Is it possible to truly be in control of one’s life?
This is the fundamental question asked by two books–memoirs–I’ve recently inhaled.
Of course, the short answer (according to me) is that it’s an illusion to think that life is controllable. But it is easy, when things are going swimmingly, to get caught up in the idea that we are responsible for our successes.
Kate Bowler’s book Everything Happens For a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved details her diagnosis with Stage IV colon cancer at age 35, with a husband and a baby son. She’s an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School and has recently published her first book, a history of the concept of the prosperity gospel, or the notion that righteousness breeds wealth, health, and all manner of wordly protection from suffering.
It’s a concept she herself unwittingly subscribed to before becoming ill. She worked hard, made careful choices, and was achieving exactly what she wanted in life. As her health unravelled, she faced the reality that she was the same person, saying the same prayers, yet many began to view her as having brought the disease on herself. Or, at the very least, if she wasn’t being healed, then she had clearly failed at calling down God’s favor upon herself–a personification of faithlessness.
I read this book in a single day. I found Bowler’s writing style mesmerizing, and the trajectory of her life the actual polar opposite of failure. But I was most intrigued by this weird prosperity gospel idea that when we struggle in life, it is proof of God’s disdain for us, or his abandonment of us, all based on our inadequacy as persons of faith.
That was my life for many of Jack’s early years, guys. And Bowler wrote the literal book on it. There was a time when I thought God was utterly disappointed in me, and that’s why I was struggling through my parenting hardships without reprieve.
My own non-ironic spiritual journey richly revealed to me that struggling isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s simply a sign that we are alive in mortality. Not all hardships are brought on by poor choices or sin. Much of what we suffer through is a result of living in a fallen world. It’s just part of the deal. And we grow from it. If you believe Hebrews where it says, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth,” then the prosperity gospel notion falls flat. Reading this book, I again felt validated as a woman whose life was bombed by raising a special needs child with the most severe behaviors. Challenges do not equal disappointing/faithless.
Kate Bowler is now living in that liminal state of having two months remaining of life, unless each periodic scan tells her otherwise. I wish her health and longevity and peace in the unknowing. Life is beautiful and hard and fragile. Who knows if everything happens for a reason? True faith doesn’t demand results from God, yet it believes unequivocally in the love of God. It accepts his will and seeks his help in learning from the sorrow and slogging through it.
This leads to the other mind-blowing memoir I’ve recently read: The Burning Point by Tracy McKay. The story begins when she is a thirty-something mother of three young children and her opioid addict husband has relapsed (again) and is passed out upstairs in their bedroom. The spirit tells Tracey, with an audible voice, that she can go now, meaning it’s time to leave the marriage and protect her children.
What follows is a detailed account of the next couple of years, wherein McKay is a single mother of a couple of typically developing children, as well as a son with autism; a nontraditional student returning to university; and the only functioning adult remaining in her nuclear family.
Several things stick out to me after reading and pondering this story:
- McKay loves her husband. She sees him as a person, even when his choices are destroying her life. She speaks of him generously. This is so very humanizing and beautiful.
- Her story features her brothers and sisters in the gospel coming to the rescue, over and over, and doing it willingly. I found it incredibly moving that McKay dedicated the book to the women of her two Relief Society congregations who saw her through her divorce and new fledgling life. There is so much beauty in charity. It echoes Jesus Christ and his regard for each of us.
- Women are amazingly resilient. The end.
I’m fascinated by all stories, everywhere, but especially of stories of people facing the worst types of heartache and hardship. Will they emerge victorious and unscathed? The prosperity gospel says they must, in order to be valued and idolized. But I don’t care about that.
None of us emerge unscathed from life, yet because of Jesus, all of us already are victorious.