The Unspoken Truth About Anxiety with Dr. John Delony
Inside This Episode
Dr. John Delony knows firsthand that mental health challenges and broken relationships are a part of life—but they don’t have to define you. On this episode, the mental health expert, national bestselling author, and host of “The Dr. John Delony Show” sets the record straight about anxiety and tackles everything from dating and sex to marriage and parenting. Also, listen to Dr. Delony’s real talk with Maybe God listeners struggling with their own mental health challenges.
Featured show: “The Dr. John Delony Show”
Announcer: Today on Maybe God it's Eric Huffman's no holds barred conversation with mental health expert, national bestselling author, and host of a Maybe God favorite, the Dr. John Delony Show. Today, Dr. Delony tackles everything from dating and sex to marriage and parenting.
Dr. John Delony: So parents, we've just gotten our self-esteem from how good our kids are doing and we've made them the center of our homes and the center of our universe, and they're not strong enough to hold our lives. And we're collapsing them under the weight of the modern family.
Announcer: He also answers your, Maybe God listener, questions about mental health and gets real about his own ongoing struggle with anxiety.
Eric Huffman: Welcome to the Maybe God Podcast, Dr. Delony.
Dr. John Delony: Thanks, Eric. I'm really grateful to be here.
Eric Huffman: First things first today, John, you are from Houston, Texas. Are you from Texas?
Dr. John Delony: I am from Houston, Texas.
Eric Huffman: You are from Houston, Texas.
Dr. John Delony: I was born at Texas Women's and I was there for more than half my life.
Eric Huffman: Wow.
Dr. John Delony: A proud Astros fan. Even the bad years.
Eric Huffman: They haven't had a bad year in a while, I mean, except for the whole, you know, trashcan thing.
Dr. John Delony: My favorite thing is when I went home to Houston and I just asked, "Hey, how's everybody feeling?" And they're like, "That one is cheating." Like nobody in the whole city was... It was incredible, man.
Eric Huffman: Self-delusion is a powerful thing, bro.
Dr. John Delony: I love self-delusion. It's how got through most of my life.
Eric Huffman: Yeah, man. Well, you know, what I hear a lot is, "Everybody was cheating, so it was fine." Which is another bad excuse for cheating.
Dr. John Delony: Hey, I'll take it. I will take it. My skills are perfect.
Eric Huffman: You know, as a pastor, my response is all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. So here we go. We've lost about 90% of my audience at this point, so I better move on.
Let's talk about your book and just your life. This is your more recent book called Own Your Past Change Your Future. You write on a range of issues, but you talk a lot about your own story and your writing and how you got to be where you are today helping others through their struggles. It was really through several seasons of struggling yourself. Just talk a bit about who you are and where you come from with that.
Dr. John Delony: I think the easiest place to start is my dad was a homicide detective there in Houston, Houston Police Department. And then he was a SWAT hostage negotiator, which meant that when somebody is going to jump off a building or somebody had barricaded themselves in with hostages, they'd call my dad. He's kind of an all-shucks guy and would show up with his 70s or 80s, early 90s cop mustache and just sit down and chit-chat with people. He was just remarkably gifted at being really calm when things got sideways.
At the same time, my mom, and they've been married forever literally, I think. I think they got off the ark and they just got married. They're still doing it. But she was not allowed to go to college. She grew up in a religious system that said women had one job and that was to create a home. So after high school, she stayed at home and she plugged around. And I wrote about this. She kept the house until she was about 40. 42 I think it was. 41, 42.
She finally got the courage to take one community college class there in North Houston. I think what's now is Lone Star. And then she took another class and another class and ended up at age 57, graduating from University of Houston with her PhD. She was tenured as a professor at 63, I think. And then she's in her 70s and she'll do her last summer at Oxford this summer.
So the two meta lessons I grew up with are, if there is a problem, if there's something on fire, you go in. When everybody's running out, you turn and walk into the middle of the mess because that's where people need help. The other one was, there is no such thing as too old. There's no such thing as I'm a victim. There's no such thing is woe is me. You can make a change in your life at any point at any time. And it's going to be hard, and it's gonna have high cost to it, and you do it anyway. So those are the two lessons I walked through my life with.
And then I found myself working... I was a high school teacher there in Houston for several years and then I ended up working in higher education for almost 20 as a Dean of Students roles. So I just spent the better part of my professional life sitting with people when the wheels had completely fallen off their life, whether it was through addiction or whether it was mental health challenges or learners with special needs, or calling parents and telling them their kid had passed away. Everything in between.
Then I spent several years on top of that working with the police department out in West Texas in Lubbock doing death notifications in crisis service, showing up with people when their lives had just exploded then being one of the first people there on scene to help get them to their next set. So again, my life really mirrors that: when things get sideways you go in.
Then a few years ago I decided, "You know what's a good time to be a YouTuber?" So I decided to try that gig, man.
Eric Huffman: I think you might have skipped a little bit of stuff in between all of that. But it'a pretty good summary. No, that's great. And you are married.
Dr. John Delony: Yes, been married almost 21 years. Several seasons where it was hanging on by spider's web and dental floss. But we're still going. I got two little ones. I got a 13-year-old and a 7-year-old.
Eric Huffman: Your hands are full. In one of your books, you wrote about a particular event in your life where by all accounts, outside looking in, John Delony has gotten together, man, like super successful. You're the guy that other people go to with their problems. You were really good at masking some of the inner struggles that you might have been facing to the extent that you didn't really deal with a lot of stuff. And at some point in time, it sort of all came to a head. Can you talk a little bit about that season of your life?
Dr. John Delony: Yeah. I was associate dean at a faith-based university there in Texas. And my self-worth was going to be achieved through job titles and through what my annual salary number was. Those are the two metrics I gave myself for whether I had value. I don't talk about this very much. This is a great place to talk about it.
A couple years in, I didn't buy it anymore. I didn't buy any of it. I didn't buy the Kumbaya message. I didn't buy the mythology of it all. So I was a functional atheist as associate dean at a faith-based university. So there was the performative aspect. It was almost like I could speak Spanish, right, I could speak this language, I could perform this show but it was all nonsense.
So the way I kept myself duct-taped together was by showing up in the middle of other people's messes. And quite frankly, I was pretty good at it. So I could sit down with somebody who was hurting, get somebody to the psych ward, get somebody's parents to the accident scene. I could do that really well, and at some point, my body said, "Enough, we're out, I'm out."
And it starts with a little bit anxiety and then you can cover it up with another drink or another Netflix series or another set of meds. And you can just keep powering through. And eventually your body says, "You're not hearing what I'm trying to tell you. I'm out. I'm out." And "I'm out" looks like 100 different things.
And this is usually this part of the story, Eric, when like, then I went to jail for three years and came out or I cheated on my wife with five people. None of that happened. And what I've come to find out is I'm in the majority, where very few people supernovae. Most people just snuff out and they just quietly... the quiet lives of desperation, right? They just quietly fade away. I was one of those guys.
Eventually, as the story goes, I was walking to work one day and I turned around and got back in my wife's car, and I drove three hours to another city and I walked into my buddy's office who's a medical doctor, and I said, "Hey, I'm not okay, man." That was day one of my trip back.
Eric Huffman: Wow. You talked about getting obsessed with cracks in your house at a certain point in time.
Dr. John Delony: Oh, dude, yeah.
Eric Huffman: Was that an outpouring or an output of that problem?
Dr. John Delony: Yes. One of the cornerstones of an unaddressed anxiety issue is, the nerd word is catastrophizing, you begin to see the train coming at you everywhere. As soon as you solve one train, it moves to another one, it moves to another one because your body's not trying to solve problems, it's trying to keep you from being hit.
