|A Review of
Gotta Have It!
By Gregory Jantz with Ann McMurray.
Reviewed by Adam Navis.
I am suspicious of mixing Christianity with anything that could be categorized as self-help. Christ did not die so that we can have a 4-hour work week, or retire at 50, or lose weight, or finish a triathlon. So when beginning Gotta Have It! Freedom from Wanting Everything, Right Here, Right Now (Gregory L. Jantz, PhD, with Ann McMurry) I was skeptical. I think that living simply is wonderful, beneficial, even helpful in drawing closer to God. But I doubted there was a biblical mandate for cleaning your basement and de-cluttering your closet.
Luckily, Gotta Have It! is not just about selling your extra stuff on e-bay. This book is only secondarily a book about simplifying your life. It is primarily a book that asks the reader to consider what fills their life and how those things meet the needs of the soul. It is about excessity, a term Jantz coins to explain the twisted human experience of turning excess into necessity.
“Excessity is about feeding our wants and desires, while at the same time starving our true needs. The more we starve what we really need, the greater our hunger grows, causing us to stuff ourselves with more and more of our wants. After stuffing ourselves full of our wants, we find that we’re still starving, empty, and desperate-and the mad cycle repeats.” (15)
Jantz is an experienced therapist and draws on his work with actually people to illustrate the book’s three sections. The first section challenges the reader examine their own life’s excesses. There are brief sections on food, alcohol, caffeine, electronics, work, shopping, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, hobbies, gambling, sex, relationships, money, anger and guilt. I could skim over many of these sections. That was, until I hit the section on exercise. Having recently finished my first ultra-marathon, this section made me pause and ask some serious questions about the role that exercise plays in my life.
The book then moves on to outline our true human needs, which Jantz names as comfort, reassurance, security, validation, and control. Jantz’s examples show what can happen when people try to meet these needs in unhealthy ways. He explains that people are very good at getting what they need, even if it is in destructive ways. For example, if someone needs reassurance, they may become become a habitual worrier, even when constant worry impinges upon their ability to fully engage in life.
Now, because people are different, not every section is going to hit home in the same way. (I passed quickly over the chapter on comfort, but am still thinking about the chapter on control.) Which is why this book is probably best read as a group study. Each chapter ends with a series of questions that make this ideal for a church group, where the different sections may touch people differently.
The final part of the book is entitled “What God Provides.” This is the most scripturally heavy part of the book. But I was pleasantly surprised by Jantz’s use of scripture. Verses were not foisted upon his psychology theories. They were used in a way that left me with the sense that the Bible and psychology are not in competition, but each explain the same human experience and add to each other. The issue of scripture usage is the main reason I am skeptical of Christian self-help books, but Jantz is obviously serious about his work as a therapist and respectful of scriptural in his interpretation.
My main critique of the book is that it is too broad. It covers so many different excessities that it can only examine each to the shallowest of depths. Read by yourself it is too easy to coast through the questions that end each chapter. It is too easy not to do the introspective work required to make a change in the way you live. Which is why I think this book is best read in a group setting. In a group, where the issues can be discussed, the issues raised by the book have a better chance of being identified and addressed.
I am still skeptical of people who use the Bible to write self-help books. Probably always will be. But Christians in American need to ask each other “What are you filling your life with?” And “Does God have something better for you?” Gotta Have It! Is a good tool for answering those questions.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
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