FamilyLife Today® Podcast

When Life is Complicated: Lisa Whittle

with Lisa Whittle | January 5, 2023
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When life is complicated, it’s hard to see which way’s up. Author Lisa Whittle explains how arranging your central priority shakes out all the rest.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

When life is complicated, it’s hard to see which way is up. Author Lisa Whittle explains how arranging your central priority shakes out all the rest.

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When Life is Complicated: Lisa Whittle

With Lisa Whittle
January 05, 2023
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Dave: Okay, I’m going to ask you a question—

Ann: Oh, no!

Dave: —that might be the biggest question you ever answer in your life. [Laughter]

Ann: There’s no pressure.

Dave: This is the question.

Ann: Okay.

Dave: The question is: “After 42 years, do you still love me?” [Laughter]

Ann: That’s not the question.


Dave: That’s not the question. But you didn’t answer it; you just avoided that one.

Ann: Of course, I do; I totally love you.

Dave: What else are you going to say?—we’re on the air.

But here’s the real question—and this is really, I think, a question everybody wants to know the answer—

Ann: Okay.

Dave: “How does a person truly change?”

Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.

Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at or on the FamilyLife app.

Ann: This is FamilyLife

Dave and Ann: Today.

Ann: Well, I know where we’re going today; and I know what we’re going to talk about. As we’re talking about this—this is the thing, too, as I was reading the book and learning about the author we’re about to interview—I thought, “Yes, this is true.” Because pain is one of the things that really helps to mold us and changes us. It can, but we don’t always allow it to.

Dave: Yes; and we’ve got Lisa Whittle with us today. Lisa, welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Lisa: Thank you so much; I am so glad to be here.

Dave: It’s been a while, right?

Lisa: Yes.

Dave: Last time you were at FamilyLife, we were in Little Rock.

Lisa: That’s true.

Dave: We weren’t even there.

Lisa: You weren’t.

Dave: We were just little kids at that time, maybe; no.

Lisa: I mean, listen, I was trying to recall the year—and I can’t recall the year—but it’s been seven books ago, at least.

Dave: I was going to say: you’ve written eight books, right? And that was your first book.

Lisa: Right.

Dave: Eight books; married; kids.

Lisa: Yes, three children; a daughter-in-law; a dog of 15 years.

Dave: —15?

Lisa: Yes.

Dave: You know what that means?

Lisa: I know. Don’t talk about it; I’m already sad. [Laughter]

Dave: We’ve already gone through that.

Lisa: Oh!

Dave: Your book is The Hard Good. We just talked about pain. Would you answer the question the same way?—is that how God changes us?

Lisa: Yes; but I loved what Ann said: that it can change you, but it doesn’t always for the better. Let’s say it this way: “Pain can either change us for the worse or for the better.” There’s some of us, who become bitter, become jaded, become skeptical. It’s not like pain is an automatic changer of you for the good. It can be a transformer for the good—but we have that opportunity—and we also have the opportunity that it not be used for our good.

Ann: Dave, my preacher husband right there, he has always said: “Pain will make you either better or bitter.”

Lisa: Right.

Ann: He always says at the end—isn’t this good?—I remember this, Hon—

Dave: Look at this.

Ann: Yes; “The choice is yours.”

Dave: Yes, is that what happens? Obviously, I love your title: Hard Good—is that what happens?—it can be hard bad?

Lisa: The book is about the things that can be transformational in your life, if you allow God to use them in that way. But certainly, as we go through our life, we face difficulties, all the time that, as we know, make us feel a certain way/might close our hearts for a certain time.

That’s why I wanted to talk about how, if we allow the Lord to use those things, we develop this incredible usability for the kingdom of God. But we can thwart that by saying, “I don’t want that thing. I don’t want to be informed by the hardship. I don’t want to open up my heart again when it’s been hurt. I don’t want to accept something that I wish had been something different.” Maybe for a time that’s true, as well.

But in the end, do we want to be used for the kingdom of God in this powerful way? I think a lot of us say, “I want God to use me”; and yet, those things that help us to become wildly useable for the kingdom of God are things that we face, every day, that are hard. That’s why it’s really specific: The Hard Good. If it were just hard, it’s not necessarily transformational. Or if it’s just good, as we know, that’s not going to be wildly transformational either. But it’s those two things together that are so important: hard and good.

Ann: —which is throughout the Bible.

Lisa: Yes.

Ann: When you look at some of the best and the greatest leaders—but also the great patriarchs and those that we look up to in their faith—their lives were hard, sometimes and a lot of times.

One of the things that you’ve said, too, is: “Some people think the reason they never get anywhere”—because a lot of people say that: “I’m just not getting anywhere,”—“is because of difficulties they’ve encountered in life.” I like this because you say: “The real reason is because they keep bailing on where God wants to take them through those hard things.”