So yeah, it at this point, I got so obsessed with cracks in my foundation in a relatively brand new house. I was just mad. I was mad.
Eric Huffman: What's so weird about this, to me, is I've heard two other guys that I know personally that have had the exact same sort of symptomatic response to things that-
Dr. John Delony: I think it's because it's so present and your body knows. So let's take that. I bought a house that I really couldn't afford. My wife was a fancy research professor. So it was a house in a neighborhood surrounded by our colleagues. So it was the house that we were supposed to buy making the money that we made.
So we took on an insane amount of debt. And I had six figures of student loans on top. My body knew this is not safe for us. If you run your mouth in one administrative meeting and get fired or get taken off one team that has a stipend, and let's be honest, I run my mouth way too much, then all this goes away. And then I had a little boy after four years of infertility.
I mean, it was just one thing after another. And it wasn't the cracks, it's just my body trying to get my attention. But the cracks became this really demonstrable like, See, it's all coming down around you, and it turned into this living and breathing metaphor for me.
I think the meta-message here is anxiety is not a thing to be solved. That's not the problem that people are dealing with. Depression is sometimes. Major depressive disorder is. That's a classification of its own, but this low-level dysthymia that all of us live with, this low-level burning "I just want to sit in my car and scroll Instagram for 15 or 20 minutes before I go engage my family, I just want to sit in the parking lot of where I work before I go in there because I can't bring myself to do it," that is our bodies trying to get our attention.
I remember laughing, Eric. I would just start laughing. And I would say out loud, "There's nobody with a hatchet. There's nobody here." And it didn't matter. My body was responding as though somebody was banging on the door to come kill me. And it just never stopped. It just never stopped. I couldn't get it to quit.
Eric Huffman: Your treatment of anxiety, the common form of anxiety, you're always parsing out the difference between actual high-level clinical anxiety that needs a certain treatment plan and what most people are calling anxiety, which is sort of contextualized... Well, you call it an alarm system, which is... When I saw that I was like, "Man, I bet this guy is taking some heat for this." Because you said-
Dr. John Delony: None. Zero.
Eric Huffman: Really?
Dr. John Delony: Zero.
Eric Huffman: People just find liberation in it.
Dr. John Delony: Well, I've got clinicians that buy cases of that book and hand them out to their patients. I get medical doctors buying cases because it's like even clinical anxiety, like profound clinical anxiety like I had, there's a tipping point when your brain is working so hard to try to get your attention that it eventually rolls over and becomes a true malfunction, right? It becomes a true issue.
It's like eventually that little light on your dashboard will tell you, "Hey, you need to change oil. You need to change oil. You need to change the oil," and then it'll start blinking at you. Eventually, your engine seizes up and you have an issue. But until then, it's just so... It's really both and. But yeah, I've gotten zero pushback. And I thought I would get a ton of it and I've gotten none. It's a very thank God, someone's finally saying it.
Eric Huffman: Well, it seems like people that I know that identify as anxious or plagued with anxiety, oftentimes will want to hold on to that identity because there's explanatory power in it.
Dr. John Delony: I should probably clarify. I've gotten no pushback from mental health professionals. I've gotten a ton of pushback from people who want to hold on to that identity. "I am the way I am because I have a thing." Instead of my body is experiencing a crowded, chaotic world, or I'm in truly abusive situations and the body's trying to get my attention to get me out of here.
Eric Huffman: Or I'm an addict or I'm whatever.
Dr. John Delony: Right.
Eric Huffman: Right. All kinds of things.
Dr. John Delony: I even think addiction is just your body's way of duct-taping over disconnection and pain. It's just trying to get to the next day.
Eric Huffman: What are some of the myths about anxiety that you listed?
Dr. John Delony: A couple of them are that it's a thing that you have as though... It's like the flu comes upon you or you caught COVID after hanging out with people. Anxiety doesn't work like that. It's not a thing you have. It comes from within. It's your body trying to get your attention. It's just an alarm signal.
It's like your house being on fire and you being worried about the smoke alarm in your kitchen. Smoke alarm is not the problem. It's loud, annoying, and it's supposed to be because it's trying to tell you that your house is burning down. It's not a disease. It's not something that can only be fixed with medication. And it's not an identity. It's a context, not an excuse for your life, right?
Eric Huffman: Yeah. You talk about this quote that I wrote down from Brené Brown. "Genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger," which is just sort of an idea that I think sometimes anxiety is chalked up to just genetics or whatever. And that can be a part of it or the seed of it. But you know, seeds only grow when they're watered, right?
Dr. John Delony: Here's my take on genetics. You have a basement, I've got a basement and in your basement, you have a yoga studio and you have a couple of teddy bears down there. And in my basement, I have a motorcycle repair shop full of gasoline and oil and all kinds of different flammable things. And then both of our houses catch fire. Yours is gonna melt down and it's gonna smell real good when it does. And it's still gonna melt, but it's gonna just simmer and slowly come to ash.
Eric Huffman: All those essential oils are-
Dr. John Delony: My house is gonna have a mushroom cloud over. It's gonna go, krrr, kaboom. Right? So that's all genetics is whatever you got in your basement. At the end of the day, that's not the issue. The issue is the fire that's burning the house down. So I may have to be a little more proactive about fire in my basement knowing my genetics. I've got to be careful because I got bombs down there.
You don't have to worry quite as much about what you eat or what... You can watch Dexter right before you go there. I can't do that. You can engage in deep philosophical conversations past 10 o'clock. I can't because they'll keep me up for the next three weeks. So it's just knowing what's in your basement and then you move on with your life. But it's not as a predictor of how your life has to end up.
Eric Huffman: Awesome. So as part of our conversation, we asked some of our listeners to send in some questions. Dr. John, I'm going to read the first one. This is from a listener named Elle.
She says, "Hi, Dr. John Delony, anxiety and I have been longtime companions. In all truth, it's been something I've dealt with all my life. I just went through a season of massive change for the last two years that was out of my control in both negative and positive ways. My marriage ended due to infidelity but the silver lining was finding my way back to God.
Now my life is in limbo. I have the potential opportunity of moving 700 miles away to a new job that comes with so many unknowns. That opportunity causes this anxiety spiral of questions running through my head at warp speed. Do I downsize post-divorce, leaving the home I love? Do I leave the job that I enjoy so I can better support myself? Or do I let go of the potential and focus on what's tangible and right in front of me? All these decisions and choices and questions have their pros and cons but the anxiety of deciding paralyzes me. So how can you combat the fear that comes with anxiety, especially when you're talking about making the right decisions?
Dr. John Delony: I think if Elle was sitting with me right now, the first thing I would do would be to ask his or her permission, Can I just give you a hug for a second? This person and particularly this person's body has been through absolute hell. The relationship that they hung their hat on is over. The potential of losing their community, their home, their roots is potentially over.
Of course, their body is trying to get their attention that they're not safe. They're disconnected. They're not safe. They don't have autonomy. They don't know what happens next. That's a scary thing. So I want to honor no, your body should be anxious, these are nervous times. So the question is, not how do I not be anxious? The question is, how do I make the next right move?
And for me, it's sitting down and the people I work with all the time, it's sitting down first and saying, "Okay, what's right in front of me? What can I control right now and what can I not control? What are those two things? And I'd actually make a list, put them down on a piece of paper.
The second thing is, is it's real easy after you go through a tragedy to make every decision binary from here on out? Either I move or I stay. And if I move, that's the only decision I can ever make again for the rest of my life. And if I stay, this is the only call I can ever make. And both of those are false narratives.
