Remain Seated (with Christ): Heather Holleman
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Heather HollemanDr. Heather Holleman is an associate teaching professor at Penn State and has won numerous teaching awards in the last 20 years. She designs the advanced writing curriculum for the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State and trains faculty how to teach writing. She has written eight books including the best-seller Seated with Christ: Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison and an award-winning book on evangelism (co-written with her husband Ashley Holleman) called Sent: Living a Life that Invites...more
In pride and despair, we constantly compare ourselves in our unending pursuit of perfection. Author Heather Holleman helps us remain seated…with Christ.
Remain Seated (with Christ): Heather Holleman
Dave: Okay, let’s talk about the theology of ‘it’.
Ann: What is ‘it’?
Dave: Come on, you know I’ve--
Ann: I know what it is.
Dave: –preached on this many times. It’s like everybody again, I might be wrong, probably am wrong, but I think most of us have an ‘it’. Like when I get ‘it’ then I’ll be happy.
Dave: You know when I was little boy it was a Sting-Ray bike. I remember oh I’m telling my mom, “Oh, I’ve got to have this Sting-Ray bike,”
Ann: I had that one, the one with the handlebars that were really high-
Dave: Oh yes.
Ann: –and the banana seat.
Dave: –and they had the tassels. Oh, and I never got it.
Ann: –I did.
Dave: So, I was never happy.
Ann: It wasn’t ‘it’. It didn’t do it.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Ann: My ‘it’ was you. [Laughter] If I could marry Dave Wilson--
Dave: And I know how that went –whatever.
Ann: –that would be ‘it’.
Dave: Well the truth is there’s no ‘it’ on this planet that will ever satisfy. There’s something deeper, better that we’re going to talk about today with Dr. Heather Holleman. She wrote a book on this. Heather welcome back to FamilyLife.
Heather: I’m so excited to be here. You guys are so fun. I love listening to the banter at the beginning [Laughter] the bike, you wanting to marry Dave [Laughter]. This is great.
Dave: I mean did you have an ‘it’?
Heather: Yes. I had a list of ten ‘its’.
Ann: Did you write them out?
Heather: I did. I called them, I framed it like this. It was like a table that I was waiting for an invitation to have a seat at that table. So that table with the thin beautiful women. The table [Laughter] of, you know prestige, achievement, fame, the table of wealth.
Heather: You know the table of effective Christian ministry, whatever it is. I had ten of them and it was really a problem for me. I was turning 40. I was waiting for life to begin. I thought, “I’m living the wrong life.”
Dave: Obviously we’ve set up a book that you’ve wrote.
Dave: Seated With Christ: Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison.
Dave: As I read this, Heather, you’re an unbelievable writer. You know that. I mean, and maybe you don’t.
Ann: It’s what you do.
Heather: Thank you. Yes I do teach grammar, so I do like helping [Laughter] people write, yes.
Ann: –as a professor at Penn State.
Dave: Our grammar’s got to be driving you crazy. [Laughter]
Heather: No, I love it. But I’ll always take a compliment about writing [Laughter]. That means a lot.
Ann: You wrote this book back when?
Heather: 2015 is when it was published, right when I was just turning 40, so a while ago. And life was not going well for me. I was not mature. I was jealous. I was comparing my life to other people, comparing the lives of my children. I mean I was really suffering.
Heather: I was getting depressed.
Ann: You just described me.
Ann: As in my 30’s and I would say even 40’s and--
Ann: you just described a lot of women listeners right now. Because don’t we do that?
Ann: We compare.
Dave: –uh, men do it too –news flash.
Ann: Do they?
Heather: They do, they do.
Dave: Oh big time, and we cover it up maybe, but, we do the same thing.
Heather: Well the tables can be even more powerful for the image of that for men. “Where am I in the boardroom? Where am I in the company? Where is my seat here?”
Ann: And some people might say, “That's not a bad thing to be driven, to want that seat at the table.”
Heather: Right, right.
Ann: What would you say to that?
