Review of Didn’t See It Coming

didntseeI came to Didn’t See It Coming as a regular reader of Carey Nieuwhof’s blog. I’ve listened to his podcast since the beginning. I’ve found his work helpful and insightful for my role as a pastor and Christian leader. Though I reckoned him to be at the top of the game in providing leadership insights and a skilled interviewer, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book aimed at a general audience.

Going by the title alone, I thought of my own “didn’t see it coming” experiences. The first thing that came to mind was the birth of our first child. Sure, births of first children are normal occurrences. But what we’d expected – what we’d “seen coming,” was a certain number of children, general family growth and happiness, eventual college, jobs, and on into the empty nest. We didn’t know what to do when our first child turned out to be disabled, and disabled in a way that meant she would never pass from the need for our care. Her special needs have determined our relationships with our other children, our extended family, friends, jobs/careers, and the whole of our lives. We didn’t see that coming.

That’s not the kind of experience Nieuwhof writes about in this book. I’d hoped that he had – that there would have been a magic solution that we hadn’t thought of after thirty years. But I don’t believe in magic, and neither does Nieuwhof. The challenges he addresses are other kinds of unexpected events common to many of us. None of these have magical solutions. All can be dealt with, but instead of magic, each requires that we change the way we see things, and adopt new practices.

He deals with seven challenges none of us expect in life: cynicism, compromise, disconnection, irrelevance, pride, burnout and emptiness. I’ve dealt with at least four of these myself. Reading the book I found most of his suggested therapies to be at least plausible if not proven strategies. Note well that these are therapies, not solutions. He doesn’t advocate the magical approach – or even the technological approach – that says, “If you do this, results are guaranteed.” When I had my rotator cuff surgeries, I had to take up certain practices to regain my strength and range of motion in my arm. Healing took more than knowledge, more than listening to wise advice. I had to act. I also had to keep acting. There was no “one and done.”

The section I had the most trouble with was the chapters dealing with irrelevance. As a pastor, I deal with issues of change all the time. I’m also part of a denomination that is facing huge cultural change issues that are tearing us apart. Because of my institutional setting, I looked for more that would be useful to me in that domain. The strength of Nieuwhof’s discussion of change was focused on the personal – not surprising since that is the point of the book. If we – my denomination and the churches that compose it – had dealt with personal transformation and issues of cultural discernment over the past few generations, we would be much better situated to deal with the huge cultural changes swamping us today.

Nieuwhof is a pastor by trade. He writes from a distinctly Christian point of view. If the slightest tinge of Christianity annoys you, this book won’t be for you. Most of what he has to say, however, is wisdom that requires no commitment to any faith tradition. For those coming from the other direction who might accuse him of watering down the teaching of the faith into a secularized pabulum, might consider the commonality of the wisdom tradition in the ancient world. Much – though not all – of the wisdom tradition in ancient Israel finds parallels in places like Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. Theologically, we could look to the doctrine of creation as a rationale for thinking our common status as creatures of God living in a particular kind of (and shared) world would make a basic common wisdom likely.

If your life is only going upward, only sweetness and light, you might not get much out of this book. My guess, however, is that even such ease is your reality (not just your dream), this book may help you be on the lookout for what is coming down the road.

If you’d like to dip into or pre-order the book, you can check it out – and read the first chapter! – at

(I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book.)

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