Move, go. I'd say go. In six months, if it's a disaster, you know what? You've been through way harder before. You're way stronger than you used to be. And you can go, "This was dumb. I gotta go back to Texas." And you gotta make your move back again because you can. So it's rediscovering those strings.
But all of that comes from, Hey, you know what, there's 95 things flying at me right now, I can literally control four of them. So I'm going to focus on those. I'm going to make sure I knock them out of the park, and I'm out of here.
Eric Huffman: Man, that's so good. Elle, I hope you're listening. She has been through a lot.
Dr. John Delony: Think about this. Her body has moved before into what was going to be her last home with her last romantic partner. That was gonna be it. That went sideways. In fact, those things cause deep pain to her. So her body put a little GPS pin in those choices, and said, "If we ever see these choices again, I'm going to sell on the alarms because these almost got us killed last time."
Eric Huffman: Wow.
Dr. John Delony: So her body's just trying to take care of her. When I feel anxious, then my question to myself is, "Ooh, man, what's my body trying to take care of me?" How's it trying to help me write down?" Not "how do I shut this thing off?"
Eric Huffman: Yeah, that's right. And the second question we have about anxiety is a little more specific. And it's from a young man named Michael. Let's listen to Michael's question.
Michael: Hi, Dr. Delony. My name is Michael. I'm 35 and I've been trying to manage my anxiety for over a decade now. Anxiety runs in my family, and what started as general nervousness morphed into full-blown Generalized Anxiety Disorder when I was attending law school. The workload and high expectations became overwhelming. But since then, I've learned about the basic science behind it in managing anxiety through breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and Christian meditation.
However, my anxiety still flares up from time to time, and symptoms like tightness in the chest, anxiousness, inability to focus, and sleeplessness all impact my day-to-day life. At what point would you say I've exercised all my options, and I need to seek professional medical help and maybe taking medication?
Dr. John Delony: Man.
Eric Huffman: What do you think?
Dr. John Delony: I was the dean of students at a law school for five years so I get this deep into my heart here. I'm gonna give you a super non-PC answer. Is that okay?
Eric Huffman: Go for it. We'd like that.
Dr. John Delony: All right. We've reached a place culturally where we want to do whatever we want, whenever we want it, in whatever way we want, and we want there to be no consequence of those choices. When I was 26 years old, I got hired at a university about a decade over my head. I was handed an amazing opportunity so I got a head start out of the gate.
And within a few years, the conversations from all my colleagues across the country were: "This guy is gonna be a college president. This guy is going to be college president. That was the goal. That was the goal." That was the goal. Until about a decade and a half later, I started working next to college presidents all over the country and I realized, a) I don't want that life, but more importantly, oh crap, my body can't do that job. It cannot have 2,000 people's lives underneath them and it can't balance all of the macro trends and the micro trends and the endowment funds over here in the midst of it. I am better suited for running into a burning building. And I wish it wasn't like...
I remember calling my dad and being like, "Hey, Dad, my greatest talent on earth was telling people that terrible, horrible tragic news." And I said, "I don't like that." And he said, "Well, just be grateful that you found your purpose."
I sat with law student after law student after law student after law student, and I would ask them, "Why are you doing this?" And it almost invariably those who were struggling from anxiety and whose bodies were shutting down on, it all came back to "Dad wanted me to do this job. This is the path that I'm finally going to be that person that I think I need to be in the mirror. I want her to love me. I want him to think I'm valuable. I want to drive this car and live in this neighborhood." They never stopped to ask, "Do I want this life."
In fact, I just left a meeting. I just submitted the final draft to a new book and the title is Building a Non-anxious Life because I think the way we talk about anxiety is sideways. The goal is to create a world where our alarms only go off when there's actual real threats and they're not going off all of the time. So I asked people to choose freedom, choose mindfulness, choose health, and healing.
That means you may need to go see a counselor. You may need to go talk to somebody. You may need to sit down and say, "Who do I owe money to? Who's deciding what I do tomorrow? What does my calendar look like? What are ways I'm still trying to prove and achieve my worth? All this. We've created a world that our bodies can't live in, Eric, and now we're upset at our bodies for rattling around on us.
I say all that to say, I would not be sitting before you if when I walked into my buddy's office in the medical doctor did not write me a prescription for a low-grade SSRI and say, "This is going to help you get to that place that you want to be." So I took it, and I took it for a season and it was incredible.
What it did was it turned those alarms down. It did not solve anything. But it did allow me to turn the alarms down low enough so that I could go see a counselor, so I could go talk to my wife and heal my marriage, so I could leave my job and go start somewhere new. So it did help me get from A to B in a powerful way.
So I think what concerns me about this question the way he asked it is, I've done all these things and I'm going to continue being a lawyer, doing this, doing this, doing this, doing this. So is it time to go get medicated so I can keep doing these things? The answer to that question is no.
If he is ready to heal and ready to take a full inventory of his life and say, "Is this the life that I want to keep living. Is this what I want to pass on to my kids? Is this the legacy I want to give my wife and my family?" Medication can possibly help in the healing of that down the road. And those are two different reasons to go get medication.
Eric Huffman: Yeah, it's really courageous what you're saying because, you know, you start messing with people's ideas of medicine and things that can turn them off real quick. But I think what I've heard you say on numerous occasions is I would never allow myself to be prescribed something that I don't have an exit plan for or an exit strategy.
Dr. John Delony: Yeah. That's a self-defense mechanism for me. But whether it's antibiotic or anything, my goal is, always, I want to not be on something for the rest of my life. And by the way, there's some depressive disorder, some major psychiatric disorders, you're gonna be medicated for the rest of your life. And that's okay. That's a gift.
I want those of us who are not in those situations to do the hard work, which is to take a full inventory of the lives we've chosen and say, "Is this all there? Is this the point, so I could drive an Acura? Really? Is this it?
Eric Huffman: What do you think keeps him from... Like a young man like Michael, who's a great guy... And Michael, thank you for sending in this question.
Dr. John Delony: Brave questions. Great question.
Eric Huffman: Yeah, he's in a place a lot of young people are in. What keeps us from doing the harder work I guess of the inventory and being willing to make life changes before you just treating the symptoms?
Dr. John Delony: For me, shame was the big one. Like I have too much to feel this way. I've got so many privileges. I got this graduate degree. I've got the second graduate degree. I've got this job paying this much. What can I possibly be upset about?
The second thing is I didn't have another picture. I didn't have another model. I didn't know where to go. And you could tell me like, "Just go back to school." I don't know anybody who's done that. I don't know anybody's walked away from their job." Ultimately, my wife and I left and we took at $70,000 household income pay cut for me to go to a new town, to a new school so that I could get well. That's a lot of money. And it radically transformed our family to the negative. And it allowed me a few years to get whole.
Financially speaking, it is way more than taking care of itself on the back end, after my marriage was good, my parenting was good and my soul was good. But it's just taking that hard step in that season.
Eric Huffman: Which is, I mean, easier said than done. But that was your alternative to a more powerful, you know, a sedative or some kind of anti-anxiety medicine that would be a long-term plan, I guess, if you could call it that to sort of make your old life tolerable enough to keep plodding along and doing that old job being successful in the world's eyes. But eventually flaming out, no doubt.
Dr. John Delony: I've got a brilliant and very trustworthy spouse. Not everybody's got that. But I started with, "Where do you see me whole? Where do you see me at peace?" And it was very limited places and very still places that I was unable to see at the time. I thought I was at peace when I got a raise. 4% raise. All right. I thought that's where I found peace. And I thought I got peace when some fancy person called. It wasn't. That's not where peace was. That's not where my life was.
