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When You’re Afraid of Blowing it: David Robbins

with David Robbins | April 19, 2024
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Ever felt that heavy weight of expectations crushing down on you, just desperate to prove yourself to everyone? You're pouring out all your energy into one thing, but deep down, there's that nagging fear of failing. David Robbins has been right there in the trenches, battling that constant need to prove himself. Yet, he found a way to finally ease up on all that pressure and noise around him. He weighs in on where to find relief from the pressure.

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  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

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  • Shelby Abbott

    Shelby Abbott is an author, campus minister, and conference speaker on staff with the ministry of Cru. His passion for university students has led him to speak at college campuses all over the United States. Abbott is the author of Jacked and I Am a Tool (To Help with Your Dating Life), Pressure Points: A Guide to Navigating Student Stress and DoubtLess: Because Faith is Hard. He and his wife, Rachael, have two daughters and live in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

Ever felt crushed by expectations, desperate to prove yourself? David Robbins gets it—and found relief. What’s it look like to escape the pressure?

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When You’re Afraid of Blowing it: David Robbins

With David Robbins
April 19, 2024
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Real Life Loading…
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Season 2, Episode 85: When You're Afraid of Blowing It

Guest: David Robbins
Air Date: April 19, 2024

Shelby: What did you dream about when you were like in high school? What did you want to do with your life?

David: I grew up in a pretty small town, and I just knew anytime I got on an airplane, I knew I want to make it to a big city.

Shelby: Okay.

David: That was kind of a dream embedded. I was in advertising. I wanted to end up being like an advertising major. I went through this whole, “Am I going to do graphic design or architecture?” It was too much work. [Laughter] So, advertising though, I can be creative and yet still have this business thing. I was going to aim toward that and get to New York City. That was the dream.

Shelby: Somewhat anxious, always authentic. This is Real Life Loading...

I'm your host, Shelby Abbott. Today's a unique one because I had the opportunity to sit down with the President of FamilyLife® himself, David Robbins. He can be a tough one to wrestle down because his schedule is so busy. I'm thankful to say that he made plenty of time for us at Real Life Loading, and I'm so grateful that he did.

We're going to cover a lot today with D Rob, that's his nickname, including how to know when you're not doing well, weakness, being present for your friends and family, and why accountability and community are so vital in the Christian life. Enjoy eavesdropping on this great conversation with my friend, David Robbins.

All right, so what's one warning sign that maybe you're not doing well?

David: I would totally think I just get into prove it mode. Wake up, prove it today. Like those little whispers in my head of go prove that you got what it takes. You'll get it. And I am really good in prove it spaces. And so, I've lived a lot of my story in life. All right, I can go make it work and an aprove it space. Give me a challenge. Let me go show you. Okay. Yes, I'll rise up.

The adrenaline and the identity, being found in being able to pull off, you know some type of performance for people, the default into that space makes me really unhealthy sometimes.
I look for clues of just like, “Who am I trying to please today? What am I trying to prove?” I can so quickly not get in a restful, abiding place. when I just need like this urge to prove something.

Shelby: Yes. Because that's pretty much the opposite of what culture would say. Culture would say, “Yes, you're in proven mode. You're in go mode.” That's where you're going to be successful. That's where you got to the best version--

David: It's where I got my strokes, and I did get approval and acceptance like the world did, and it worked for me for a little bit, but it begs for more.

Shelby: Yes. And you get, end up being burned out?

David: Yes.

Shelby: Yes. I was going to talk to you about this later on, but right now, one of the things that you say a lot, which really kind of dovetails off of this is your phrase, “If dependence is the goal, then weakness is an advantage.” What does that mean? Because I don't know, a lot of people would go, that doesn't make any sense. Can you unpack it a little bit? What does that actually mean?

David: Well, it came from a time where I was hollow inside. I was burned out. We were living overseas. We were doing ministry, and it had become like utter duty, mainly because all the strokes were gone, even ministry strokes. I couldn't speak the language well.

Shelby: You were in Italy, right?

David: Yes, that's right. Western Europe. It was a lot of initiative conversations. I'm like a shepherd and let's go deep. I couldn't go deep with the language or with a lot of the perspective of where the students we were meeting were.

I just got really burned out would be one way, hollow and numb - things just became duty. And I can't keep this up. This is miserable. It was from that space, where, I remember reading Hosea 2, where the prophet who had to keep pursuing his wife, who was adulterating herself out and you know, I will lure her into the desert. It'll be there. I speak tenderly to her. It'll be there that I give her back the days of her youth. It'll be there. I had no longer call. She'll no longer call me my master. She'll call me my lover. That's a paraphrase, but it's close. I don't get that Lord. I really don't understand relating to you in that way.