Heather: Well I think achievement was a huge idol for me. When I realized, really what happened was an encounter with the Lord through Ephesians 2. What happened when I read Ephesians 2 - it’s a beautiful gospel presentation, if you haven’t read it in a while. I reread it this morning because it’s so powerful for me. But Paul says, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” I remember exactly where I was sitting. It was a summer day in late July. I just looked at that word ‘seated’, and I thought, “Oh my goodness, Paul is most likely writing from a room in prison and here he is imagining himself in a different reality.” And my first thought was, “Well, seated it is a past tense verb.” It’s already happened to me,” and I thought, “Well, here I am seated at the greatest table with the greatest King, and I’m 40 years old and nobody has taught me what this meant.” I’ve never heard a sermon on it. I never read a book on it. I knew other theological terms, that I was justified, forgiven, sanctified. Nobody used the word ‘seated’ to tell me who I was. That day is when I made the list of the tables and I thought, “God, the table of achievement was huge for me.” And I already had a PhD. [Laughter] You know, how much further could I go?
Ann: You can’t get much higher up than that.
Heather: If you keep reading Ephesians 2, you’re going to get to the most beautiful verse. In Ephesians 2:10, you’ve been seated with Christ and it says, “You are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for you to do.” And I just at that moment thought, “Well, I’m seated with you Jesus, you have good works prepared. My motivation is no longer to achieve. It’s to abide with You and bear the fruit that you’ve ordained for my life. It’s like shackles came off [Laughter] of my heart and mind. It was such a huge transformation, that the people who knew me best would say, “Heather, what has happened to you? You have become a different person.”
Ann: You were free.
Heather: The jealousy went away. I was free. I had all this energy and this sadness left, I mean and the fear. Like I would see–this was sort of the height of Instagram and Facebook. Imagine, now it’s much worse. We have TikTok and Snapchat, but you know I was seeing endless photos of perfect families, kids involved in The Nutcracker, and I would say, “Oh, I didn’t do dance for my children. We’re suffering.” [Laughter] We made wrong decisions or vacations. I would cry in the church bathroom. This is a true story, when women would talk about their spring break plans, for Aruba or they’d chartered a boat. I would cry and I would say, “Where is my perfect life? Why aren’t these things happening for me?” I would cry. Then once I understood I was seated with Christ I found this beautiful quote from the Hayden Planetarium and it said, “All seats provide equal viewing of the universe.”
I contacted the Hayden Planetarium because something about this quote, I was like, “All seats provide equal viewing of the universe.” I called the media director and she said that when children race in the planetarium, they all race to the very front row, in an arena where there are no best seats. The museum guide has to say, “Children, all seats provide equal viewing of the universe no matter where you sit you will not miss any part of the show.”
I just burst into tears because my seat was Center County, Pennsylvania. There’s no fame. There’s no glamorous life. [Laughter] There’s no retail. It was like, “What am I doing?” And that day it’s like God opened my eyes to the beauty around me, that no matter where I sit everyone has equal access to God’s power, His peace, His joy, His provision, all of the delights, all His abundance, no matter where you are. I can say that because Paul was most likely in chains as he wrote that verse.
Heather: So, he knew, “Look, picture yourself seated.” He repeats it in Colossians 3 where Paul says, “Set your mind on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” So I had to do that and it really transformed my life.
Dave: I mean was it something that was that quick? Did you ever fall back after knowing this truth?
Heather: Yes, yes. [Laughter] That’s actually the number one question people ask me when I speak on ‘seated’ or I’m on the radio. They want to know that, and the truth is I do have to re-preach it to myself often, because I think Satan’s primary weapon is this kind of jealousy and comparison. Because if you think about it, Eve was in paradise--
Heather: –and the serpent was able to convince her that she was missing something. Right?
Ann: Mmm hmm.
Heather: I thought this jealousy keeps coming back and I call it the three ‘A’s”. Appearance, Affluence, and Achievement. I’m going to always go back to, “If only I were more beautiful. If only I had more money, or if only I had more achievement.” I even reread this morning Ephesians 2 just to remind myself God’s ordained the good works for my life, I’m already seated at the best table with the greatest King, and then the Holy Spirit applies Ephesians 2 to my heart again, and then I move on with my day, ready to bless people, ready to take my eyes off of myself.
Ann: I think that for me was also an incredible transformation. I know that I grew up in a very performance oriented family, --
Heather: Right, right.
Dave: Oh yes
Heather: Did you?
Dave: –and they were really, really good at almost everything they did.
Ann: I was the youngest of four, and I had this pressure. My parents were amazing, they were married over seventy years and out of a good heart my dad would say things like, “We don’t try our best. We are the best.”