Eric Huffman: I know, we've talked about your sort of definition of anxiety as an alarm system. But one thing you said after that in your book was, anxiety is our body's internal notification that our brain is detecting danger, that our body is in desperate need of sleep and restoration, which is not something people often think about in terms of anxiety. Maybe you need a nap or a series of naps. And that we are disconnected from our tribe, or community, or that we are lonely.
So you're drawing lines to things that people know is happening to them but they're not making the connection between that and their anxiety.
Dr. John Delony: Well, and think about this way. So if your body recognizes that you're lonely, it's going to draw on ancient technology. You know, 5,000 years ago, you found yourself awake on the plains of Mesopotamia and your tribe had left you. You were probably going to die, you weren't going to make it.
And so your body's not going to let you fully sleep because it knows all you've got. And it can't afford for you to go into deep REM sleep or into cycles of deep sleep where your body restores itself, where it heals itself. From your brain chemistry all the way down your physiology, it can't afford to do that. Why in the world would it spend energy having sex and trying to procreate. You're trying to not die. Right?
So we're having the least amount of adult sex in recorded human history because we have these bodies that are running on ancient technology that we're not designed for these insane worlds we dropped them into, and it's trying to not die. And on top of it, we're like, Well, you know, if you were more pretty... It's maddening what we've done. Again, we're blaming our bodies for it.
Eric Huffman: And it seems to have accelerated so quickly. We don't even know what the difference is in this world we're living in now versus the way things used to be.
Dr. John Delony: Oh, dude, it's mayhem, man.
Eric Huffman: So is that your explanation for why so many people in this so privileged culture seem so unhappy?
Dr. John Delony: I mean, if you just look at the data, more people than ever before in human history are under the care of a medical professional. More people than in the history of the planet are taking psychotropic medications. And the anxiety and depression trend line is almost completely vertical. It's almost straight up.
We've created a culture where "It's your fault. No, it's your fault. We hate you. Who am I supposed to hate? Oh, we hate them." We've created a mayhem culture, and then we just say, "We just need to throw some more therapists out there." I don't think that's the answer at this point." I think we've got to step back and say, "What are we doing? What are we doing?" We're driving 700 miles every weekend for my nine-year-old to play soccer. What are we doing?
Eric Huffman: I really want to talk about that. I want to talk about marriage and family and then also I want to talk about singleness and dating because I see issues all around with these relationship stages.
Dr. John Delony: Dude! It's madness, dude.
Eric Huffman: You write brilliantly about how family dynamics and parenting expectations have shifted over the last few generations, how maybe my parents' generation saw... Maybe not. My parents did overly value me and my sister and sort of made idols out of us but their parents' generation did not.
And we've sort of shifted away from family the way it used to be, toward this idea where our kids are now a reason for being. That's what you wrote. And we're proving our worth to the world by how good our family looks on paper or in baseball tournaments or whatever. What do you see in these modern times happening with families and marriages that might be unique to, you know, life in the 21st century.
Dr. John Delony: I think you can trace it back pretty quick. One is our grandparents, my grandparents, probably your grandparents, they fought Nazis. They saw like this all ends, right. So they fought Nazis.
Eric Huffman: And won.
Dr. John Delony: And they won. And they may not have had the reputation of being the softest around the edges, because they fought Nazis. So my dad tells a story. When he made the all-star team when he was a little boy, he was gonna have to get driven across town to go to the games. And my granddad who's passed away several years ago, he said, "I'm not driving you to a baseball game. Are you out of your mind?" So he couldn't play it.
My dad as a young kid said, "I'll never do that to my kid. I'm never going to do that." I ended up on what was the first iteration of travel baseball teams. We traveled all over the place with money we didn't have. But my dad's like, "I'm not going to do that to him what was done to me." And I'm so grateful for it. So you have that generation.
And then you and I moved over. And our work is getting taken away from us, our faith is getting... the threads are getting pulled out from underneath us, politics are insane. We have no more markers for success, except little Timmy and little Susie.
So if they're good at a thing, it's the life I didn't have, it's the experience I didn't have. If I'd only take this more seriously when I was nine I'd be in the pros. a) no you wouldn't, and b) 9-year-olds don't take anything seriously. But we're baseball pitching and psychological sporting coaches for elementary school kids. What are we doing? It's madness.
Eric Huffman: Ungodly amounts of money too, by the way.
Dr. John Delony: Oh my gosh.
Eric Huffman: Here's what's insane. You know, I spent my whole career in colleges. My buddies who were head trainers, really good athletic programs, they tell me these kids are coming in with joint overuse injuries only seen in the elderly, in the elderly. They have 80-year-old shoulders, and 80-year-old knees.
But again, I think all of it happened from a good place. I'm not one of these guys just gonna badmouth everybody, because I think everybody's trying to do the best they could for their kids. I got beat up as a kid. I got bullied as a kid, I'm gonna make sure that never happens And the first time I see it, I'm going to the school myself. I'm not going to let you do that to that kid what happened to me? And that's a good impulse-
Eric Huffman: Sure.
Dr. John Delony: ...and it robs him or her of the opportunity to say, "Hard things can happen to me and I'm gonna be okay at the end. Or I have to learn how to ask for help someday.
Eric Huffman: Right.
Dr. John Delony: So parents, we've just gotten our self-esteem from how good our kids are doing and we've made them the center of our homes and the center of our universe, and they're not strong enough to hold our lives. We're collapsing them under the weight of the modern family.
And then we go back to marriages. Esther Perel talks eloquently about this, but we just haven't been honest, man. Marriage is just different. Like my grandparents were married 73 years, I think, before my granddad passed away and they became soulmates after sleeping next to each other for 73 freaking years, the idea of a soulmate...
I don't know if you've heard me run my mouth about this on the show. But Romeo and Juliet are... that's our benchmark for the most romantic couple. It was two 13-year-olds that wanted to hook up.
Eric Huffman: Suicidal 13-year-olds.
Dr. John Delony: Suicidal 13-year-olds and just wanted to do it, and they did... That's our benchmark for romance? That's insane.
Eric Huffman: You're right.
Dr. John Delony: Then you fast forward to frickin Tom Cruise, you ruined it all for us with "you complete me". Now, again, we have no benchmarks, we have no... nothing that binds our culture together. So I look at my spouse and say, "You have to be a co earner. You have to be hot into your 90s because we're gonna have sex forever and ever and ever and ever. And you also have to be a co-participant in all of the household."
Everything has to be everything to everybody. So what I see now across the country is we have a house of co-managers. They're doing a great job co-running their house, and romance is gone, intimacy is gone. Just loving coming home, like the warmth of a home is gone. It's just become a workplace and people are melting.
Eric Huffman: How do you reconcile that thing about being overly romantic, but not romantic? I'm trying to figure out how that works. So the culture has shifted expectation-wise to where spouses should be soulmates at first sight and should always be hot for each other. And yet, you're also saying that it's this dilemma now that marriages are just sort of ice-cold and co-managers.
Dr. John Delony: We're trying to reverse engineer it. My grandparents got to soulmates after doing life together for so long. What we're trying to do now is say, "Hey, I think you're really hot and I feel really infatuated with you. You're my soulmate." And I'm trying to reverse engineer that 72 years. It doesn't work that way.
In families, yes, there's this obsession. We've over-sexualized marriage in a way and we've under-informed. So a good example is I have these things called questions for humans, which are just these cards that are for starting conversations. I've been promising for a year now a deck on sex and intimacy. And I sent out prototype questions. These were questions that I thought were super benign. Like I didn't go bananas. And the pushback, particularly from my Christian friends were like, "Are you out of your frickin mind?"
