Book review: Didn’t See It Coming

By Marshall Eizenga

“Who knows really what corrodes the soul to the point where it disintegrates?”

This quote is taken from Carey Nieuwhof’s latest book Didn’t See It Coming. In it, Nieuwhof describes the “seven greatest challenges that no one expects and everyone experiences.” The seven challenges are: cynicism, compromise, disconnection, irrelevance, pride, burnout and emptiness.

If you don’t recognize the author, then let me introduce him to you. Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and the founding pastor of Connexus Church in Barrie, ON – one of North America’s most influential churches. He is also a conference speaker, podcaster and thought leader.

Nieuwhof’s desire in writing this book was to keep individuals from being blindsided by challenges that we all face. Should you be noticing any of these traits gaining traction in your life, this book will help you stop their toxic impact.

“These warning signs, if recognized and heeded, are gifts from God to spare us from the self-inflicted sadness and heartbreak that mark too many lives,” he writes, adding, “Even if the crisis is not in full swing yet, the steps outlined here will save you significant heartache and trouble.”

Before taking a brief overview of the seven challenges, it is important to know that Nieuwhof chose the topics after taking an inventory of his own life. So his examination is not just academic in nature, but a hard-fought battle with his own struggles. He acknowledges the list is indeed scary – unless, of course, you prepare for their expected arrival.

  1. Cynicism

As Nieuwhof unpacks this characteristic, he writes how the realism he had in his 30s slowly gave way to cynicism. After using one story from his life to illustrate this point, he comments that this can happen to any of us. When it does, you “[d]on’t care like you used to. Don’t invest in people like you used to. Don’t give of yourself like you used to.”

I found interesting is that Nieuwhof states that “cynicism begins not because you don’t care but because you do care.” He goes on to unpack how cynicism creeps in and establishes a stronghold in your heart. Then he suggests the antidote to cynicism is curiosity, which surprised me.

“Remember,” he writes, “cynics are never curious, and the curious are never cynical.”

  1. Compromise

In this chapter, Nieuwhof writes about the subtle art of selling your soul:

“The subtle compromises we make day after day – the half-truths, the rationalizations, the excuses –create a gap between who we are and who we want to be . . . although you haven’t sold your soul to the devil, you’ve rented it.”

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s worthy of some soul-searching.

He then details five signs that showcase the drift toward compromise.

The only antidote for compromise is a lot of hard work on your character. This is not easy or fun work, but without it, your inner life will give way to a sink hole. Nieuwhof believes we need to “work twice as hard on our character as you do on your competency.”

“Competency,” he writes, “gets you in the room. Character keeps you in the room.”

  1. Disconnection

“You and I are connecting with people, just not the people who are in the room with us,” he explains. “We’re having conversations, just not with the people we love most.”

It is obvious from this quote that Nieuwhof is talking about how electronic connections are dominating our lives. So much so that our interpersonal connections are at risk. “In essence, technology is like money,” he explains, “it makes a terrible master but a wonderful servant.”

Nieuwhof’s antidote for disconnection is (and this shouldn’t be a surprise) conversation! Face-to-face conversation. Remember that?

He writes that it is important to elevate the level of conversation so that you “foster a meaningful conversation with them. You’ll discover that your relationships become far more life giving . . . [leading to] life-giving conversations about ideas, possibilities, truth, dreams, hopes and ambitions.”

There is another statement he makes in this chapter that grabbed my attention. “Love has a speed. And it’s slower than I am . . . Love pauses. Love lingers. Love offers full focus and gives far more than it takes.”

  1. Irrelevance

Irrelevance, like cynicism and compromise, slowly creeps into your life. Nieuwhof points out that irrelevance happens when leaders no longer connect to the culture and the people around them. It also occurs when the leader has lost his/her ability to lead or influence others.

His antidote to irrelevance is to embrace change. This is not easy for many of us, and statistically the struggle increases as we age. But the world around us is changing faster than ever and if we’re going to remain relevant, we have to learn to welcome it, navigate it and implement it. If we refuse to do that, the very real possibility is looking back at a life of aching regret.

So that we aren’t entangled in regret, Nieuwhof walks his readers through the dynamics of change, before providing four insights and strategies that assist in helping people stay current. This, he says, leads to transformation: “When true transformation occurs, the person embraces the future more than the past.”

  1. Pride

I was not surprised by the inclusion of this challenge, nor by his statement that “in many ways, [pride] is the master sin.” He goes on to write, “Pride will snuff out your empathy, stifle your compassion, create division, suffocate love, foster jealousy, deaden your soul, and make you think all this is normal.”

He then provides five signs that pride is impacting a life and how it hardens one’s heart.

The antidote for pride should not surprise anyone. It is humility! “Only humility will get you out of what pride got you into,” he explains, adding:

“Pride is like a weed and humility is like your lawn. Weeds need pretty much no fertilizer or water to grow; they just show up and effortlessly take over. Your lawn needs to be fertilized, aerated, watered, and nurtured to stand a chance of healthy growth.”

  1. Burnout

If you know Nieuwhof’s story, then you are aware of his journey into and out of burnout. He capsulizes this part of his life in the book very succinctly. There is no doubt that as he identifies the signs of burnout – this section could resonate with someone’s present-day life experience. If so, it’s time to put the book down and get help!

His antidote for burnout is found in this statement: “I need to live in a way today that spiritually, emotionally, relationally, physically and financially will help me thrive tomorrow.” The rest of this section provides insight into how to do this successfully.

  1. Emptiness

This section of the book could be a surprise to some. Nieuwhof shares the challenge of feeling empty when he was on the mountaintop of a couple of highlight moments in his life. He points out that this happens with regularity: “In fact, the emptiness so many people experience in life is more intense in success than it is in failure.”

Using King Solomon’s story, he points this out and then draws parallels to our lives.

How do we combat emptiness? Nieuwhof suggests that you “find a mission that’s bigger than you.” He believes:

“Your interactions with people will improve greatly as you begin to think about what you can give rather than what you can get. Self-care will become far more attractive than self-medication. The possessions you have will be less about using them for personal enjoyment and more about using them to help others. And even your accomplishments will be far more closely tied to fulfilling a mission than they used to be.”

You won’t be surprised that I’d write, “this book is a good read!” But I want to go a step farther to say, “Didn’t See It Coming is a great re-read”! The first read will be informational, the second transformational.

One final comment: This book has been one of, if not the, bestselling book at Kerith Creek this year.


Marshall Eizenga and his wife, Merrie, are the program directors at the Alberta Kerith Retreats location. For more information about our retreats, visit KerithRetreats.ca.


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