What’s the Reason? A Book Review

(Topic: book, illness, grief, what to say)

Image credit: Kate Bowler’s Website

Everything Happens For A Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved
By Kate Bowler

This is probably not a book I would have picked up on my own.

Lately, I read mostly fiction, if I read. I don’t read nearly as much as I used to – picking out a book that’s “safe” (not heavy emotion, and no pregnancy or infant death…) is a lot of work, and then having it be good, engaging, something that has me coming back to finish it… I struggle with reading more than I used to. So I pick a lot of light stuff, when I read.

This book isn’t light.

It’s not written densely, and it doesn’t delve super deeply into the topics it brings up, but it involves very big, very deep topics, so even a shallow treatment is heavy at times. My husband has an interest in books addressing death (and our society’s reaction), religion, and philosophical exploration. This book touches on all those themes. He read it, and chatted with me about it, to the point that I was curious and interested to read it for myself.

The author has cancer, and is struggling with religious questions, and life questions, and generally with life, and whether or not she’s dying. She has a toddler son and a husband, and she loves them both dearly.

She addresses aspects of her upbringing and research (on the “prosperity gospel”: in short, the idea that if good things happen, God is blessing you, and if bad things happen, God’s either testing you or punishing you. This perspective doesn’t let the earth be a broken place with happenstance or “shit happens”, and doesn’t allow room for God to grieve with you. I’m not an adherent of the prosperity gospel perspective, but it’s pretty pervasive in American culture and thinking). She also addresses aspects of the Mennonite traditions, because she grew up surrounded by a Mennonite community and married a man who grew up in that community. The Mennonite community appears, from her comments, to view suffering as a tragic part of life on earth, and something that people should be supported through.

What’s interesting, is that she wrote this during. This book seemed to me to be a way she was processing. Processing what was going on to her, but more, processing how she sees the world and God, and what she actually thinks about what people are saying to her.

She came to a lot of similar conclusions to what I found. People like to say things that “fit” with what they think, usually from a place where they haven’t been through senseless tragedy. They want the tragedy they see us going through to fit the “rules” they think the world runs by (side note: it doesn’t. The world is arbitrary, and has accidents, and illness, and senseless tragedy). Her book seems to show that her notion of God resolved to a new (different) clarity, how God is love and not human interpretations of what God is.

She ends the book with two helpful appendixes. Even if you are not interested in the book, pick it up in the bookstore and just read the appendixes before putting it back on the shelf. The first appendix is 10 things not to say to a grieving/ill person. They all fit with the same things I’ve struggled with people saying to me. The other appendix is a list of things to do, to help. The main theme that comes through is to be with, and not to try to explain to the griever what they are feeling (they already know) or why they are going through it (chances are, there really isn’t a good reason, and you cheapen their pain by trying to explain it away).

This book is a quick read, and again, she doesn’t go super theological or super medical, or really super technical in any way; this is a fascinating exploration of her own experience and thought process as she goes through a cancer journey.



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