Ann: “We become the best.”
Heather: What a family motto.
Ann: “We work until we are the best--
Ann: –at everything we do.” There was this great work ethic, but there was also this incredible pressure of always having to be the best. As a young girl growing up, every other girl was my competition, every other.
Ann: What I was doing in sports - I didn’t want a teammate, because I was in competition even with my own teammates. There is this heaviness and a burden. It’s like wearing a backpack of rocks that you’re continually trying to be the best. We aren’t supposed to be the best at everything. We’ve been gifted in certain areas that we can live in freedom. Jesus came to set the captive free.
Ann: I had no idea who Jesus was and all I remember thinking was, “I’m only a kid and I feel so much pressure. I’m so tired of trying to beat everyone. I don’t want to be close to girls because they’re my competition, with the three ‘A’s.
Heather: Yes, the appearance, affluence, and achievement.
Ann: Yes, and so I couldn’t complement you because you’re my competitor. I remember the day that–it’s as I was in the Word growing in who I am in Christ, understanding my ‘seated’ identity and realizing like, “Oh, I’ve been given my own certain gifts.
Ann: I’ve been created by a God with a plan. Instead of these girls being my competition, I can love them so they can come under, understand who they are in Christ. I’ll never forget the first time I complimented another girl.
Ann: It was like extraordinary for me. Isn’t it the enemy who wants us to constantly be in competition and comparison?
Heather: Yes, he divides people.
Dave: Well I mean listening to you Heather, you must be a lot like Ann. Ann compliments everybody, everywhere now. [Laughter]
Heather: Yes, yes.
Dave: We'll be walking through the airport and I’m like, “Seriously? You’re going to go over and tell that woman that -- She just does. It’s beautiful.
Heather: I love that.
Dave: But it’s because, but I want to hear what you have to say about this, because when you understand you’re seated in Christ, your identity in Christ, am I right? It leads to a freedom.
Heather: Well, it does and the image that helped me and my daughters is–as I was trying to understand seated with Christ was King Arthur and the Knights at the Round Table. We were watching Merlin, which is–it has some scary parts, so it might not be family appropriate, but we were watching it. At the time my daughter was crying, because she couldn’t find a seat in the lunchroom, because the popular girls didn’t want her to sit at the table with her.
I really needed an image to help her understand that she was seated with Christ. And I pulled her up on my lap that day when she goes, “Mom.” She was crying and I said you know, “What’s wrong?” and she said, “I can’t find a seat in the lunchroom.”
I said, “Look, I remember that.” Everyone remembers that moment when you know you’re not popular. I read Ephesians 2 to her and I said, “It’s really hard to picture, but think of what we saw at King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.” She really did get it and experienced God’s love for her, so much so that her senior year, her senior year photo she wore a necklace that said, ‘seated’ written on it.
Heather: But the reason why King Arthur image helps with what we’re talking about complimenting women, not being in competition, if you remember the reason why it’s a round table. Do you guys remember? So that no one’s inferior and no one’s superior. Often I’ll say to people, “There might be people you feel inferior to, or superior to, both are terrible. Both are self-obsessed.
Heather: When you’re seated you can look at other women and know that in their seat in the heavenly realms that God has blessings for them, gifts for them, and joy for them, and you can celebrate it, because it doesn’t diminish the gifts and the blessings He has for you. It’s a beautiful way of living.
Ann: It’s a beautiful way of understanding the table.
Ann: I totally agree when you said that in your book. We’re sitting as we interview. We’re sitting at a round table and everyone has a great seat.
Heather: Everyone has a great seat. But I was going to ask you, did your work ethic change? Because my–I kept working as hard.
Ann: No, my work ethic--
Heather: I love work.
Ann: –hasn’t changed.
Heather: --but my motivation changed.
Ann: That’s it.
Heather: I don’t need to achieve, I just work out of an overflow of whatever it is, you know.
Heather: It’s different.
Ann: –and I work for the King
Ann: There’s something about like, “I’m working for the King, and today He has something for me. He has someone for me that I get to interact with, or I get to talk to.”
Ann: It’s very much, as you said Dave, it’s taking my eyes off of myself, and Heather you’re praying that, “Lord who do you want me to see today? Who do you want me to talk to?”
Dave: Well I wonder, both of you are moms, we didn’t have daughters we had sons. But I think the appearance thing you’re talking about is--
Heather: It’s huge.