Eric Huffman: Okay, give me examples. What are you...?
Dr. John Delony: "I'm not gonna ask my wife this. Are you insane?"
Eric Huffman: Give me an example. What kinds of questions?
Dr. John Delony: What's something sexually that you used to like that I did that you don't like anymore?
Eric Huffman: Those must have been Baptist that gave you push?
Dr. John Delony: I left, in fact, some of those conversations thinking I was crazy. I was like, "Am I crazy?" And it turns out we have no safe place to have these conversations. No safe place to say, "Hey, I really want to try this. What do you think about this? Hey, I don't like it when you do this. But I'd really like to try this." Because all of those "I'd like to try, I don't like, and I'm scared," all of those conversations are fraught with shame. And what is he going to think about me? Or what is she going to think about me? Did he get that because... does he not like the way I'm doing this? Does he not like me enough? Does he not find me pretty? Does she not think I'm handsome." And we have no avenue through those difficult conversations. So what do we do? We just go to porn. It's just easier.
Eric Huffman: That's right.
Dr. John Delony: It's just easier.
Eric Huffman: Porn and fantasy.
Dr. John Delony: "I don't want to have that conversation. And I can go down any rabbit hole I want to go down."
Eric Huffman: That's right.
Dr. John Delony: So you end up with a house that's been co-managed very, very well by two people who love each other, and the dreams and hopes and expectations of... Who wants to have bad sex? Who wants to have less sex? Very few people. Some do. Very few people. But I don't know how to have that conversation. I don't know how to do that. I don't want to be weird. I don't want my spouse to not like me anymore. So I'm just gonna Google it. It's just easier.
Eric Huffman: It's easier.
Dr. John Delony: "I'm gonna shut the machine completely off.
Eric Huffman: I remember when I was really messed up in porn and I used to justify it by saying that I'm doing my wife a favor by not bothering her with my stuff. So you're welcome, wife, for your husband.
Dr. John Delony: What a noble man! What a noble guy!
Eric Huffman: It's a really toxic way to live your life. But I think it's true for a lot of people. A lot of it's about expectations. It's like, you go into a marriage expecting it to be, you know, hot and heavy or super romantic, or have these feelings for each other. And then you become co-managers of a household. That is such a downer. And I think that's just sort of a long off-ramp for a lot of couples who just end up getting divorced or splitting up. But if you look at marriage the other way, like you said, we're trying to reverse engineer it. Part of marriage is being co-managers of a household and part-
Dr. John Delony: That's exactly right.
Eric Huffman: But if you start there and appreciate one another for what you both bring to the table, and watch one another and how much you each care for the family that you're raising together, and the household that you're lifting up and the legacy you're gonna leave together, then the romance starts to really heat up. But if we go into a marriage expecting soulmates from day one, we're just setting... no marriage can live up to that expectation.
Dr. John Delony: No. One of my favorite conversations in the world is the conversation with... They just had child number two and you say, Okay, from this point forward, you have to start putting sex on the calendar. You got to put a star on it on these couple of days. And once a month, it's probably gonna be helpful for y'all to go on a walk and just talk about it. How are things? Are we enjoying this? Is this fun? It's just not fun.
Like, let's just make this a point of conversation. And let's just get weird. Let's just be weird. Have you heard of couples trying this? Have you ever heard of this? Be grossed out. Be silly. But we have to make it a part of our regular conversation. And almost invariably, the response is, Oh, it doesn't feel sexy anymore. And then it's always the old Dr. Phil response. "Okay, you want to have none or do you want to put on the calendar?"
My promise is, just like having a budget? It's just like being conscious about my exercise and my diet. When I'm conscious about it, over time it becomes the way I am, the way we are, right?
Eric Huffman: Mm-hmm.
Dr. John Delony: And then your whole ethos changes.
Eric Huffman: Now, we've spent a lot of time on marriage. But let's do talk about singleness and what single folks on the dating scene are up against these days, so to speak with the dating apps and all the pressure of single living these days. What are you hearing from single folks and their particular struggles in these modern times and what are you advising them to do?
Dr. John Delony: Oh, man. I struggle with this because I haven't dated so long. I had a buddy who got... he got divorced and we were having a burger. He's back on the dating scene, and I was kind of living vicariously through him. I love dating. I love all the awkwardness of it all. I love the half the date. You're like, "Are we gonna hold hands. Are we gonna kiss at the end of the second?" I loved all that.
Eric Huffman: Right.
Dr. John Delony: My wife hated it. Hated. She hated it. I loved it. So I was kind of curious, just like, Dude, tell me about it. What's it like being out there? He looked at me real quiet and even chewing real slowly and dramatically. He was an attorney-
Eric Huffman: Weighing his words.
Dr. John Delony: Yeah, yeah. He looked at me and said, "Whatever it takes, man, just figure it out with your wife. It's crazy out here." It just sounded like war.
Again, going back to just this ancient tech, man. I know it sounds like a 500-year-old pontificator, but our bodies are designed to have two or three, or four choices from our local tribe. And either have somebody choose them for us or to be in some sort of limited connectivity where we make that choice. We are not designed for literally a billion swipe rights. We're not designed for that. We have completely...
And this is neuroscience. This isn't me trying to pontificate with some sort of religious depression. We have completely disregarded the impact psychologically and physiologically, romantic and physical interaction causes. So we pretended that there's no consequence for it. That we're just trying out. That we're just practicing. We're just having a good time. And we're not being honest.
There's a physiological toll to physical intimacy. And there's just no guardrails anymore. And I'll be honest, I think the church has categorically failed in talking about sexuality, in talking about intimacy and talking about romance. We have outsourced that conversation. We have forced our people, our parishioners to go to the internet and to go to other people because we won't have that conversation because we're too scared of hurting people's feelings. And that's just insane. It's just insane that we've disregarded that conversation.
Eric Huffman: So you've mentioned that now about marriage and talking about sex within marriage. But also now you're saying the same thing about singleness? What kinds of things would you like to see from churches? And how could a church change its culture to have more of these conversations with its people?
Dr. John Delony: I think we've left... people are completely untethered. So you have the swath of people. I remember... I'm trying to think of the last one I read. It was 80-something percent and maybe 97 percent, Eric. I was reading this social norming data to a group of law students, just several 100 law students. It was like 80% to 90% of them had to drink X number of drinks to engage in sexual intimacy. "To feel sexy" I think was how the question was posed.
And I remember that catching me off guard. It surprised me. It was a totally secular university. And I remember saying, I just put the notes down, I said, "Hey, if you have to drink to violate your own body's sense of what you do and don't want to do, your body's sense of value, don't override your system just because you think you're supposed to."
And there's no guiding sense of, "Hey, I don't want to sleep with somebody on the third date." But that seems to be the rule now. And there's nobody saying, Hey, here's what fidelity might look like, here's a picture of fidelity, or here's a different way of having this conversation. We buried you all with purity culture nonsense. But we don't have another conversation. We've just all walked away and said we're fine and we won't say anything.
So it's just unhealthy and it's unsafe, but people are out there figuring it out on their own. And man, it's hard to swim upstream all by yourself with absolutely no model of where you go ahead.
Eric Huffman: I think a lot of us in church leadership feel like... I know the problem with purity culture was the shame of it and inequality of it. It was way heavier on young girls than young men or young boys. And I think that was a problem. But now that way has been so shamed. There's so much shame around purity culture that churches are afraid of repeating past mistakes, by you know, speaking in a way that may seem heavy-handed.
