it may feel wrong for you to repent, forgive yourself, and be happy, while the person you wronged remains bitter. But this is no reason to partner with shame; Jesus already paid for your sin and bore your shame.
- Our sinful actions are the symptom. Ex: Guy comes in because of porn addiction. “How do you feel right before you look at porn?” “Powerless and alone.” In exploring why, discovers that the guy’s dad left him when young and his mom coped by moving every year, so they always lived with boxes around and he could never settle down and establish roots. His problem isn’t porn, it is that as a kid he had no way of meeting his needs with healthy relationships, and so he never learned how to do it. Plus he felt shame that if he asked someone for help he would be rejected.
- Forgiveness does not mean feeling good about what happened to you. It does not mean you have to reconcile with the person who wronged you. You do not need to trust them.
- “Trust is earned through relationship, but forgiveness was purchased by Christ on the cross.” (125)
- “Extending forgiveness means that you give God permission to get justice on your behalf, and you release people from your judgment and from your attempts to get justice through punishment.” (125)
- It is easier to do this if you ask the Holy Spirit how He sees the person: compassion makes it easier to apply forgiveness.
- “We know when we have truly forgiven, because we no longer want the one who has wronged us to be punished.” (129)
- Steps to forgiveness:
- Connect with the pain/trauma.
- Verbalize exactly how you that action makes you feel, how you feel about the the person, etc. You can verbalize to another person (or I think to God, since it seems to be what Vallotton did with his letters and poems).
- Ask the Holy Spirit how He feels about the person, and verbalize forgiveness.
- You may have to remind yourself that you have forgiven. This is like watering the seed of forgiveness, without watering, it won’t grow into a tree.
Ch. 9: True Love
- Vallotton had a dream one night. God played the movie of his life backwards, past conception and to eternity with God. Then, forward to conception. “I watched as God carefully formed me. A set of blueprints with my name on it appeared, and I watched as God built one-of-a-kind attributes into me. Talents, abilities, personality and looks were meticulously fashioned in my mother’s womb, according to His perfect plan. Next, He reached into my heart and planted a deep purpose for being me ... something that no one else could ever fulfill, a call that only I could accomplish. As I watched Him form me in silence, I realized that each of my attributes were actually a piece of His likeness. Therefore, people could experience a part of God by observing my life.” (132-3) He then held him on His lap and said that he was His favorite.
- “Most of the world’s problems are rooted in self-hatred, because we will never let somebody love us more than we love ourselves. That is why Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:39).” (134)
- If someone loves us more than we love ourselves, we do one of two things:
- Subconsciously sabotage the relationship to avoid them rejecting us
- Become codependent on the person because we are afraid of them leaving us, “Therefore, we live our entire life at the mercy of another, instead of being able to set boundaries and share our most intimate needs, which is true love.” (134)
- If you don’t believe what Scripture says about yourself, reread the dream until you believe it. Make sure your self-talk reflects what God says, instead of what you feel.
- True love is a choice to sacrifice for the other person. “True love is rooted in sacrifice—the laying down and giving of life.” (135)
- Love is not passion. “Passion is an emotion that is felt most often in the pursuit and exploration of another.” (135) It is proper with a foundation of love, but if it is used to replace that foundation, the “love” will only be temporary.
- Counterfeit loves:
- Selfish love. It looks sweet and good, but will never sacrifice, because it is only in it for what it can get out of it. If someone only ever meets their own needs, it isn’t love, and you should run the other way.
- No-needs love. This gives away to everyone who demands it, with the hope that one day they will be filled. This looks like a powerless person who seems to have no needs, but this person cannot be whole.
- Drunken love/blind love. “Drunken love is fueled purely by an intoxicated state of emotions, usually brought on by desperation and fear. This dangerous love pushes past all boundaries, failing to yield at warning signs, in pursuit of a fix.” (139) If everyone says “danger!” and you say “no one understands me,” you are likely doing this.
- “Love without a standard is not love at all. It is just brokenness trying to find a home.” (139)
- Love looks like 1 Cor 13:4-7.
- “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.” (140)
Ch. 10: Red Flags
- The battlefield is our mind; the opponents are lies.