Dave: –really male as well now as it is female. It might have been different 20 years ago, but how do you help them understand that?
Ann: Well, I’m glad I didn’t have daughters. I would have failed miserably.
Heather: Well, it’s worse now because girls need to feel camera ready at all times--
Heather: –because of phones. One of the things I think of when I teach my daughters about being seated with Christ is how God delivered me from my obsession with my appearance. He did use His Word. You know I love God’s Word, it’s you know, we learn in Jeremiah it’s like a hammer that breaks the rock into pieces. Think about this stronghold. It’s a rock inside of you and you need God’s Word to really set you free. It was Psalm 34:5 that God used to set me free and it’s just, “Those who look to Him are radiant. Their faces are never covered with shame.” I tell my daughter the story that when I was a young girl in college, a pastor’s wife came up to me, and she said, and I was really struggling. I thought I had a huge nose with pores that people could see from– [Laughter] you know I was lathering on the foundation. And I–every time I walked past a mirror or a glass window [Laughter] I was checking out how bad I looked. Well this pastor’s wife comes up to me and said, “Heather, I just want you to know you have a very loving face.” Now at the time I was like, “Did you, are you sure you didn’t mean beautiful [Laughter] or pretty?” She didn’t. She said to me, “No, when you are talking, I can see the love of God coming through your face.” Okay that is the best compliment I’ve ever received in my life.
Heather: It began to set me free because what I thought was when I walk into a room I can radiate the love of Christ through my face, through my eyes, through how I’m talking. It helped me take my eyes off myself, and I also tell my girls that they are fearfully and wonderfully made and the way they look is exactly how God planned in order to fulfill the purpose He has for them.
The story I tell was, you know, I always hated my nose. I was someone that was probably going to get plastic surgery, and I tried every product on the market [Laughter] and nothing would heal the pores on my nose. Well the very first date I had with my husband, he wanted to say what he liked most about me. He said, “I know this is silly but I just love your nose. [Laughter] I think it’s so adorable.” I thought, “What the–I am marrying this man!” [Laughter] What in the world? Like the thing that I hated most about myself was what God used to attract my life companion. I know I have tears in my eyes right now
Ann: It’s so sweet.
Heather: –because you know someone
Dave: We all do that’s so beautiful.
Heather: –the girls really do struggle. My girls do struggle. We have to remind each other, and you can’t love other people if you’re obsessed with your mascara. [Laughter] You can’t. And when you’re worshiping God and overwhelmed with awe and marvel, it’s hard to also think about your face and your body, so
Heather: I mean it’s hard. We do talk about healthy living, but I have to be careful to not make it about it being thin. We talk about you know, presenting yourself, being well groomed, but I have to be really careful that doesn’t–you know what I mean?
Heather: You probably as women you want to look nice, but-
Ann: But you don’t want your appearance to determine your mood for the day
Ann: I’m just going to be real. When my pants are too tight, I put my pants on one day and they were too tight, that right there can determine my entire mood for the day.
Ann: Are guys like that? I don’t think guys are like that.
Dave: I think in some ways we are. I mean just yesterday, I don’t know if I should share this, but you know we’re standing--
Heather: Share it. I shared about my nose pores. [Laughter] Come on.
Dave: --We’re standing in the bathroom, and I have my shirt off and Ann looks in the mirror and says, “You know what? Your body still looks so good.” And I’m like, “No I don’t. Look at–
Heather: Oh my gosh/
Dave: –I literally pulled every little thing -
Ann: He did. He said, “Look at this…”
Dave: I work out and I do all this stuff and it’s still just, you know–she loves me.
Dave: She loves what she’s looking at in the mirror, and I’m sure she sees what I see but she still thinks it’s beautiful. I thought when we can look in the mirror and feel that--
Dave: –that’s seated with Christ.
Ann: I love what one of my friends would always say. We would walk all the time. She raised three daughters.
Dave: She’s listening right now.
Ann: Yes, oh, is she on?
Dave: Yes, she just texted.
Ann: Michelle, she would always say, we’re talking about this whole obsession and raising three daughters, that was big for her too. She was one of the healthiest people when it came to giving her daughters a view of the importance of looking to God and not your looks just for your identity. And we were talking about it, and I said we can spend so much time gazing at ourselves in the mirror. And I remember, I’ll never forget that she said, “What we should do is we glance at ourselves in the mirror, but we gaze at God.”