I relate to you. You're my master. Inside our wedding band is wherever and whatever, Joshua 1:16. We'll do whatever you want us to do. God was inviting me into more. What I realized through a long journey was it's through weakness and dependence that I actually get more intimacy, and I get the joy of experiencing him as the lover of my soul.

So, the verse we often think about when we think of the word weakness, 2 Corinthians 12, Paul's talking about the thorn in his flesh. “My grace is sufficient,” is what Jesus tells him. I'm not going to take it away. My power is made perfect in your weakness. [Paraphrased] And I just started wrestling, Lord, I do not like this feeling of being to the end of myself numbed out. If You're going to draw me into more intimacy, I want Your power in my life. Your power is made perfect in my weakness. So, if dependence upon God is the goal, then weakness is actually an advantage.
Shelby: Yes, I mean, one of the things that I have discovered in particular in my life is that I hate being needy. I hate feeling needy. But like if you look at Scripture all over the place, neediness is what God constantly shouts out. He's like, shout out to the needy because when you come to the end of yourself, you're in a spot where you're actually, ah, then I'm going to show up. Humility and neediness aren't something that are championed by anybody in our culture today.

It's interesting that you talk about that. If we say that weakness is something that's an advantage for us, would that not then mean that we should search out our weaknesses? Be intentional about finding them and say, “These are the areas where God is going to show up and flex, because I'm not going to be the one to be able to do it.”

How have you seen God flex specifically for you? What are your areas?

David: Well, and I'll just reiterate, I think God actually delights in putting us in situations and positions where we are utterly dependent upon His power, and we can't take the glory because it does display who He is so much more. But yet how often, and I love the way you said it was, “How do we initiate our own weakness into the equation?”

What is in our own story that, and this is part of how I see it, I have to own the things that have shaped my story and the way that I lunge for approval, or try to get all these people to like me or whatever, I have to own that, and go, “Nope, He approves me.”

Shelby: Mm-Hmm.

David: Jesus is the only One that will bring the deepest satisfaction or approval, or His acceptance is worth so much more than everyone else's acceptance.

But yet every day I have a personality it seems like, where I just start at zero, needing people's acceptance and approval. So, I actually have to know that about myself. And know every day, okay, and especially when things get turned up, we all have those seasons where, okay--

Shelby: --Stress, heat, life, and all that kind of stuff.

David: Yes. Like life situations that are coming up, where, wow, this next three months is going to be a stretch or whatever it is. Then how do I know my weakness? I don't have to pretend that I have all that mastered or figured out. Now I've grown, and His grace actually does deepen my experience of Him, and I can lean into those things. But it's like, all right Lord, I really, really need You, and in this situation with life, turning up the heat, I need you even more. I know my propensity so much to run to the things that I can do on my own. No, Lord, I want to do the things that only You could do through me. And Your Spirit’s power will be enough.

Shelby: Yes. Often those moments where the heat is turned up and you're like, “God, if you don't show up, I'm cooked.” Those are the moments really, where there's for me at least, has been like catalytic growth, huge growth in spiritually, where I'm like, when I look back on this moment of pain or fear, anxiety, and God showed up in ways that I didn't do anything. He was the one who did stuff. Then I'm able to look back on it and go, Oh, that's really where like the magic happens in terms of Jesus becoming more real to me, more like tangible to me, more close to me.

I have a friend who's in AA, and he said one that they throw around a lot of like catchphrases in AA and it says, “If you notice that God is far away from you, who moved?” It's not God, it's definitely me. I'm the one who moved.

I found that when things are difficult, when they're stressful, when I'm like letting go and meeting God in those moments and saying, “You have to show up.” That's when I find that He's most close, because I didn't move away from Him. I'm not the one who shuffled in my seat away from Him.

David: You know the number one way I shuffle going back to your question of when do I find it for me? It's when I just start driving so hard. It's not like I'm going out and certainly there can be sin temptation I go into, but my temptation is I'm going to drive so hard to figure this out and do it, that own my own, that I end up, I move away, pushing away, taking control. I just have these moments. I call them my John 15 moments. I think all of us have passages that get close to our heart, but that's, you know, the vine and we’re the branches, you cannot produce fruit that lasts apart from Him. [Paraphrased]

I kind of delight in it now, because I want to delight in my weakness. But it used to be a really shameful thing where I would get so exhausted. I would just have those moments and just collapse. I mean the Holy Spirit was just like, “read John 15.” It's like, why don't I do that every day, really? Yes, what if I actually lived every day with that type of dependence.