I’m guessing you’ve experienced some hard things. When you wrote this—there’s usually something behind the story, behind the story—what’s been hard for you?

Lisa: I’m also, historically, a bailor sometimes, Ann. [Laughter] That is why that line is—

Ann: Yes, we all want to bail!

Lisa: It’s interesting though—because there are some things I’m really “Stick to it,” about—but then, there’s times, when God has really wanted to work in my life—I call it, like, “Mess with me,”—I’ve just wanted to bail on that process because it’s hard to be transformed—it’s hard to go through the sanctification process/big word—but those things to be used for the glory of God and to face them.

I’ve certainly gone through hard things. I talk about my father’s death in this book, who was a great love of my life. Yet there were hardships, even in that relationship, because my father was a pastor. He went through a tremendous ministry fall. As a young woman, I watched that—I observed that; I watched all the intricacies of that—I watched him battle his own inner turmoil that he faced through that. I had a front-row seat to this man’s inner battle.

Ann: You were 18 when this was exposed?

Lisa: It was in between 18 to 24; it was those young-adult years.

The first time I remember, when this all happened—the IRS/it was an IRS situation with my father—initially, I remember coming home and seeing him and my mother sitting at the kitchen table—and seeing someone, who had a uniform on/like an officer’s uniform, and seeing the look on my parents faces, and knowing something immediately was going to shift in our family forever—but not knowing what was going on because there was a lot of protectiveness. They didn’t want us to know everything, but kids just know.

That just became this five-/six-year sort of investigation and just a lot of things that happened in my family. You can imagine, as someone who loved Jesus—but also, was in this ministry life—and watched my father battle. My father was my spiritual leader; and here’s the “Jesus business”—all those things—it was very confusing.

When my father died, I just remember feeling this mantle. I knew God had called me into ministry, as well; by this point, I’m already an author and a speaker. But separating my own DNA and legacy piece from my father has been somewhat of a lifelong process. I talk about that in The Hard Good. Certainly, that has been difficult; but there have been difficulties throughout my life like this.

Dave: Everybody wants to know: “How do you get from the hard, or the trial, or the pain”—it’s what your book’s all about; it’s so well-done—"to the good?” Help us understand that; because if we’re not in hard now, we’re going to be; or we’ve just come out. It’s a reality of living in life. But a lot of us don’t ever get to the good—whether we bail or whatever it is—it’s like we don’t walk that road. Help us understand: “How do we walk through hard/in hard to good?”

Lisa: I wish there was just a: “Push the button: one, two, three.” [Laughter] I do talk about process in this book, because I think it is important to know processes. I think it depends on what you’re going through:

  • Whether it be a grief process, which I talk about in Chapter 6;
  • Or whether you’re talking about acceptance, which is what I talk about in the beginning of the book. One of the most difficult things for us is accepting something that we wish were something different—that might be a death; but it might also be the death of a dream, might be a job loss—might be any of those kinds of things.

I think that’s one of the most difficult things—moving from: “What if…” to “What is…”—and that endless questioning that we have; we have those questions of: “What if they…” ”What if I…” ”What if God…” It is kind of spending time spinning in those “What if…” scenarios that we have.

I think that’s one thing that’s very important is: being able to move from the “What if…” to the “What is…” We talk about that process in Chapter 1. I think, also, it’s a matter of: “What do you want most?” Because, for a lot of us, what we want in the moment is not what we actually want most. It’s very important for us to understand that these temporary feelings that we have—that are from God, because feelings are from God—He could have made us robotic; He did not; He gave us feelings—they’re very important, but they’re not meant to be God in our life; they’re meant to be a gauge.

One of the things that I found very important to talk about in this book is the fact that our bossy feelings sometimes overtake us in moments. Anything ever becoming good from hard has to be gauged/those feelings have to be gauged. Sometimes what we want in the moment is to get even, or to get relief, or all of these things. In that temporary place—if we’re ever going to get to the good place—we have to process those feelings in the moment and remember what we want the most out of it, which is for God to use us greatly in our life. We have to stick with God through the uncomfortable process of transformation, which is what I talk about here.

Ann: I’m thinking about our marriage. Dave and I really struggled, ten years in.

Dave: Are we going to go there again? [Laughter]

Ann: Yes, because this is reminding me of this. I wanted something immediate—I thought I wanted Dave just to change—if Dave would change, then I could be happy. But one of the things that ended up happening, during that time—and you’ve talked about this—is my heart just shut down. You talk about this a lot—I was resonating—like, “Oh, man!”

