Lance & Megan's Blog

The Joy Switch by Chris Coursey

January19

How Your Brain’s Secret Circuit Affects Your Relationships- And How You Can Activate It

Formational book review by Megan

3/5 Stars

“My hope with The Joy Switch book is 1. You learn to recognize whether your relational circuit is working, 2. If not, you know how to use the Joy Switch to turn it back on, and 3. You learn relational habits to sustain the relational circuit so it works at its optimal range.” 

Author Chris Coursey lays out at the beginning his goal in writing the book. A very simple and direct goal, easy to lay out a plan and give direction for the reader. The book is directed at such an important part of our lives, relationships. We can’t avoid it. We have some kind of relationship with our family, spouses, co-workers and store clerks. Coursey says “The areas in our brain that govern character, emotions, and identity are all relational.” So that should make understanding and building/maintaining right relationships a priority, and as the book goes on to say, its hard to stay relational when joy levels drop.

Reading as a Disciple

“Once our relational brain shifts to enemy mode with God, we lose all ability to joyfully interact with another relational being. […] Approaching God when we are in enemy mode is an excellent way to ensure God feels distant because our brain is in the worst possible position for a relational interaction.”

The author Chris Coursey, is a believer and talks about faith and how it relates to joy and relationships throughout the book. I found it interesting when he said “Thinking about pain and hurts is a great way to remain in nonrelational mode with people and with God.”  It is so easy to do, we can replay events and words that hurt us in our minds and we struggle to find God in a situation. Coursey goes on to talk about how to stay relational with God and find His peace in these moments. Just as God instructed the Israelites to put up monuments to his faithfulness, we should also have times of looking back on when we enjoyed God’s presence and faithfulness and when we experienced His peace. Though our circumstances may not change, we will be in a better position to hear from God and accept His peace. 

Reading Communally

“Isolation makes unsuspecting victims more vulnerable.”

Again, this book was not just about us and our own ability to turn our Joy Switch on but also how to help others come back to a place of joy. Community and our connection to the body of Christ is critical. Experiencing negative emotions is normal and inevitable, what the book covers is how to help us return to joy quickly and this also applies to our relationship with others. If we are able to return to a place of joy, then we can help others. We can often get stuck though and struggle to return to joy. “This ‘stuckness’ leads to the loss of abilities we often take for granted, such as the ability to stay loving, kind, thoughtful, caring, considerate, compassionate, and generous. It means the unwelcome appearance of personality distortions like narcissism… Narcissism, the inability to shift out of enemy mode and process shame, robs joy and keeps people stuck in enemy mode.” Those are all things we easily experience on a bad day. This is also where addictions come into place because we are looking for joy substitutes, artificial, nonrelational replacements for comfort. 

The majority of the book is devoted to the habits that Coursey believes will help us return to joy quickly: connection, appreciation, rest and Shalom. 

Final Thoughts

The book is packed with great thoughts and insight into staying relational with others and God. What I enjoyed was the questions and practices offered at the end of each chapter. It’s a great way to keep the book practical and helpful. 

What I don’t like is that the book bordered on providing a cure or step-by-step approach to be joyful. While Coursey mentions very briefly that is not what this book is for, by using the imagery of a switch, he oversimplifies something to just being joyful or not. He mentions “there is a progression with different ‘relational shades’ like colors on a color wheel.” And later he says “the relational circuit is like a dimmer switch with shades of relational mode.” But it is too hard to not get the idea of on/off out of your mind when it’s in the title of the book and there is a big picture of a switch on the cover. This is misleading for the reader. There is no “cure” to doing away with negative emotions and remain in some euphoric state of joy. What Coursey does not go into is how negative emotions are not necessarily a bad evil thing, (Jesus experienced them,) but they are a normal part of being human. God can provide a way for us to navigate those seasons in our lives when the negative emotions seem to outweigh the joy. This book should be seen as only a small step or tool to navigating those seasons, not the cure. 

Other Chris Coursey books

The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages- we recommend this book!