I know there's a way to do this, and we've been talking about it on our church staff, I just don't know exactly how to go about it in a way that's healthy and life-giving for our people.
Dr. John Delony: The thing I'm finding on my show is that people are desperate for real talk. And they're desperate for somebody to say, "Hey, this is okay. And this is something that people do in their married bedroom. And this is things that people think are gross in their married bedroom. Nobody's having those conversations. They're just not having them. So everybody's out on an island and it just takes this weird game of chicken.
Eric Huffman: And then because we leave them to their own devices to find answers on Google, when the time comes for them to maybe come talk to someone about it because it's all hit the fan, the last place they're gonna go is the church because they're ashamed and don't want to be-
Dr. John Delony: Yeah. And there's all this coded language like, "Our intimate life." You mean you're not having sex? Is that what you're trying to say? We've just become so weird about it. I guess I'll use the way we've raised our kids. The two rules my wife and I had were we're never going to lie to our kids, and whoever gets the question has to answer. We're not going to have these big production and these big like, All right, it's the sex talk.
I'll never forget my son came in one day... We were just chit-chatting, and I mean, it's just out of the blue, and he goes, "Hey, dad." And I go, "Yeah, what's up,, man?" And he goes, "So how does the baby get out of the belly button?"
And behind him, my wife just was walking through and she just like raised her hand up and just kept walking. She's like, "It's on you." It's just become part of the way we communicate in our house. So I never wanted my kids to think a part of their body was somehow weird or gross. There's private but there's not weird or gross. In fact, there's something magic. There's something special, not something disgusting.
And it's really normed, the sex conversation in my house to a point where it's unnerving when other kids come, because sometimes like, "Hey, hey, now everything is [inaudible 00:45:38]. Let's go." It's just not weird.
I think churches have an opportunity to do that, to just say, "Hey, this is a massive problem in culture. Sex, intimacy, connectivity, romance, the love language, stuff, all of that stuff is just turned sideways, so we're gonna start talking about it. And it's gonna be awkward, we're gonna say the wrong thing sometimes, we're gonna hurt people's feelings. If this isn't for you, and you want to remain silent, this probably isn't the church for you. I think you have to get there. We can't just continue to watch our people drown.
Eric Huffman: Right. No, that's it. I think when I look back at our church here in Houston, we started out talking way more about sex than we do now. I think it's because as you grow up as a church, you start to have different needs. And now we are on our own, and, you know, it's an institutional anxiety where we're all trying to make sure this ship doesn't sink. So one of ways you make sure your ship doesn't sink is that you never make anyone uncomfortable and unsteady to ship. So I think it's just courageous leadership, just like anything else. You know, you set a culture of expectations, and you let that culture meet people where they're at.
I do have a listener question that has to do with how churches can help people, but it's not specifically about sex. It's really about anxiety. I actually have two of these. The first one I'll read. This is from a young woman named Adira. She says, "How do we square the stressors of this world with a biblical command to be anxious for nothing or do not be afraid"?
Dr. John Delony: Oh, man. This is a soapbox for me.
Eric Huffman: Get ready, Pastor John. "How should we interpret these scriptures? Specifically, how should we present or not present these sorts of scriptures to folks that tend to be more anxious?"
Dr. John Delony: How honest do you want me to be?
Eric Huffman: All the way baby.
Dr. John Delony: Oh, man. I think the way churches can weaponize that scripture. That's like me, not letting my kids anywhere near the faucet and anywhere near the cups, and then looking at them and saying, "How dare you be thirsty? How dare you be thirsty?" And if I look at the physiological response to anxiety, I don't know where I'm gonna sleep. I'm hungry. I'm scared to death. Nobody will talk, my marriage is falling apart. I don't know what I'm doing with my kids.
Over the last 10 years, I've just watched from inside out, the church has failed. Again, I'm speaking globally. I'm not indicting your church.
Eric Huffman: Don't worry.
Dr. John Delony: It shifted from how to live life. We got so much critique and pushback for giving some bad advice along the way that it's just shifted to either we're just going to put the smoke and lasers up and say the three same things over and over again or we're going to become a wing of some political party. I think people are desperate for human one on one.
How do I live life in the 21st century in light of? That's the millions of people who've gone through Financial Peace University that my boss does. Just don't owe anybody any money, very basic biblical principle. Don't owe money because the borrower is slave to the lender. Let's start there. And if you don't owe anybody any money, then when your boss says, "Hey, you're gonna do this thing?" you can go, "No, I'm not. I'm not doing that." Or when your husband says, "Get out of my house or else," then you can say, "I'm gonna go, I'm not going to do this abuse anymore."
So there's little things on how to do life again. And if the church will reclaim its rightful position as a way to live life under the tutelage of Jesus, under the tutelage of God's word, if you will do that anxiety has a way of taking care of itself, the alarm stop ringing. Oh my gosh, it gets me so mad.
When people who are high leaders get the courage and finally after years, they go sit down with the pastor and they say, "I'm so interested I can't breathe, I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe," and the first thing that person does this blame them for not having enough faith, it gets me fired up, man. It gets me fired up.
Eric Huffman: Sure. I think for a pastor, it's a thin line. We don't want to throw away these teachings about worry and anxiety in the Bible because there are several passages along these same lines. But especially with Jesus's teaching from the Sermon on the Mount, He gives people who have a penchant for worry a little bit of grace when He says, Don't worry about tomorrow for today has enough trouble of its own.
So it's a little bit of grace there. He almost gives you permission to worry or pay attention to the things that you can control in front of you, be proactive with the things you have power over. Don't worry about the things up tomorrow. You can't have any control or change any of that by, you know, worrying.
Dr. John Delony: It's almost a stoic philosophy. It's like very much right in front of you. When we look at the Sermon on the Mount, He starts the whole thing off by saying, "Before I say anything, you are loved." That's where the message starts, not "when you get all your crap together, come knock on the door and I'll let you know if I accept you or not."
Eric Huffman: Right.
Dr. John Delony: True life change cannot be done by yourself. There is no long-term behavior change, there's no long-term life change without connectivity, without being plugged in other people. And dude, I don't want that to be true, but it just is.
Eric Huffman: Sure.
Dr. John Delony: And He starts there on the mound with not a lecture, but with I see you. I see all of you on a wing and I love you. And then he starts saying, "Hey, man, you don't have to live like this. You can be like this. Don't worry about that because..." You know what I mean? I see it much more as an invitation.
Eric Huffman: Right. And the core message of it is like God's got you.
Dr. John Delony: Yes, you're good. you're good.
Eric Huffman: Consider the lilies of the field. They neither sow nor reap, but God dresses them in splendor. So don't worry about what you wear, in other words. I think that's the core message is at the end of the day, God's got you. And it is such a good, it's just beautiful message.
We have another listener question. And this is so profound. I mean, this was hard for me to listen to as a pastor because I heard the pain behind it. This is from someone named Abigail, a listener named Abigail and it's about how churches can do a better job helping folks struggling with serious mental illness.
Abigail: My name is Abigail, and the anxiety that I experienced comes with some added color to it. I was diagnosed with Bipolar II after my first child was born, a diagnosis that I regrettably didn't find out, as I said, until the stakes were pretty high. I was a young mom with a newborn baby and things are just a lot scarier then. I'd had a suicide attempt in high school and experienced some issues in college that caused me to have to take some time off.
So a lot of time was spent just making friends with my diagnosis. But I spent a lot of time just white-knuckling. It took about four years for me to come to a place that I could grow and not see that diagnosis as part of my identity or this shameful secret that I needed to keep and hide.