I talk to so many other women: our hearts get hurt; we’re disappointed again; our expectations aren’t met. What begins to happen is we try to protect our hearts, so we shut them down. We don’t want to do that, but we do it out of this protectiveness. I think so many people are there in their marriages, like, “I’m just shutting down.” God doesn’t want us to do that. “How do we not shut our hearts down?”

Lisa: It is tough, and we do need the Lord for that. I mean, there is no way—that’s not a Christian answer—that is the truth. We can’t show up for our lives—we can’t live this subtitle that sounds really great; we might want to wear it on a T-shirt—but to show up for our lives requires His help.

My dad had died. My mom was dating someone—whom she’s now married to, whom I love very much—but he had come to visit. We were going to go on the lake. He walked out of the house, wearing my dad’s cowboy hat. It was a little fresh for me, after my father’s death. He wasn’t at all in any way wanting to be cruel, or any of those kinds of things; he simply needed a hat for the lake. He and my father were really good friends, and so it made sense to him. But for me, that was my daddy’s hat.

Ann: Oh, total trigger.

Lisa: Yes, it was a real trigger. I remember going to the lake—it almost brings me to tears now—I remember going to the lake that day. As soon as I saw him walk out of the house in that hat, before we were even going to the lake, I remember saying, “God, You’re going to have to help me; because in my flesh, I want to rip that cowboy hat off his head, and I want to say: ‘That’s my daddy’s hat,” and “You can’t wear it.’”

I think what I’m talking about is something that people can relate to. There’s been many times in our lives where that emotion threatens to take us over. But we know that—give us two hours and we’ll wish that we hadn’t behaved in that way—because it’s ruined the whole day. I’ve had those moments happen so many times in my life, where I’ve thought, “Oh, I just wish I had waited a little bit longer to not have reacted in a certain way; because it just ruined this moment,” or “…ruined this relationship,” or whatever the case may be. I think a lot of us, online, have thought, “Oh, I really wish the Lord had bridled me a little bit here,” because of the way that it’s manifested for a relationship.

The question that you had was: “How do I not shut down?” I think one thing—and I talk about this a lot in that chapter—is paying attention to the cues in your body even. Where you know: when those things begin to happen—where you begin to sweat; or you begin to/the heat is rising in your body; or you begin to be very short with someone; or you begin to pace; whatever your body—this is what’s so genius about God—body, mind and spirit/we’re created as a whole being. It’s tipping us off, sometimes, to: “You’re about to shut down here.”

That doesn’t mean we don’t ever need to walk away or any of those things—sometimes, that’s very important—but it just means that, when you’re beginning to shut down and you’re in that shut-down mode, you really need the Lord to help you to defer that type of emotional response to sometime that’s more appropriate later, where you can process it properly.

Ann: I was on a retreat—I took a young woman, whom I had been discipling—I think she was 19. She had tried to commit suicide. She had lost her scholarship, and she came to my house because she went to our church. She was so mad—she was mad at God; she was mad at the world—she had just gotten out of the hospital. She didn’t know Jesus. I remember saying to her: “Who are you?” She said, “I’m a soccer player.” I said, “No, that’s what you do.” I said, “Who are you?” She started crying; she said, “I have no idea who I am, apart from soccer,” because she/it had ended her career playing.

She ended up giving her life to Jesus, and this transformation was happening. I take her to this women’s retreat; I’m thinking, “Oh, man, she’s going to really be set on fire at this retreat.” As you get in—we had this little housing thing—and all these girls and women are there. I’m watching her, out of the corner of my eye, and I think, “Uh-oh, she’s shutting…” You can see when someone shuts down, can’t you?

Lisa: Yes, a lot of times you can.

Dave: Women can [Laughter]—I just threw that in there a little bit—I’m not saying men can’t.

Lisa: That’s true; okay.

Ann: Maybe, guys aren’t watching. [Laughter]

Lisa: Women know.

Dave: Men can, too; but I miss a lot.

Ann: She starts getting really quiet; she starts retreating away from everyone. It’s almost like her head goes down. I’ve seen this with so many women. I do this sometimes, where I’m starting to hear a lie.

I pull her aside, and I said, “Hey, what’s going on? Because I’m seeing your head’s down; you’re not engaged. Are you hearing lies?” She said, “I don’t belong here. These women are so spiritual. I’m nobody; I’m nothing. I don’t even know Jesus. If they knew what I had done, they wouldn’t want to…” I think we’re all faced with lies from the past—lies from the enemy—so many lies that tend to shut us down. I remember looking at her, and I was like, “Look at me. You are a child of the King; you are His daughter. We need your full self here, because you add so much.”

Sometimes, I think it takes another woman, or a group of community, saying to one another: “We need the fullness of who you are here, because God has things in you. I have nothing like you. But we need your fullness here.” It took her a while.

I think you’re so good, Lisa, in helping us know how to get out of that.