The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled People

The 4 Habits of Raising Joy-Filled Kids

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On Getting Out of Bed by Alan Noble

January3

The Burden and Gift of Living

Formational Book Review by Megan

4/5 Stars

“… your life is a good gift from a loving God,”

This is the whole premise of the book. Our lives are a gift. Many people suffer from anxiety, depression, grief, or mental illness at some point in their lives or perhaps daily. But despite all the “fixes” the world has to offer, the choice is still ours to get out of bed in the morning. Living out our days by getting out of bed is actually a powerful testimony to our neighbors and friends to the goodness of God. 

Reading as a Disciple

“Suffering… is a normal part of human life.” 

There is a lie in the Christian world that when we become Christians, our lives should become beautiful and easy and that we shouldn’t suffer. 

There is nothing in the Bible to support that thought. Noble goes on to say, “tremendous suffering is the normal experience of being in this world. Beauty and love and joy are normal, too, but so is suffering.” Becoming a Christian does not give you immunity to the normal hardships of life. While this can be disappointing to some, it is also a gift. Noble argues that we give testimony to the goodness of God by simply getting out of bed and continuing with our lives no matter how difficult our circumstances may be. 

“When we act on that goodness by rising out of bed… we honor God and His creation, and we testify to our family, to our neighbors, and to our friends of His goodness. This act is worship.” 

We often look to the glorified testimony but we already have a testimony by continuing in God’s faithfulness. I should not seek out something special to “add” to my testimony but to simply live out my days as a disciple, faithfully honoring God. 

“Your task is not to feel right but to act right.”

In this day and age, there is an emphasis on feelings and validating people’s emotions but sometimes we have to continue on without the feelings. Noble says, “Sometimes that’s what peace is: an action based on faith and not an emotional state.” 

Reading Pastorally 

“You are not your own, and neither is your suffering.”

“This is hard teaching, but we are responsible for one another, even when we are in the midst of great suffering and sorrow.”

One of my favorite things of the book is the emphasis on community and being with others. We need the body of Christ, we are not little islands that make up a body, we are united in Christ and therefore to each other. The world tells us we can overcome our problems with XYZ and all we have to do is decide what is best for us but again, the problem here is that it falls back on us. Our desire to “fix ourselves” falls to us and therefore if we are not changed by whatever we decide to do, it’s our fault. This is island thinking.  

This book challenged me to not only be more open with my own sufferings but also to not shy away from others who are suffering. For many people, it feels awkward and uncomfortable to walk with someone in their pain. We don’t know what to do. “Let me know if you need anything” is the best we can muster. After reading this book, I am looking for ways to not shy away from negative emotions in others but to be that hand or person that will simply make sure you are not alone. 

“Enduring requires you to share your suffering with others.” 

“By knowing together as the body of Christ, we can both exhort and comfort one another when we feel irrational guilt and shame.” 

Final thoughts

“Usefulness is the sole criterion for the World, the Flesh, or the Devil. But you have no use value to God. You can’t. There is nothing He needs. You can’t cease being useful to God because you were never useful to begin with. That’s not why He created you, and its not why He continues to sustain your existence in the world. His creation of you was gratuitous, prodigal. He made you just because He loves you and for his own good pleasure.” 

We were created for God’s own pleasure.  There is nothing we can do to change his love for us, to diminish it or increase it, His love just is. And with that, we can continue to testify to His unconditional, never-ending love for everyone by simply getting out of bed and living out our days, especially when we don’t feel like it. 

Other Alan Noble books:

You Are Not Your Own

Disruptive Witness

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The Wise Woman (AKA a Double Story, AKA The Lost Princess) by George Macdonald

December5

Formational Book Review by Lance

5/5 Stars

“To be conceited of doing one’s duty is then a sign of how little one does it, and how little one sees what a contemptible thing it is not to do it. Could any but a low creature be conceited of not being contemptible? Until our duty becomes to us common as breathing, we are poor creatures.”