Shelby: One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you today is because you have two kids who are in high school. So, they are Gen Z. You've lived with them under your roof now and experienced what it's like to be a part of everyday life with someone who's experiencing life very different from you, definitely different from me, the way that we were raised.

What do you think has been one or two of the most important things for them, not just to learn, but to feel a deep sense of conviction about it, as they prepare to go on to the next phases of their life, because your oldest is about ready to go to college, right?

David: Yes, dude, it's real. It's like in months. We're totally feeling it. We've sought to be intentional as we've stumbled through our parenting. One is you have a unique story and trust God to live into it. We want to help discover that together with you. We're not putting that onto you.

Shelby: Right.

David: We want to help discover that. So, there is a unique story you have.

Then at the same time, “You're not sufficiently good, wise, or gifted enough to make this work.” That's a Dan Allender quote that is close to Megan and my heart. That yes, we believe in you, and there is an amazing story for you to step into and trust God with everything you got for the ways in your giftings, passions, burdens that He has put on your heart. Let's explore; let's test it; let's go.

And whooo it gets - and this is obviously even so far - you've heard some of my own story. Yes, you're not going to be able to hold it all together. It's too much, and you get to collapse into the Father's arms. What a gift. Don't ever grow tired and don't ever feel like you got to have it all together or do whatever it takes. Jesus is right there with you the whole time.
I feel like a lot of life is the balance of those. It's not a balance, but it's like a living out fully of those two, like taking big steps of faith. No, you don't have it on your own, like you got to trust the Lord.

Shelby: Which again, I think the culture is really good at saying, they wouldn't word it as take big steps of faith. They would just say, believe in yourself, hustle hard, yes, get it done.

What does that practically look like for you as a dad to step into that? Are those like private conversations in their room? Is it in the car on the way back from a game that they didn't perform very well, or they did perform very well? How do you balance that with them of like be who God has made you to be, but at the same time lean on Jesus, because those two things seem to be in conflict with one another. But we know that they're not. What does that practically look like for you as you speak to your kids and help them to understand both at the same time?

David: I think the greatest thing about life is it's going to keep bringing you the freshest fodder. So, it hasn't been some amazing strategic plan that we've lived out in their lives. It's been the moments of: okay, our oldest who's about to go to college, he has a chronic illness, and he's always run cross-country, which has been really good for his health. He's been doing that because it's good for his health and he enjoys the team. He would self-declare, I'm not fast, but I enjoy it and I enjoy the team.

Well, our school started a football team, and it was his - this was getting to live a dream, and he could not believe it. Yet he wanted to finish running every year of his high school of Cross- Country. So, Friday nights, then Saturday early mornings.

Shelby: So they were at the same season and same time?

David: Friday night football and then you wake up at 5 AM to go make it to a Cross-Country meet. So you're just like, this is the fresh fodder of his season. Where this is going to be too much. His body has a chronic illness. He actually added diabetes into the equation the second week of the season. It was a lot to navigate.

It was too much. And there were collapse moments where you just, you know, tears and you felt it at the same time. All right, let's have those honest conversations. It's the rubber meets the road, honest conversations, where you've built enough safety and trust through the years and not lunging things on top of them, when they're seeking to live out their own desires that you're there with them in it, that's what we've sought to do. We haven't done it perfectly. There's been seasons our kids pulled back and that's even as they express independence. There's an appropriate nature to that. They're going to be on their own soon, but I don't know, real life gives you a lot of fodder. We are always looking for what's the real life situations, where those two things are existing.

My daughter right now, is like with friends. How does she trust a little Lord with friends? I know she's not going to do it perfectly every step, and resolve some conflict proactively. That's risky for a teenage girl.

It's been awesome and really hard, especially when she only wants to talk about it at 11 PM at night - that's her go time. I'm like, I have to go to bed - but like, okay, it looks like 11 PM.

Shelby: How has it been, I mean, obviously there's differences between talking to your son about these things and talking to your daughter about them? I have two daughters, so I'm not going to ever have that conversation between me and my son, because I don't have one. But, I know that there's conversations that are coming that I won't understand, that will be very difficult for me. What has it been like to have those moments, where similar to what we were just talking about, how do you say, be who you are, but trust Jesus?

How's that different when you're talking to your boy, as opposed to talking to your girl?

David: Well, I will divert to the first question is, and this is where I see my weakness and have to depend upon the Lord, I misstep so many times. I can't overdo it. I can push too much or I can withdraw, because it gets too overwhelming. I’m like, no - go engage, what are you doing?

Shelby: So, intentionality?

David: So one, that's what your question actually makes me think, this whole area is a place where I am radically seeing my own weakness and am depending on the Lord day by day. But yes, you know, there's a birth order stuff, so I don't want to overgeneralize, but I do think both want to be heard.

