Your first book, Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn't Show Up the Way You Thought He Would, was received very well. What did you think about it?
It was really humbling. I don’t know what I expected when I wrote the book, but I didn’t expect such an overwhelming response. I think it was a reminder for me how everybody needs healing. Everybody has a shattered dream. Everybody has disappointment and discouragement, and I think I knew that going into writing Plan B, but the response from people reinforced it.
What’s great about this book Empty Promises, is that it’s about another universal issue of wanting and figuring out which things you should be chasing and which things are not going to deliver. You compare empty promises with idols. A lot of people immediately think of idols as some golden and wooden statue that people worship.
I was in India a couple of years ago, and we were at this temple. An extremely long line of women were buying these red, ribbon streams from these priests. Then they would tie them on this big dead tree. I remember asking what are they doing and [it’s] a fertility tree. They buy this holy string, tie it on the tree, say their prayers, and they believe this god of fertility – this dead tree – is going to up their chances of having a child. I remember getting on the van and thinking that’s so silly. Who would ever buy into that? And then I thought, as ridiculous at that sounds, it is equally as ridiculous for me to think if I make a little more money next year than this year that somehow I’m going to be happier or that if I move up a position at work that I’m finally going to feel like I’m alive or that I have some kind of value. I started to realize that idolatry in our culture primarily is what we set our hearts on to bring us satisfaction and fulfillment and they never really do, ever.
What do you say to the fact that we as human beings are naturally creatures of wanting?
We are. In our hearts we are wired to worship something. We’re all wired to make something ultimate in our life, so that’s part of what I tried to get to with the book. All the longings you have in your life are God-given longings. I kind of dreamed of this day where we all begin to realize that God placed these longings in us ultimately to draw us closer to Him, because everything else in this world is going to leave you empty and wanting more. It’s only in Him and through Him that we really begin to find the satisfaction, the acceptance, and the forgiveness that our heart is really longing for.
How else do you explain the people in our culture who have unbelievable success in their line of work – what we’ve determined as ‘the good life’? The good life would be making more money than you know what to do with, being absolutely beautiful according to worldly standards… It doesn’t matter. I thought about this during Whitney Houston’s funeral, and my favorite speaker was Kevin Costner. He said, “The Whitney I knew was still wondering if I’m good enough, am I pretty enough, will they like me?” Again, she had everything. She was rich beyond imagination, but she was still asking all the same questions that everybody is asking. If you try to answer those questions, you’re going to stumble. You’re going to fall on your face, because there’s only one person I believe that can give you all those desires of your heart and that’s our Creator.
One of the things that people struggle with that your address in the book is approval addiction. Again, that’s another one of the things that taps on the door of what we naturally feel. We want people to like us. We want to make friends. How do you know when you have tipped over from wanting community into approval addiction?
It’s a fine line. When I look at my own life, the question I’m always asking is: am I trying to gather my self-worth? I’ve struggle with this a great deal, and honestly approval addiction combined with ministry is a very dangerous cocktail. I remember just a couple of years ago, I had started a church in Kentucky. I stayed there for five years, and it was this wonderful experience. When I left that ministry, my family was very well loved and accepted there. We went back to Nashville and, when I was at this other ministry, I remembered from day one just feeling this overwhelming depression, like, ‘What am I even doing here?’ There was some conflict going on, and I wasn’t near as well liked. No one is picking up the phone to call me to go to lunch. I remember writing in my journal, I want my old life back. I really didn’t think a whole lot about it [until] I was going back through all this stuff, thinking through idols, and thinking through my struggles with approval addiction. I read that journal entry and I thought, I didn’t want my old life back. I wanted my old idols back. I wanted those things that made me feel worthy, and I based my worth on trying to get people to accept, like and love me. Again, the problem with that is there’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t approve of you. You live your life like that, and you’re destined for mediocrity. You’re never going to do anything or say anything, because you’re working so hard to try to make all the people around you happy.