Lisa: That’s so good; that’s so good. That’s one of the reasons why Satan wants to isolate us, so we don’t have that community/we can’t speak into each other. This is the thing that I have realized—I knew this before I wrote The Hard Good, but I think it’s been confirmed so many times after I released it—is we are all going through something hard—everyone—every single one of us.

Somethings are literally almost unspeakable—I get DMs and messages every day; you know it, being in the pastorate—the stories that people carry are almost unbelievable if we didn’t know that this world that we live in is a difficult world. I think what you’re saying is so crucial here; because the lie is that: “You’re better off alone,” “You’re the only one going through anything.”

If someone is listening, and you’ve been believing that, I just need you to know that I know, from the stories that I hear every day, that it’s not true. There is just unspeakable hard that’s going on in the world, and that your hard matters; and the best thing that you can do is not isolate yourself at this moment, because people do care/there are people who care. The world is hard certainly, and there are people who don’t care about your pain; but there are people who care. It’s super important to pull together.

Dave: The last thing you want to do—although, it’s easy to do—is shut down. You’re chapter about “Shut Down or Show Up”—I think a lot of us shut down—I’ve shut down at times; it’s just like: “Oh, it’s easier; I’m just going stuff it,” “I’m just going to hide it,” “I’m not going to tell the guys in my life,” “I’m not going to tell my wife.” Yet, if you do that—obviously, you know, you stay in the hard—you never get to the good.

Lisa: That’s so true. You know, it’s interesting to me—because this chapter especially; and of course, it’s the subtitle as well—it has resonated with so many people, because the idea of showing up for our life is so appealing. We want to show up for our life; we really, really do. We want to show up for other people, as well; but we, so often, feel like, “I don’t even know how; I can’t.”

I will tell you that—and one of the things I talk about in this chapter—is that our mind is the place that is often where this belief system lies, as you were talking about this young woman. I talk about this domino effect that happens. You have this sort of belief that leads to hope that leads to a risk. Then sometimes—when we take this risk that hurts us/that doesn’t pay off—then there’s sort of this breach; and then, it leads to this lie, like this woman coming to this retreat:

She had this hope; she took a risk; then, there was a breach—maybe, someone didn’t talk to her immediately; it didn’t go as well as she thought—then, there’s this lie again: “I don’t matter”; and it leads to another belief.

That’s how, sometimes, this cycle goes. A lot of that is in our mind. We can’t ignore our mind in that sense of what matters and how that shuts us down sometimes. It is a real body, mind, and soul affect here.

I talk in the book—and it’s interesting; it’s just a small/little example—it is how we have to hook our lives to the bigger hook, which is Jesus. I was talking about how I had this hook in my bathroom. I kept trying to put my bathrobe on it, and it just kept falling off. I was so frustrated; I’m like, “This bathrobe just won’t go on this hook.” Then, all of a sudden—sometimes, it takes me a minute Laughter]—I thought, “I guess I just need a bigger hook; that’s what I need here.” But there was already this small hook on the wall; I didn’t want to have to put a bigger hook there.

But the idea is we have to have something bigger than ourselves here. We can’t just show up—it’s not possible; I can’t pull the boot straps up enough—at some point, the boot straps are going to wear. This is about Jesus. It’s not going to be about willing ourselves to show up for our lives—it is going to be about Him—that’s super important.

Ann: I think it can be, in the moment, as you’re saying, of calling out to
God, and telling Him the truth: “This is where I am, God. I feel like I’m shutting down,” “I feel like I don’t matter, “I feel like…” He is right there, wanting to hear us, listening to us, hearing our cries. He knows every tear. But just telling Him the truth: “This is where I want to go. Give me the power, in Your Spirit, to walk in the Spirit and to produce the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, and peace, to start out with even.”

Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Lisa Whittle on FamilyLife Today. When you think of encouraging verses, [2] Chronicles might not be the first place you go. But stick around; Ann’s got a verse to share that will really bless you.

But first, Lisa has written a book called The Hard Good: Showing Up for God to Work in You When You Want to Shut Down. You can get a copy at or by calling 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word, “TODAY.”

Alright, here’s Ann with an encouraging verse for you today.

Ann: I just read this verse this week—it’s so good—it’s from [2] Chronicles 16:9; it says: “The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” I love that idea of: “The eyes of the Lord are searching the whole earth in order to strengthen us.” If we’re seeking Him, He’s right there; and He wants to strengthen us.

Shelby: It’s easyto disregard pain—or sometimes, if you’re like me, find yourself at a complete loss of how to deal with your pain—"How can we get unstuck from that?” Tomorrow, on FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson will talk about that with our guest, again, [Lisa] Whittle; that’s tomorrow.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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