Review: A Force of Will

Jen Bradbury
May 10 · 5 min read

Shortly after my miscarriage, I made my most depressing Amazon purchase ever: A collection of books about miscarriage, loss, and grief. Among them was Mike Stavlund's A Force of Will: The Reshaping of Faith in a Year of Grief.

Despite having heard good things about this book, I was a bit leery of it, unsure as to whether or not a Pastor-type could honestly tackle grief without relying upon a plethora of canned, trite, and generally meaningless responses.

Reading only a few pages of A Force of Will convinced me I had no reason to be leery of it. This book beautifully and honestly blends Mike's own story of heartbreaking loss with theology. As a result, it offered me exactly what I needed, deeply ministering to me in the midst of some of my darkest days. What's more, as one of the few books about infant loss written by a male, it was also one I could share with my husband.

As I read A Force of Will, I cried with Mike as he detailed his son's death. As he talked of “wishing there were clearly understood cultural practices related to grief and mourning”, I sat in my sunroom thinking, “I do, too, Mike. I do too.” I nodded my head in agreement at the reminder that “Even when God seemed far away, God still cared... We might someday have hope.”

I breathed a deep sigh of relief when I discovered much of Mike's theologizing came in the form of honest questions rather than answers. Despite writing about this very thing shortly after my miscarriage, I also deeply appreciated the reminder that for God, the cross meant “an eternal ability to identify with those who suffer loss... Jesus knows what it is like to experience God's absence. And God feels sorrow and pain and is in fact a figure of great suffering. But God is also a source of great joy and hope.” Like Mike, I want “to take everything – my belief and my doubts – and lay all of it on the table. I want to be honest with others, but more important, to be honest with myself. Because I'm looking for much more than just mental assent. I want to live out all of my beliefs, and all of my doubts. I want to live in the tension between faith and doubt. I want to live in the real world, with all its joys and heartbreaks. Which is why stifling my feelings toward God seems dangerous and disingenuous.”

Since I want to do this, I also want desperately to live in community even – or perhaps especially – in those moments when life hurts most. For this reason, what I appreciated most about A Force of Will was the way in which it showcased the value Mike places upon community. According to him, “When you're feeling lost, it's nice to gather with folks who have a better sense of direction and a more settled view of the landscape. This is one of the main reasons, I think, that community is so valuable. When we can't pray, those who are journeying with us can pray for us. When we don't know what to do, others can help us. When we're bereft of even emotion, our friends can cry for us.”

In the last six weeks, I've experienced the truth of these words more profoundly than I have at any other time in my life. And so, in the midst of an incredibly painful season, I've found myself grateful for community of all kinds – both for those who have deeply cared for and loved us in tangible ways as well as for those, like Mike, whom we have never met but whose words have carried us just the same.