Ann: We glance in the mirror but we gaze at God.
Heather: That’s Psalm 27.
Heather: You know, “One thing I ask…” There’s also fun research about this, by the way, social science research about what we consider beautiful and this is good to share with the family. When you’re looking at a face what attracts you is not beauty, it’s familiarity. So, the more time you see a face the more beautiful it becomes to you, which explains why maybe you see someone and you don’t think they’re cute but two weeks later after sitting next to them in math class you think, “Oh, he is cute.” It’s familiarity. So the more you’re looking at my face the more you guys think I’m adorable. [Laughter]
Ann: You are adorable.
Heather: Because you are looking at–so just breaking apart the just the lie of it you know, and the other thing you can do in families is point out people that are deeply respected in the culture for their contributions, not celebrities but-
Heather: -- think about Mother Teresa. She was old and wrinkled. Have you ever seen a picture of her where she looks like a Victoria Secret model? [Laughter] Never. C.S. Lewis, round, stout. He is not–he’d never be on the cover of GQ. So think about people that you really respect, that you love. They are often not beautiful by the world’s standards. That also helps break apart the trap of it. Like, ‘don’t be beautiful, make a contribution’. [Laughter] If your only contribution is beauty, what have we been doing? I don’t know. That kind of helps our girls.
Ann: I’m thinking about my grandmother-
Ann: –who I loved her.
Ann: I never once thought about her looks.
Ann: I thought about how she loved me, -
Ann: –and how she cooked and how she smelled. All of those had such great memories. But there wasn’t one time that I thought anything about her looks.
Heather: Hmm. I love that.
Dave: She had, you said it earlier Heather, a face of love.
Ann: –the radiant
Heather: Oh, the loving face.
Heather: Having a loving face
Dave: I thought when you said that I thought, “We can all do that,”
Dave: And it isn’t like a beauty thing. It’s like, it’s a caring thing.
Heather: A caring thing.
Dave: People feel loved.
Heather: –through your face
Dave: They look at your face and say that “I want to be around that person.”
Ann: So, what’s our app–
Dave: –that’s the greatest compliment anyone could ever get.
Heather: It is such a compliment.
Ann: What’s our application today, what do you think?
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Heather Holleman on FamilyLife Today. We kind of cut you off there but you’ll hear Heather’s answer in just a minute. But first at FamilyLife we believe God does some of His most amazing work right in ordinary homes. So whether that’s a small group Bible study, or playing with your kids on the floor, or sharing a meal with neighbors, the home can be the launching pad for God’s work in this world. If you believe that too, would you help more families experience this by partnering with FamilyLife? All this week as our thanks for your financial partnership we want to send you a copy of Heather Holleman’s book called Seated With Christ: Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison. It’s going to be our thanks to you when you partner financially today with us. You can give online at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329. That’s 800, ‘F’ as in family ‘L’ as in life and then the word TODAY. Alright here’s Heather Holleman on how we can apply today’s conversation in our lives.
Heather: Well one of the things I would want to tell people is that it’s hard to transform this mindset on your own. I really believe in the power of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit to give us the mind of Christ. These are deep strongholds we’re talking about.
Heather: And so ‘seated with Christ’ gives you the perfect biblical image to picture yourself, and then to constantly put the truth in front of your mind, and that you don’t have to achieve you can abide. You don’t have to worry about affluence because you have access to all the riches of God’s kingdom, and you don’t have to worry about your appearance, just adore the Lord and let Him radiate His love through your face.
Ann: Hmm. I’m thinking too just about the fruit of the Spirit, as we abide-
Heather: Yes, abide.
Ann: -We have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. -
Heather: So good.
Ann: –those are so attractive and not only that but they bring us incredible joy as we abide in Christ we exhibit the fruit, we produce that fruit.
Dave: Don’t focus on the fruit, focus on the root.
Heather: You read the book!
Dave: There you go. [Laughter]
Ann: That’s good.
Shelby: Have you ever felt like your life is not lining up with God’s plan? I know I’ve definitely felt that from time to time. Well catch tomorrow’s episode as Heather Holleman joins Dave and Ann again to talk about how she joyfully aligned her messy life into one close with Christ. That’s coming up tomorrow.
Shelby: On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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