I saw a meme recently that was like, I know I'm in my room by myself and giving every nonverbal possible to stay away from me. All I want you to do is come in and just sit. And I'm like, it really was an important thing. Because we were applying for scholarships with my oldest boy, and man we were going at it on some deadline stuff and he went to his room. And you're like, Oh man, you start self-reflecting. I think presence is a lot of it. It may look different and my daughter's very rarely going to want to talk about it until late at night, and that's her MO and that's not every girl's MO.

My son, it's like how do we find that windshield time that turns into we're lingering in the driveway, because we got home and all of a sudden we're looking at each other. There's things like that that you can do, but ultimately each kid's different, and presence, I don't do it well. Sometimes I withdraw, and it's the Lord's prompting, just go be present. Don't try to bring the solution.

Shelby: Yes.

I think that's one of the unique things about the younger generation right now is that they do want you to be present. They do want you to listen and not necessarily respond and prescribe certain behaviors or attitudes or whatever. I found that in many ways, that's where God can be a super great example for us as people who want to fix things all the time, or dads, is that God is always present. He's always listening, and He can provide that comfort in ways that other people cannot. And so, look to God as the example of how to behave with the friends in your life or for you, your children. For me in the future, my teenage girls, when they get to that age. Lord help me. But presence is something that we need to be really intentional about instead of trying
to solve everybody's problems all the time. And that, to a degree, takes the pressure off of us.

David: That's true. Yes, there's freedom in that. A counselor told me this and I needed it for myself, because I was trying to fix my own problems or solve something going on with Meg and me. I think it's what we all want with friendships. I really appreciate how Gen Z wants this with their friendships, where it's living out 2 Corinthians 1 about comforting one another. When you walk through something, you comfort others. A lot of times we think, and I'll be able to tell my experience. But no, the telling and prescriptive is usually not what people really want. Sometimes that's helpful. All they really want is to be able to share to a point where someone actually attunes, they feel understood.

I just, I love it when my kids, and it's almost like I accidentally do it. It's not like I purposely do it, but when they just go, that's all they needed. They wanted someone to hear them to the point where they go, “Deep sigh, all right. I feel understood.” I feel like that's what Jesus does to us all the time. He is so patient with us. He doesn't help us figure it all out. He guides us in the journey to grow more like Him - but a lot of times it's like, okay.

Shelby: And sometimes the answers aren't like what people would be helped by anyway. They just need that pressure release valve of being listened to and heard, and come alongside, throw your arm around them. They don't necessarily need to be guided into answers all the time. Because I found like a lot of people will, if they go through hard things, they'll go, why, why is God allowing this? And often I will say stuff like, “Well, if you got the why, if you got the reason behind it, would that actually make you feel better? Sometimes it does, but sometimes they follow that thought to its conclusion, and they go, “No, I really just want someone to be with me in that process.”

Again, you got to balance that. It's not always going to be that. You're a parent, so you do need to instruct and guide. So, you're talking about community a minute ago, being around people and helping them to understand that there's value, not just with you and your family, but like their friends mean a lot to them and that is often their community, whether it be in church or at school, or whatever. Who is the community of folks in your life that you would say are good, not only for your kids, but like for you. Who keeps you accountable? Who is the person where you can like turn that pressure relief valve, where is that?

David: Yes. Everybody needs people that aren't impressed with them. Your people that you just are, you can be. There's a group of six of us that met in college dominoed into each other's lives spiritually. We tear apart Marco Polo frequently each week and get together once a year still.

Now there's not proximity in those relationships. Actually, there's pairs of the six of us that live in same towns and they get together a lot. But that's a group of people that, okay, there's a no holds bar. There is no darkness in sight. Everything's in the light that can keep being the case.

We've moved a lot, and I just made a commitment after we lived overseas, that wherever I move next, there's going to be one or two people that know everything about my story. Lord, help me discern one or two people in the new location that I go to, that I can tell my entire story to, and there's just enough Holy Spirit trust that I have in my connections with them, that I'm going to trust them with my story. That's been the case in every city we've moved to every three to five years. That's the case here. I'm grateful. It's our school community actually.

Shelby: Is it a Christian school?

David: The one we go to now is a Christian school. We went to a public school in New York city and was able to have one person from the school, one person from church. I don't limit it to two, but I do kind of go, I'm not going to go into this extended zone and a new place where I'm not inviting people into my story. Then you'll develop more friendships and invite others in. That's been a subtle rule of life after just feeling, I'm kind of off on a cliff by myself over here in Italy, and I got numb and ugly. What can I do to proactively never be in that position again? It's been a simple commitment that's been good.