Unfortunately, so much of that shame monster that chased me was brought on by the ecosystem around me. I had godly men and women speaking to me that would say to hide it, to not take medication, that that altered who you were too much, even telling me that maybe I didn't really have Bipolar, that I just wasn't praying hard enough.
And to say to someone when they're suffering through things... I'm laughing now because it was just so crippling. Because here I was someone that was face-down on my bathroom floor at 3 a.m. weeping to the Lord. I don't know that there are stronger prayers or more earnest, sincere brokenness for the Lord than those three prayers.
Anyway, my even former employer, which was a church, I was told to make sure that no one knew. Don't report what I was experiencing to HR, cover up what I needed to, when I was having different episodes and experiences, because it might hinder my... if not employment, how the parents of children that I was interacting with would respond and feel about me.
And even my wonderful family, my incredibly supportive family, you can't find kinder, more generous, loving parents and the two that I grew up with and there's nothing in my childhood that points to any kind of real trauma. And yet, as I said, I had a suicide attempt and all kinds of other things that went on, and we didn't really deal with it.
So the question I have, but as a support person, as a loved one, as a community around someone who's struggling with anxiety, or bouts of depression, or more severe mental health issues, how do we better love those people in a way that's not one-liners or platitudes?
And moreover, how does the church do so? How do we address this in a way that is also, again, not just slapping a Bible verse on a very real and scary experience, but loving those and supporting those in the midst of these things so that we can create deeper and better relationships?
Eric Huffman: Thanks, Abigail, for that question. There was a lot in that question. But essentially it's, you know, how can we do a better job of loving people who are struggling mightily with serious mental illnesses that I think the majority of folks don't know what to do with.
Dr. John Delony: Right. I want to give everybody permission, that when somebody comes to them with a mental health challenge, or a personal challenge, or a pregnancy challenge, or whatever, a grief, shut your mouth. Stop talking. Just stop talking. We are so insecure in the gift of our own presence that we try to fill that insecurity with a bunch of stupid sayings that people's cross-stitch into pillows when they were kids. Stop talking. Just show up and bring tacos, man. Show up and just sit with people.
And when they say, "I can't stop crying," just say, "Come here. Can I hold you? Can I give you a hug. Can I hold your hand? Can I go for a walk?" And quite frankly, when you're in that state, you're not hearing new info anyway. So even if you are the most accomplished psychiatrist, no one's hearing what you're talking about anyway. That's number one.
Number two, if you tell somebody that what they're experiencing isn't real, it can be a form of abuse. You can categorically be... I don't know. That gets just gets me fired up. So it's like, "Nah, it's not really what you're experiencing. It's actually this." It's disorienting. It's gaslighting at its best. Stop talking. Stop talking.
Eric Huffman: Shut up and bring tacos. I wrote it down.
Dr. John Delony: Shut up. Yes, stop. When I used to train, I used to train all kinds of different groups of people on their mental health response. The cornerstone of the training was: know when you're over your head. And for most of you, that's the moment somebody opens their mouth and says, I'm not okay with (fill in the blank), diagnosis, anxiety, depression, whatever.
From that point forward, you actually don't know what you're talking about. I don't care what your Aunt Sally experienced. I don't care what you Googled. I don't care. You don't know what you're talking about. So stop talking. Just say, "I hear you and I see you. And right now, I love you. You are loved and you are safe." That's all somebody needs to hear in those moments.
Broadly speaking, I think churches... I mean, they caught me off guard, man. My church the other day announced a three-week-in-a-row series. They went and got a suicide expert from the city of Nashville, and just had this... She came in and she taught "here's what's happening. Here's some stats around suicide. Here is what you say to teens. Here's what you say to adults. Here's what you for sure, don't ever say." So it was very, again, life 101 Human one on one. This is where we are and this is some information that we need to know as a church.
And I think demonstrably speaking, church can do a great job of going through and talking about some of the main Bible characters that experienced depression and anxiety. We just blow over those guys. We don't really get into what they're saying when they say they wept and couldn't breathe and didn't go outside for several days, and they were anxious with worry. That's what that is. That's what we're talking about here.
We just lived in a medicalized age right now where we medicalized everything. It's the same stuff. So if David and Jonathan, all these guys went through it, I think it's okay if we acknowledge it amongst ourselves too
Eric Huffman: Elijah, Jesus in the garden-
Dr. John Delony: Yeah, everybody.
Eric Huffman: ...overcome. Overcome.
Dr. John Delony: Do we have to do it like this? Good grief, man.
Eric Huffman: That's solid. So again, that the theme is very similar. It's like create a culture where people are safe to have conversations and to be seen and heard, especially when they're going through a storm like this one. Abigail, if you're listening, thank you so much.
Dr. John Delony: Yeah. What a brave question. I appreciate that. And I'd say this to executive pastors out there, to lead pastors. If you have that person in your church that won't shut up and keeps you keep hearing from people coming like, "So and so said this, and so and so," at some point, you have to tell so and so you can't continue to hurt people, you gotta go. You are hurting more people than you're helping. I don't know your hearts in the right place. Here's the actual information, actual data. You're incorrect. I don't care what counseling program your Aunt Susie went to. You're wrong. Stop. You have to stop." I think those are some hard conversations that some of our church leaders need to have.
Eric Huffman: We don't have anyone like that in my church. But no, I'll pray no other pastors in other places. John, you mentioned earlier when we were just getting started, and I failed to follow up on this, but you mentioned a faith crisis bro earlier in your life where you were a functional atheist in a Christian campus. And I guess you were faking it or just getting by in that culture.
I sense from your writing and what I know of your work in our conversation as well, you have come back full circle to faith in Christ. Just like to know more about what facilitated that, what brought you back.
Dr. John Delony: I'd actually say I don't think I came full circle. I think I kept going. And I think that'll and Lamont the opposite of faith isn't doubt, it's certainty. I think what fell apart was my tight grip on everything and my tight grip on every answer and every understanding.
I'll never forget standing with a dad whose son had been driving a truck that had been smashed and head-on collision and a young person had passed away in that collision and he knew academically that there was a bad rack and he was going to get his son's personal effects. Son still in the hospital. Still alive but still hospital.
And it's when the guy at the junkyard ripped the tarp off the truck that Dad fell. Just his legs came out from under him. And I held him and he stood up and he held on to me in a way he had a grip on me that I had never felt before. And it wasn't until I started sitting with people doing death notifications that I was like, Oh, there's a very common grip. It's a grip that like I'm falling and I'm holding on with that level of desperation.
And I realized, oh, there's nothing to say here. There's no words. There's no answers here. This is just awful. And I'm gonna sit here with this man. So it was really the sense of letting go. I consider those several years when I didn't believe in any of this stuff. That was me letting go, opening the hands more than anything. And I didn't know how to drive with... I didn't know the car would keep driving without me being... so have such a death grip on the wheel, you know?
Eric Huffman: Now, I mean, I've heard you say you go to church now in Nashville. How would you describe your faith now?
Dr. John Delony: Very loosely held. It's centered around the great rich Mullins quote, which is we so often over-spiritualize Jesus. And if we go back and look at this guy that showed up with widows and orphans, and this guy that was continually showed up in the places where people were on the margins, and continued to speak, direct, uncomfortable truth to people in power, and continued to march towards an ending that He knew was going to be challenging.
Anything other than that is us putting window dressing on it. And then stepping back and wrestling with Paul and realizing he told this church this thing, and he told this church this thing, and he told this church this thing.
