I am certain I cannot capture Larry Crabb’s influence upon my life in a blog post. I edited a book about him two years ago that only provided a glimpse into his work; certainly, a brief essay will be incomplete. Still, I will try to honor my teacher, mentor, and friend.
Larry has been writing books nearly as long as I have been alive, though I am relatively late to his work. I have wrestled with what it means to be a Christian psychologist for twenty-five years, following many rabbit trails looking for an identity, though nothing rang true for me. I had heard of Larry Crabb but largely avoided him because his ideas were uniquely his own. In truth, I should have known that his unique way of thinking would resonate deeply within me.
In 2014, I attended Larry’s 52nd School for Spiritual Direction in Ashville, North Carolina. At the beginning of the week-long retreat, I still did not know what to expect, but I was thirsty for something. From his first words, I knew my life was about to change. My world was upended that week as I began to see the relational nature of God in fresh ways.
In the months that followed, I consumed his books, audio recordings, and online courses. Eventually, I read them all, and some of them, I read repeatedly. In fall 2014, I attended his Next Step School for Spiritual Direction, doing everything I could to become a “Crabbian psychologist.” However, one thing about Larry is that he was much less interested in my development as a psychologist than he was in knowing me as a person. From our first spiritual direction hour together, he saw beneath my professional façade to my heart.
Several memories stand out. When I went to North Carolina, I had a one-hour spiritual direction meeting with Larry. At that time in my life, I struggled with how to love my eldest daughter well, and I began to pour my heart out as he listened. He spoke into my strength as a man and, in the end, encouraged me to call home and talk to Grace and tell her how much I loved her and the beauty I saw in her.
When I went to Next Step in Colorado, I was talking in the group, and Larry said to me, “How about dropping the doctor?” One of the regular themes in our conversations has been my tendency to live in my head and speak doctorly. He saw it right away and invited me to be Jason. More than once, he said, “I am not interested in Dr. Crabb talking with Dr. Kanz, but Larry talking to Jason.” He invited me to my true self. Larry and I also have similar senses of humor. Engaging with Larry helped me to realize that even professionally, I could allow my humor to shine. Shortly before Next Step, Larry had fallen upon a stack of books he was carrying and fractured a rib. As he was telling us the story, I said, “Not many people can claim a book-related injury.” Watching him laugh, I realized our similarities grew.
As much laughter as there was at these events, there were also tears. I had always dreamed of writing a book, but I never believed it was something I would accomplish. In passing, I had mentioned my desire to several people but never took it any further. Sometime during that week, I talked with another SSD friend who said, “Jason, you’re a storyteller,” and something broke loose within me. I brought it before the group, and as I did, tears flowed. Larry, together with the others, helped me to press into my desire and my fears. Having now written 4 books, Larry’s influence is evident in each of them. In truth, one of the books, Living in the Larger Story, is about him, and he wrote the foreword to Notes from the Upper Room.
In 2018, I had a nervous breakdown. Clinically, I suppose we would call this an “acute stress reaction,” but I think the old school term fits my experience better. Larry did not hesitate to move toward me in my darkest season of life. He did not try to fix me; instead, he was with me, listening and reflecting.
After working on Living in the Larger Story: The Christian Psychology of Larry Crabb for far too long, it finally came together. It included contributions from many people whom Larry had touched. There was a universal fondness for Larry as a person and not only as a Christian psychologist. Out of that project, the Gideon Institute at HBU hosted a conference in Larry’s honor. We had some phenomenal speakers, but the real highlight for me was the opportunity to visit with my friend on stage for 75 minutes as we talked about his career. Though Larry was a popular speaker and author, what he really loved were conversations that mattered.
To try capturing the fullness of Larry’s influence is an impossible task. The outpouring of affection for him on the Larry Crabb Appreciation Club on Facebook over the last few days has been nothing short of beautiful. Larry’s influence on many people has been profound. I count myself privileged to be one of the grateful witnesses to his life.
Fare thee well,
mentor, teacher, and friend
keep the coffee hot,
until we meet again.