- Insecurity, anger, loneliness, rejection, self-pity, frustration, etc. are red flags that indicate that we are believing lies.
- You will be the most susceptible to these red flags at the beginning or end of a relationship.
- You need to deal with these red flags early, or they will become major problems.
- Ted Bundy got addicted to porn at 13 [presumably to fill the void of lack of intimacy], and gradually turning more and more violent, ending up with him becoming a serial killer.
- Often dating relationships let insecurity drive the relationship too fast. The lie is that if we increase commitment, I will feel more secure, but then you end up with high commitment and low trust.
- So we need to be aware of what we are thinking, feeling, and needing (self-awareness).
- How to get better at being self-aware:
- Recognize that we have needs that need to get met.
- Emotions are a good indication on an unmet need. For example, anger may be a sign that you feel powerless and out of control.
- Go back to the place that triggered the emotion to find the cause/need. You may not be able to solve the problem, but you can control how you react to it.
- Journaling also helps
- Identify the need; it is different to feel insecure because of something that just happened now and to feel insecure because you don’t know God is your Father.
- Identify your greatest unmet need
- You can only control yourself (and it is only the Holy Spirit that results in the fruit of self-control); any other belief is a lie.
- Set goals. It takes a lot of effort to change our brain’s neuropathways and the goals will help you continue when the pain has subsided and isn’t motivating you as much.
Ch. 11: Into Me You See
- Eph 5:8-14: We are to live in the light. If we hide pieces of our ugliness then even though we are a new creation, we don’t give Jesus access to that area to heal it. “The parts of his heart that he had opened up had become free and whole; but there was an entire world of darkness that the Lord did not have access to heal because John feared that his transparency [about his dad who beat him, and his use of pornography as medication] would be punished.” (158-9)
- God created us to need intimacy with each other. God appears to have intentionally made Adam without Eve so that he would realize his need.
- When Adam finds Eve, he says he has found his “ezer,” his helpmate. The word is used 3 times of a woman and 16 times of God in the OT. Clearly God did not create marriage for just for reproduction; He created it for intimacy.
- God is not all we need, otherwise Adam would not need Eve. People (not just one’s spouse) are our helpmates.
- Intimacy is being completely vulnerable, which is incompatible with hiding parts of ourselves.
- Intimacy is built on the foundation of trust.
- Successfully resolved conflict actually produces greater trust than if there were no conflict.
- Pornography and masturbation create a momentary feeling of being intimate and vulnerable without the fear of rejection.
- Sixties/Seventies-style free love is also not intimacy. If you have sex without having built trust and commitment, you are setting yourself up for a bunch of pain when they leave you.
Ch. 12: A New Standard (Kris Vallotton)
- We tend to define people by their mistakes, rather than our shared origin.
- “The religious spirit seeks to preserve rules rather than relationships.” (171)
- Jesus practiced redemption, so we need to create a culture that facilitates redemption (we cannot force people, but we can create a good environment for it).
- Story of a porn addict who had hurt is family so much that when he was healed, they still were treating him using their old defense mechanisms. His wife would punish him for all his failings. He needed to validate her hurt, but set boundaries that punishment is not Christ-like. So had to say things like “I’m feeling punished, could you rephrase that in a way that does not belittle me?” He also had to make meeting the needs of his family a priority.
Ch. 13: Love Suffers Long (Kris Vallotton)
- Kris felt betrayed by his son’s wife leaving him, he avoided seeing her in the church parking lot, he wanted her to suffer. His grandson asked if he loved his mother (which was really asking, “Is it ok to love someone who hurt you?”), to which Kris answered “what kind of people would we be if we only loved those who loved us?” Then one day she pulled up in front of him in the parking lot without realizing it, and when she saw him, she got out, ran to him, threw herself in his arms and, crying, said she had betrayed his son, her family, and them, and would he forgive her. He struggled, but God seemed to give him compassion for her and he forgave her. Kris and his family developed a good relationship with her, and was visited her in the hospital when the baby she had with the other man was born. Later his grandson asked if he liked the baby. His instinct was “no!” to take out his pain on the baby, but that was not right and he said that he did love him. Things have healed well. Their families have a good relationship with each other, and see each other often. Jason married another wonderful woman and is doing well.