I often tell folks, like if my wife was to go back and get all the love letters I've ever sent another girl in my life—I've been writing love letters since I was like nine. If you read each one of those as an instruction manual for how to be my wife, that would be a miss. But if she was to read them all and say, "Who's this guy that I married? He's this guy. Here's who he is. And here's how he talks," that's a totally different understanding.
I have a church of folks who's just kind of a mixed match of people and brilliant, sophisticated people and people like me who are very unwilling and unsophisticated. And it's a group of people that show up... It's more of a hospital than a church. It's people who show up on Sunday and said, "I'm not all right. You either? Cool, man, you want to sit down and grab a doughnut." It's very, very, very much life-giving.
Eric Huffman: Wow, awesome. Thank you for sharing that.
Dr. John Delony: Yeah.
Eric Huffman: Now, as I best I can tell, you're still as busy as you've ever been. You got a lot going on right now in your life and your career. You're a father, you're a husband, you've got a new book coming out. You mentioned it earlier, Building a Non-anxious Life. When's that coming out, by the way?
Dr. John Delony: We just moved it to the fall. So it's gonna come out in October 3 October. Can say this off of what you just asked me?
Eric Huffman: Yeah.
Dr. John Delony: There's been multiple points in my career when I've been at these medical conferences or these faith... I mean, the mental health conferences and whatnot. And there's always the stated big XYZ. There's always the big state "here's what we're here for. This is the theme." And then there's always the quiet like, "Hey, I'm not crazy, right? But are you seeing this? And are you seeing this? And are you seeing this?"
And I write about this, but to answer your question previously about faith here's what I'm seeing happening from the most secular of the secular. Every psychological construct in the world has self-actualization somewhere at the top. If you just get these other things in order, whatever they might be, they might be your thoughts, they might be safety, they might be whatever-
Eric Huffman: Sure.
Dr. John Delony: ...the hierarchy of needs, then self-actualization happens at the top. And what we're seeing at conversations or private conversations are starting to write about more. Eric, the self can't hold. The self was not ever designed to be the center of the universe. I'm seeing people get it all. They get it all, they actualized fully, and they turn to ash.
So these pyramids that we built over the last 150 years, "Here's the aim, here's the goal for the actualized person," it's a vapor. It's not real. And now we're having to look back and say, You have to be tethered into something bigger than you. I tethered into my Christian belief, great. You have to tether into something bigger than you because you can't hold the center of the system.
So you're not going to have an unanxious life if you don't have some sort of belief construct there. You're just not. It's not going to hold. It's just not true. It's just not true. The center doesn't hold.
Eric Huffman: Right. So what does hold? I mean, is that for you, where God comes in? And what about people that are trying to do without God? Like you have people come to you that aren't Christians or aren't believers, let's say?
Dr. John Delony: I do have friends who are non-believers who believe in the cycle of life. Like I'm going to be a part of this, and I'm going to turn it dirt and the tree is going to use my nutrients on. That looks like it's holding. It's something bigger than themselves. They're tapping into some sort of bigger vein. Obviously, there's religions all over the world where people are plugging into something bigger than themselves. And I'm not gonna sit here and be like, "Well, you know, you got the wrong idea."
The idea that you can just plug into, well, I'm a good person, or I do acts of service, that's still the self. That's still self-trying to hold the center, and it doesn't hold.
Eric Huffman: Powerful. Okay, so as I was mentioning earlier, you're so busy now, you got so much going on. How do you prevent yourself from repeating the meltdowns of the past? In your history, you've got these situations where it just all became too much. How do you know you're not doing that again now? What safeguards your-
Dr. John Delony: Oh, man. So here's what's hilarious. Yesterday, I finished the last chapter. This is within 24 hours, we're having this conversation. About halfway through this book, I left my house and checked myself into a hotel and I stayed there for a week, I just needed a break from my kids. My wife and I weren't talking the same language, and I just needed to get this thing done. I hit my deadline.
And it was in about 48 hours of solitude that I realized, "Oh, this is why this is so hard because I'm not living this again." And I am on a bullet train back to the guy crawling around in his backyard looking for cracks in the foundation. And it happened without me noticing it. And dude, this is my job. This is what I do. I point these things out and other people. This is my life. I travel the country teaching people. Oh, no, it happened to me too.
So halfway through this book went from a lecture, like me talking at the audience to, dude, I am walking right alongside you, man. I gotta figure this out too.
Eric Huffman: And it comes through in the book? Like, that's part of the book?
Dr. John Delony: Oh, dude, everyone who's read it was like, "Dude, chapter four, this thing got way... Whoa." And I was like, "Yeah, that's when I realized I'm not in a good place either, man. It's me wandering through the desert with you.
So I tell you that to tell you, I keep having to go back to the basics. And I wish I didn't, I wish I was past having to carry around my little thoughts journal where I write stuff down when my daughter tells me I'm a terrible dad, and I believe her and she's seven.
I still have to carry on my little note card that I write down when I'm going to do stuff to get up and meditate and lift weights in the morning. I still have to do these things. I have to have skin-to-skin contact with my wife and my two kids every day before I leave. I've got to go back to these things that work.
And what we're finding out in the nutrition and exercise space, when you ask anybody who knows what they're talking about, "Hey, what's the best workout?" their response is always going to be anything that you will do consistently over time. What's the best diet for me? Whichever one you will stick to that will keep your macros up, and you won't overeat.
So we're getting back to this very old school, you got to just be disciplined. And I wish there was another way around it. But you just got to get up every day and do it again. You got to do it again. That's not sexy, that doesn't sell. There's no hack. There's no Instagram memes. I just got to get up tomorrow and I got to move my body and I've got to spend some time in prayer and sometimes meditation and do my gratitude journal and be with my kids be with my wife, and then go to work and work really hard.
And then I gotta turn Netflix off and go to bed. And then I gotta get up and do it again the next... right? So it's a series of practices. I wish I could prescribe it, but everybody's practices are different and one's life looks different. So it's gonna be different for everybody.
Eric Huffman: But what if we saw that as-
Dr. John Delony: I just go to the well.
Eric Huffman: We think of that as slavery or oppression or something bad. What if we thought of that as exercising our free will?
Dr. John Delony: It's magic. It's magic, dude. It is magic. Dr. Peter Tia says, "Is it a 55% increase?" There is no pill. There is no pill on planet Earth as powerful as exercise. There's no pill on planet Earth as powerful as human connectivity and meditation. They don't exist. So if we look at them as gifts and as medication, as ways to live this incredible life, man, then they change from being chores to gifts.
Eric Huffman: So good. Everything you've shared with us was so good today. Dr. John Delony, I want to thank you again. And thank you to all of our listeners that sent in questions as well. Hey, when the new book gets ready to come out, I'd love to read a copy.
Dr. John Delony: Oh, man, I will send it right to you. I could probably send in a couple of weeks here. That'd be great.
Eric Huffman: Congratulations. And maybe have you back to talk about it if we can.
Dr. John Delony: Yes, you gotta have me. Hey, I appreciate your hospitality. I'm really grateful. Next time I'm in Houston, I'll look you guys up.
Eric Huffman: Come on, man.
Dr. John Delony: We'll come hang out.
Eric Huffman: Would love to have you. I appreciate your time again today. Dr. John Delony. If you're not following him yet, be sure to look him up on YouTube and you can pick up his books wherever books are sold.
Announcer: This episode of Maybe God was produced by Julie Mirlicourtois and Eric and Geovanna Huffman. Our editors are Jude Leek and Justin Mayer, and the director of all of our full-length YouTube videos is Mark Calver. Our social media team is Kat Brough and Justin Keller.
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