Finding Strength, Purpose and Faith During an Unexpected Season: Not What I Signed Up For Can Help
As a pastor and community leader, Nicole Unice is the author of several books on healthy faith, honing in on the connection between our emotional and spiritual life. She’s the host of “How to Study the Bible,” a popular weekly podcast that reached people in 188 different countries in the last year alone, and preaches frequently for conferences and churches.
Nicole’s most recent book, Not What I Signed Up For: Finding the Strength, Purpose, and Faith to Get Through a Season You Didn’t Expect, will release to bookshelves March 19. She recently spoke with The Stream’s Nancy Flory about the book and how it studies the biblical story of Joseph to describe how to live obediently through a life of uncertainty. Here’s what she had to say.
The Stream: For someone who doesn’t know, what kind of book is Not What I Signed Up For?
Nicole Unice: One that invites the reader to engage with their story alongside the great epic biblical story of Joseph.
The Stream: And why Joseph?
Nicole Unice: I think (Old Testament) Joseph is somewhat of an easy character to create as a foil to make a one-sided, one- dimensional story in scripture of a hero who flourishes and triumphs in the end. But the reality is that it is a long and winding story with details within that really point to a whole life of uncertainty and obedience within that uncertainty. In our world I feel like we’re all trying to microwave our faith, and have it be like fast and ready. Instead, let’s engage deeply in a story that takes a lifetime to develop. Let’s actually slow down enough to ask the questions, “What does it look like for me in not-what-I-signed-up-for seasons?” and “How do I walk through the world with obedience while also honoring pain and suffering and lament as part of my story?” I think it is just needed for me and I think it’s needed for others as well.
The Stream: Why did you decide to write this book and why now?
Nicole Unice: I went through a really unexpected season of my own for the last four years or so. In that process, I just found a ton of challenge and comfort through the story of Joseph, and wanted to, as I do in all my books, really just pass that on to my readers. I feel like that’s the ministry that God has given me — to live my life in a way that allows others to hopefully find their own hope and find their own comfort in the story that God’s writing in their life.
The Stream: Who is your audience?
Nicole Unice: Anyone immediately thinks of something that’s happened in her life, because that’s how wide the expression has been. What’s so interesting is those circumstances have ranged from happy changes — like moving into a new space that you wanted to be in, happy things that actually are really difficult — to medical diagnoses, failed marriages, job or vocational turbulence. Then for a lot of people, just what the last five years of our life has felt like. There’s something in that that feels like maybe a need that hasn’t been filled. Generally, I would say people with a little bit of life experience, enough life experience to have had a not-what-I-signed-up-for season. Those are the ones who seem to be resonating deeply with the work.
The Stream: It’s not just an interesting story, it’s not just an explanation of Joseph’s story, but you also have specific prayers listed and that actually was something that I appreciated. Why was it important to add the prayers and extra details?
Nicole Unice: I think that to tread into this territory with your soul requires an enormous amount of gentleness. Writing those prayers was a way for me to take from my own journal, my own honest expressions of relationship with God. I often fear that as an author, there’s a sense that people think I must have figured out something with God that they can’t figure out. I wanted to make sure it was really clear that — I’m gonna get emotional — that we all wrestle with the things we can’t understand. That there’s a way of wrestling with the Lord that I actually think can be quite creative. That God uses our honest expressions to comfort us and to bring discernment into our lives. I wrote those prayers at the end of those chapters straight from my journal. Actually one of the things that we’re offering to our pre-order readers is a journal of their own with a way to write prayers as a part of the experience of walking through you’re-not-what-I-signed-up-for season. I share additional prayers in that journal as well.
The Stream: What is your favorite part of the book?
Nicole Unice: The way that Joseph names his sons, which is easy to miss. It’s a long story and we sort of skip to the good part. We know what’s going to happen and we might lose in the middle of it that, after the 13 years when Joseph was actually elevated to power, there is still another 10 years that happens there. If you remember in the story, Pharaoh has a dream. There are going to be seven years of plenty and then seven years of want. Joseph is in place for the seven years of plenty. So it’s another long section of the story. In the midst of that, Joseph marries and he has children and he gives his children these really interesting names.
To me they point to the most human aspect of Joseph’s life. This idea that he was able to honestly name his situation and surrender it to God. Surrendering didn’t happen. Forgiveness to his brothers didn’t happen when he saw them. I believe that forgiveness and surrender happened way before he knew how the story was going to end. He names his children Manasseh, “God has helped me forget,” and Ephraim, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” The ability to let the story end, to release an ending, is what I feel like happens there with Joseph, is that, in the midst of a life that goes on — because we have to remember, he doesn’t know what’s going to happen. He has no idea his brothers are going to come back on the scene and there’s this sense of surrendering to God, “This is the story and I will be fruitful in it.” I think that’s what positioned him to already be in a space of forgiveness when he did [see them] later.
The Stream: What do you want readers to take away from your book?
Nicole Unice: That God often does his best work in uncertainty in our lives. That he will restore what the locusts have destroyed. In the spirit of that prophecy, there is always redemption, there is always reconciliation, there is always restoration. It is always the promise of us as believers. That means we can trust him even if we’re right in the middle of the season. Even if the season isn’t fully realized and ended and reconciled except on the other side of eternity. There’s something so comforting about that, because so many of us in uncertain seasons, we’ll turn inward and blame ourselves. Or we will blame others and we become less whole, not more whole. God wants to bring us to wholeness in and through painful circumstances.