Shelby: Yes, you do need like people where you could put all your cards on the table. And like what you said, like drag it all into the light, but not have people recoil at that. I feel like that's a special person to be able to communicate openly about everything that's going on, not feel embarrassed about it, and then have them not meet that with, “Oh, you, you shouldn't do that,
or you shouldn't behave that way, even in their body language; you know what I mean?”

David: For the record, I don't share every. I'm not like, “Hey, it's been six months and you're my person. I'm about to tell you everything.” You share a little bit and see what the reciprocal nature of it is.

I want fellow people who want to journey in the gospel into the depths of their own hearts also. And so, I see, if there is some version of reciprocity and is there not repulsiveness, and like, who wants to go after Jesus well together? At the same time, I just want to say like that got really intense and like, wow, you know, two people, everything.

I am so grateful for just ordinary community and people just to have rhythms of common life with. I think we underestimate that sometimes, where not everyone has to be the intense accountability - knows everything. Those consistent rhythms of, yes we have a small group that we get together every other week on Sunday after church. There's nothing that amazing about it, but the rhythm itself actually is all right as we journey through life and life comes. It's been really life giving.

Shelby: You just need people to have fun with sometimes and laugh.

David: Yes, totally.

Shelby: The value of friendship is something that I think a lot of people appreciate when they're younger. Then when they get into the romantic stage of life, they have a tendency to pitch it for the romance. Once they gain the romance, this is stereotypically, as they gain the romance, they get married. Then they go, I need friends again. So, they dive back into it, and they find that it's new territory. They don't know how to make friends as a couple. They don’t know how to do that.

How do I find a guy who I'm actually cool being around, and he's cool being around my wife, and I'm cool being around his wife. You know, it's a weird dynamic. Then you have kids and then everything changes after that too. But friendship is always valuable. It's always going to be essential, especially friends within the context of a gospel believing community.

Here's my final question for you. I've used the term gospel culture quite a bit. What does gospel culture actually mean to someone who is young? What do you think that is for a young person? Since you live with two younger people.

David: To live with two young people, and you know where my mind was going also when we lived in New York City, we worked with twenty to twenty-five year olds. That was who we were working with. Driven heart, you know, like really go for it people.

Shelby: Especially in New York.
David: Yes. I think about my high schoolers, and I think about the people that we got to live life with that we loved in New York City just a few years ago. Ultimately as there's a pursuit of Jesus, which is good and more knowledge of Him and that's great. We get to grow in our upper trajectory of knowing Scripture and intimacy with Him. I'm loving how the next generation has a heart for practicing the way of Jesus and communion with Him, not just knowledge of Him. Like Gen Z, you keep teaching all generations that are ahead of you, the way you practice the way of communing with Him. We need you to teach.

I love the value that's uprising within this generation. But as we grow in our experience and communion and knowledge of Jesus, the experience of the gospel and a gospel centered life, it's like also growing in our knowledge of our depravity. It takes young people off guard when you're like, okay, I've rooted out this sin.

But then Jesus keeps going, like He promised. John said, I gave you the Spirit so that you would know now. I could reveal to you things you weren't ready to hear at the beginning. So as you keep aging, you actually get knowing more of your depravity, which can be a little horrifying.

Shelby: Yes, yes, I just thought I was doing well.

David: I just think the gospel center life of growing more of Him, growing more in the depths. It's actually a good thing to know the depths of your depravity and brokenness. That's God working in your life and the Holy Spirit revealing. It kind of freaks you out, once you're like - wait, I cleared everything out I thought. And God goes, here's a layer back of things you weren't ready for. But now in tenderness, Jesus wants to come into this place too. What's great about it as those two trajectories happen, Jesus gets bigger in our lives. The cross of Jesus fills it all up, and we get to taste and experience it today.

As a young person, keep growing in communion and knowledge. It's a beautiful thing. Match it with your knowledge of your depravity, and your story, and where Jesus wants to enter into crevices. And, oh my goodness, how Jesus gets to fill it up with His presence. That's how we keep experiencing Jesus in deeper ways personally.

Shelby: You embrace that and the gospel gets bigger.

Well, bro, thanks for your time today. It's always good to see you and spend time with you face-to-face, especially. This is very fun. I really appreciate you and your leadership and more important than that, I appreciate your heart for the gospel and your love for our Savior. It's very evident. You wear it on your sleeve and I love that about you.

David: Thanks Shelby, fun to be here.

Shelby: Thanks.

Isn't he the best? I love that D Rob is willing to go anywhere in conversation and be totally genuine. I really appreciate that about him.

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