This fairy tale follows two foolish young girls and their very foolish parents. One is a princess who is aggressively spoiled rotten and the other a poor farm girl who only hears praise from her parents and is incredibly conceited. A very mysterious and wise old woman shows up and uses her knowledge and bit of magic in her curious house in an attempt to reform the girls and maybe even their parents.

Reading as a Disciple:

“But the wise woman had, in truth, heard the first sound of her running feet, and stopped and turned, waiting. What with running and crying, however, and a fall or two as she ran, the princess never saw her until she fell right into her arms—”

No matter how many smart books I read or techniques that I implement in my pursuit of being a disciple of Jesus, I find myself being either or both of the daughters.  In the end, I need divine guidance to show me the real depravity of my conceit and entitlement. This is a parable that helps to console with hope the part of me that understands the deficiency in me and my easy forgetfulness of this deficiency. It also confronts my pride and reminds me that I have a guide that will allow my sinful nature cause me pain while working a more beautiful creation in me. I have a wise counselor who continually and creatively pursues me and draws me toward my true self away from the false self.

Reading Pastorally:

“As she grew up, everybody about her did his best to convince her that she was Somebody; and the girl herself was so easily persuaded of it that she quite forgot that anybody had ever told her so, and took it for a fundamental, innate, primary, first-born, self-evident, necessary, and incontrovertible idea and principle that SHE WAS SOMEBODY… in this odd country there was a huge number of Somebodies. Indeed, it was one of its oddities that every boy and girl in it, was rather too ready to think he or she was Somebody; and the worst of it was that the princess never thought of there being more than one Somebody—and that was herself.”

Macdonald does a great job weaving “nature/nurture” into this story.  Both the girls have a will to do what is right or wrong, however they are also influenced by the faulty care of their parents.  In the end, misguided “love” created two atrociously selfish little creatures. Both sets of parents, in their discomfort or blindness, gave the wrong base idea to their daughters; that they were the only somebody. A person being a person is not for the sake of their own specialness. The reason for personhood in the story is a bit hidden. But it is very clear that each is loved by the Wise Woman and the more they know it, the more that transformational love is shown to others.

“…you (parents) are sufficiently punished by the work of your own hands. Instead of making your daughter obey you, you left her to be a slave to herself; you coaxed when you ought to have compelled; you praised when you ought to have been silent… She is your crime and your punishment. Take her home with you, and live hour after hour with the pale-hearted disgrace you call your daughter.”

 This hit home for me.  How many times have I only focused my care for people on being “somebody” in this world without reenforcing the reality that they are not the only somebody in the room. If we care for others without the context of character growth and being a person in a community, we can unintentionally and unfortunately cause harm to those in our care.

Formational Reading:

“I could tell you a great deal more concerning them all, but I have already told more than is good for those who read but with their foreheads, and enough for those whom it has made look a little solemn, and sigh as they close the book.”

The very last paragraph of the book is a glimpse into George Macdonald’s philosophy on what story should produce in a person. And I can say the first time I read this story I was more of a forehead reader. Time and trial, I think, has made me read this story a bit differently this time.  I believe that story should be a large part of our joy building. And I also believe that digesting a story takes practice and effort. I hope I sigh after every book I read.

Other thoughts:

Formationaly speaking, George Macdonald has been a huge influence on me and my view of God, human nature and God’s work of redemption. He is known for being a large influence on Tolkien and C.S. Lewis with his fairy tales and sermons.  In some circles George Macdonald has been a figure of controversy.  Towards the end of his life his theology had a hard universalist bend. More specifically, in Lance paraphrase, through our own hell of depravity and the consuming fire of God’s love, over time, everyone will eventually yield to the love of God and accept His embrace. As Paul Young (who wrote “The Shack”) said in the documentary “Restoring the Shack”, (again in Lance paraphrase) “I don’t necessarily hold to George MacDonald’s view on hell, but I hope he is right.”

Other George Macdonald Favorites:

  • Lilith
  • Phantastes
  • The Princess and the Goblin
  • The Princess and Curdie
  • The Shadows
  • Back of the North Wind

Also

  • “George Macdonald: An Anthology 365 Readings” by C.S. Lewis
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