Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant.

How to Train Your Thinking When Life Throws You a Curve

My favorite way to do life involves a schedule. Always a planner, I map out the days in advance and often find myself studying my calendar as if I might be tested on it at some point. Oddly, the pop quiz usually comes in the form of a delay or some unforeseen curve that cancels my list and throws everything off balance. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve noticed the pattern:  Life comes to us in the shape of a J-Curve.

J-CurveStarting with the J-Curve, a concept from investment and economics in which trend lines show an initial loss immediately followed by a sharp gain, Paul Miller traces the life of Jesus, the experience of the apostle Paul, and ultimately the normal Christian life:  a journey that ends higher than its beginning. In defiance of the claims of prosperity Gospel adherents and other false teachers, Miller argues that in our following life, we will experience multiple J-Curves in the form of suffering, weakness, humiliation, and inconvenience.

Miller’s stated purpose in J-Curve: Dying and Rising With Jesus in Everyday Life is to “reset [our] sense of the normal Christian life, freeing [us] from ignorance and despair.” (Loc 283) This cuts across our default—our bent toward self-promotion and self-protection. When our intended “audience” fails to appreciate us adequately, our negative response (disappointment, loneliness, feeling invisible) can actually be the beginning of a good thing as we shift faith in our family, our friends, or our self-image to faith in God.

Justification by Faith and the J-Curve

Sinking my roots deep into justification by faith, I realize the inadequacy of justification by friends or by a big platform or by an approving circle of “followers” who are able to do nothing to declare me righteous. Understanding that my own story can be superimposed upon Jesus’s story brings clarity to my thinking about justice, suffering, and even my parenting. Will I cheat my son out of a potentially liberating opportunity to experience the effects of a poor decision in order to make his life “easier” and help him to avoid pain at any cost?

Repentance and the J-Curve

The hard truth is that turning from sin is a painful exercise and requires a chain reaction of obedience:  a change in what I love, which leads to a change in what I want, and results (finally) in a change in what I do.

You can’t improve the flesh; you must kill it. The cross is a place for dying, not improving. (Loc 1541)

And, of course, the strongest upside of this wisdom may well be the ability to comfort or exhort others who are traveling the same path.

Gospel Living and the J-Curve

Miller asserts that living faith is all about who you know. Because we know Jesus, we trust him and take him at this word. A living faith shows up as participation in the life of Christ. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of J Curve is its bright ribbon of story about the Miller family’s life with Kim, their special needs daughter who has shaped their values as a family and has yielded valuable insights about how to “do church” and “do life” in redemptive ways.

As we believe the gospel, we become like the gospel, as our baptism and the life that follows become a reenactment of the J-Curve. And, on the practical level, awareness of the dramatic curve that traces resurrection life out of death connects the believer to her bearings and her identity as a servant, putting into perspective all the little deaths we experience on this planet. Big picture thinking gives meaning and purpose to suffering and offers hope for a greater beauty on the other side of the curve.

Many thanks to Crossway for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Believing and becoming,

Last year, I reviewed A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World, also by Paul Miller, and spent many hours on the seat of a lawn mower mulling over its truth. I invite you into the process with me here.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase J-Curve: Dying and Rising With Jesus in Everyday Life or A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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66 thoughts on “How to Train Your Thinking When Life Throws You a Curve”

  1. I know this is about the book (which sounds wonderful and challenging in the best ways — as usual!) but I just had to tell you I’m loving your new, clean look! Keep up the great work for God, friend! xo

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  2. Michele, who knew there could be so much hope associated with something called a J-Curve? This makes a lot of sense to my logical mind … sounds like a wonderful book. And I agree with Rebecca about your new look here … very nice!

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  3. I am also a planner and I agree that God often works through those situations where it doesn’t go to plan and I have to let go of control. This sounds like a helpful book!

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  4. What a good reminder (especially on this day, 9/11) that life comes to us often in the shape of a curve. As a former science teacher, I love a good diagram. The concept of the J-curve puts a lot of thought-provoking information in one little picture. Sounds like a great book!

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  5. Big picture thinking… I like that idea. We do get so small in our view of our lives & the future. Love this reminder. This life is so short & nothing compared to the time of eternity.

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  6. What a helpful concept. I especially love this: “You can’t improve the flesh; you must kill it. The cross is a place for dying, not improving.” I don’t know how we got the idea that everything should go smoothly in the Christian life, when the Bible tells us by instruction and example that it won’t. But I still seem to associate God’s blessing with a schedule working out according to plan and wonder what’s wrong when it doesn’t–even though I know better.

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    1. I know, right?
      Our first mistake comes in the idea that life is supposed to be “a certain way,” and we get huffy when God does not cooperate with our bad theology.
      Thanks for reading, Barbara.

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  7. “Big picture thinking gives meaning and purpose to suffering and offers hope for a greater beauty on the other side of the curve.” I’ve lived long enough and traversed enough J-curves to know this statement is absolute truth. Praise God, who does provide greater beauty on the other side–if not here on earth, then most certainly when we reach heaven! Hallelujah!

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  8. I do like the idea of this J-curve. Though, I will admit to not being much of a planner 🙂 Thanks for linking up. I enjoy your posts.

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  9. That’s a very interesting way to think of leading a faith-filled life. Using the J-curve is a great way of explaining it to people living in the modern world. I shall have to think of this more! #thatfridaylinky

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  10. I’m seeing some changes, Michele, and I’m loving them! And of course, I always love your reviews! This one is making me think, Guess I’ll be adding another book to my to-read list. Blessings, my friend!

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  11. Michele,
    “It’s all about Who you know!” Amen! Life has thrown this rut-loving planner a few curve balls lately and I repeatedly need to die to self and jump on Jesus’ bandwagon. I think all of life is a series of “deaths” and glorious “resurrections”. Thanks for sharing!
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

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  12. I love Miller’s line, “You can’t improve the flesh; you must kill it. The cross is a place for dying, not improving.” That’s so true and powerful, Michele. This sounds like an incredible book and, in some respects, reminds me of a book I’m reading, “Sick of Me” by Whitney Capps. It’s really all about killing the flesh. I’ll be pinning for sure!

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  13. Indeed “we will experience multiple J-Curves in the form of suffering, weakness, humiliation, and inconvenience.” But it is that upward part of the curve that far outshadows these! Thanks for sharing with us at The Blogger’s Pit Stop!

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  14. “As we believe the gospel, we become like the gospel …” May we grow to reflect Him more and more is my prayer.

    And this new site is lovely!

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  15. This is an interesting way to look at events that happen in one’s life. It’ kind of reminds me of the Buddhist notion of acceptance. Having to first accept your current circumstances and let go of trying to hold on to what you want them to be instead. Only then can you really move forward to something better.

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    1. Good observation, and then the J-Curve looks toward a future full of hope, even if current circumstances NEVER improve because our life and our ultimate destiny is tied in with the resurrection of Christ.

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  16. Michele, the new look of your site is great! Now on to what you’ve written here… I just heard of this book recently and wasn’t interested initially. I don’t think I really “got” what it’s about. But your review here has completely changed my mind. I’m a planner, like you. The concept of the J-curve completely resets my perspective on the things that redirect or interrupt my plans. What an encouragement!

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  17. This sounds intriguing and convicting. It makes sense that we live our lives on a J curve. I’m going to dig into this more because it fits with what I am learning in other areas. That’s for the review and for just being you.

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