Redeeming Heartache: How Past Suffering Reveals Our True Calling – Dan B. Allender and Cathy Loerzel

Redeeming Heartache Dan B. Allender and Cathy Loerzel
Redeeming Heartache: How Past Suffering Reveals Our True Calling by Dan B. Allender, Cathy Loerzel
Published by Zondervan on September 14, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Leadership
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Find freedom and healing from painful memories and relational struggles and learn how your past has uniquely prepared you to experience more joy. 

Tragedy and pain inevitably touch our lives in some way. We long to feel whole, but more often than not, the way we've learned to deal with our wounds pushes us away from the very restoration we need most. Renowned psychologist Dr. Dan Allender and counselor and teacher Cathy Loerzel present a life-changing process of true connection and healing with ourselves, God, and others. 

With a clear, biblically trustworthy method, Allender and Loerzel walk you through a journey of profound inner transformation--from the shame and hurt of old emotional wounds to true freedom and healing. Drawn from modern research and their pioneering work at The Allender Center, they will help you identify your core trauma in one of the three outcast archetypes--the widow, orphan, or stranger--and chart your path of growth into the God-given roles of priest, prophet, or leader. This book will help you learn: 

What to do about feeling out-of-place and directionless
How your coping mechanisms create a false sense of health
How to embrace your divine calling and find lasting reconciliation
How your heart wounds are your unique invitation to true strength and purpose.

Your past pain does not dictate your life. Answer the call to healing and discover your life's beautiful story and a future of hope and freedom.

I went into this book with limited knowledge of the Allender Center and its work, but I knew enough to expect that I would find the book insightful, helpful, and deeply ministering. Unfortunately, Redeeming Heartache: How Past Suffering Reveals Our True Calling ended up being a mixed bag for me, and I only found parts of it helpful. Even though the coauthors mean well and share some profoundly moving personal stories, the counseling content is very high-level, abstract, and occasionally esoteric. I minored in psychology and have read books like The Body Keeps the Score, so my occasional difficulty in reading this book surprised me. I often reread confusing sentences and paragraphs to understand them better, so people without existing knowledge of trauma, psychology, and counseling would have a very difficult time following this.

Content and Audience

At the beginning, Allender and Loerzel explain the concept of trauma. They apply their definition to any adverse experience, regardless whether it seems traumatic in scale to worse events, and they share illustrations from their pasts and from their lives in early COVID-19 lockdown. In the second part of the book, they present the system of six types that they have created for understanding trauma. Each trauma type has a healing counterpart, and they are the orphan and the priest, the stranger and the prophet, and the widow and the king or queen. They draw biblical parallels for these archetypes, but personally, I found them somewhat forced and incomplete. I drew some helpful insights related to my stranger/prophet experiences from bad social situations in the past, but nothing about these types connected with the specific trauma that inspires me to read books like this in the first place.

Some people will find this book tremendously helpful, but I do not personally recommend it. The archetypes have limited applications, and the authors write in a high-level, theory-based style without providing detailed or specific recommendations for healing. The authors include numerous illustrations and examples from their and their clients’ experiences, but even when a story illustrates a concept, it doesn’t necessarily help the reader translate it to their own experience. If someone is looking for a Christian book about trauma that is broadly applicable and accessible to anyone, I would recommend The Thing Beneath the Thing: What’s Hidden Inside (and What God Helps Us Do About It) by Steve Carter. That book is direct, clear, and accessible, and draws biblical parallels that feel more complete.

Other Concerns

My favorite chapters are Allender’s, but this is mainly because Loerzel lost me early on by sharing an embarrassing story about her son. She illustrates trauma response by writing about her son’s distress after a toileting incident at school, showing how even though it wasn’t his fault, he was so mortified that he didn’t want to tell her about it. She spent time talking with him, getting pieces of the story, and helping him work through it, and even though I do not doubt her sincerity or her love for her child, I can’t believe that she shared and repeatedly referenced this story. Her son is five, can’t consent this, and will someday have to deal with the impact of her choices. It’s not unusual for parents to share embarrassing stories about their children, but Loerzel is a trauma and counseling expert and should have made a wiser call.

I also have more minor critiques. For example, even though the authors share genuinely meaningful reflections about racial trauma, other references to justice issues come across as checklist-minded and shallow. At various times, the authors would interrupt a train of thought to start listing off a whole load of social ills, and I got very impatient with this. When one of them used the phrase “income inequality,” I gave up, rolled my eyes, and said, “You’re talking about greed and poverty. Income inequality would include my biologist friend making more money in her STEM field than I make at the library.” In most cases, I would overlook a sloppy buzzword like that without getting irritated, but so much of this seemed like posturing and virtue-signaling that it was hard for me to feel charitable about it.


I personally found Redeeming Heartache very disappointing. The title and premise indicate a much broader focus and more general applications than the book offers, and much of the content was not relevant or helpful to me, especially when it delved into more esoteric forms of expression or Allender Center insider language that I wasn’t familiar with. I was also put off by Loerzel’s unwise storytelling about her son’s embarrassing moment, which greatly reduced her credibility in my eyes at the outset. Some people will find this book very helpful, and there are some deeply moving moments of storytelling and reflection, but there are so many better Christian books about trauma and suffering that I would not personally recommend this. This book is best for fans of the authors, and for people who are deeply invested in the Allender Center.