While at times I found “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved” by Kate Bowler incredibly annoying, it has stuck with me for weeks after finishing reading it. Maybe because she had the guts to say what she thinks even if they may be wildly unpopular opinions. There were some themes that I found troubling. They completely go against my own core beliefs about life and death and the medical system, but I will expand on that later. I recognize that we all have different opinions. Reading books from authors I don’t agree with gives me an excellent opportunity to grow.
I also have to acknowledge that I have never been in the exact position of the author in the book. Even if I had, I would not have her same experiences behind me. So I am doing my best to release any judgment about those views. I hope my insights from reading this memoir help me be with people in their pain instead of minimizing or looking past it. I have gained a lot of perspective by seeing Kate Bowler’s thoughts at this difficult time in her life.
In a nutshell, the author, Kate Bowler is sick. She went to doctor after doctor trying to diagnose pain in her stomach and it was ignored. When she finally got proper testing, she was diagnosed with stage IV cancer.
It’s a devastating blow made all the more frustrating by the months she has spent seeking answers and getting gaslit. She writes from the midst of her pain, so the book gives us a chance to sit in that feeling. She doesn’t offer a lot of escapes. But gives you a chance to wrestle with the pain and all the ways we suck at doing just that.
Kate Bowler also happens to be a researcher in the Prosperity Gospel. She grew up around a Canadian Mennonite tradition so she discusses these religious themes fairly regularly. I find the perspectives fascinating. They added to the experience of the story because they give us some insights into where her mindset was built. She also met a lot of people doing her research and they are the ones who show up to support her through this time.
Just to clarify, I am not a religious person. But I found the religious themes interesting. They helped move the plot along. But if you are totally turned off by mentions of God and the Bible, then this book may not be for you.
While her religious friends may not subscribe to the “Everything Happens for a Reason” theme, they do try to give her suffering a purpose. She doesn’t pretend that the faith has all the answers for wrestling with pain and grief, which I found to be a relief. I was even surprised that there wasn’t more, “but you are going to heaven don’t be afraid” rhetoric.
You might want to read this book at home if you are willing to feel some emotions. There were some moments where I wanted to put it down and just feel all the feelings it was bringing up. I can’t imagine reading it on a crowded train or a public space.
Themes of Everything Happens for a Reason
Well first and foremost is the theme that Everything does not happen for a reason. And that is certainly not something you should say to someone who is dying. And don’t tell them God needs another angel either. None of us knows how to act around pain and death. We have no clue what to say or what might be better left unsaid. Kate offers us many examples of these throughout the book . She is also kind enough to create an appendix of them. Of course, the worst offense is that saying, “Everything happens for a reason”. Although I feel believing it all happens for a reason is an easier way to live, I can respect that Kate Bowler refuses to go there.
If you are wondering what you can say, here are a few of her recommendations. “I’d love to bring you a meal this week. Can I email you about it?” “Oh, my friend, that sounds so hard.” It’s true people just want to be heard. “There is a time to speak and a time to shut your piehole.”
I found it difficult to read her criticisms of what people say. Maybe because I think everyone has good intentions. If we can just look past their words to the intent behind them, we don’t feel so offended. But again, she gets to have her experience. I won’t invalidate it here. She admits herself, “I am, unfortunately, amazing at being miserable.”
A societal theme?
While not an obvious theme in this book, it’s a theme that allows this book to even exist. We all love a good story about someone fighting against an impending death, and winning. Fighting death, avoiding death, thwarting death, this is the stuff of a lot of books and literature in our society.
Of course, that is what the most basic part of our brains is wired for, we all want to survive. But I believe there is more to it than just keeping our meat suits alive and functioning. I suppose Kate Bowler addresses that a bit in her other book, “No Cure for Being Human.” But we all could address it more with ourselves.
My Thoughts about Health and Dying
“We live and we are loved and we are gone.” Perhaps I take this for granted because I am pretty consistently aware that we are all dying. Not in a fearful anxious way. But in a, there’s no time to wait, do those things you love doing because we are dying way. I didn’t come by this on accident. It was an intentional mindset shift when I decided to get over my fear of death. Perhaps it was around the same time I decided to adopt the belief that Everything Happens for a Reason. Even if it’s a lie, it’s one that I love.
I realize not fearing death puts me in a very small percentage of humans living on earth right now. The Covid-19 Pandemic has really shown me how afraid most people are of dying and of loved ones dying. It’s not that I welcome death or grief or anything morose like that. But I do recognize it’s a natural part of the cycle. I compost all my food waste and get so excited about it returning to the soil to regenerate another plant. Why wouldn’t I want to do the same with myself?
Additionally I believe only my body dies and my soul lives on. This is the only way to explain why past life regression is possible; and why I can access memories from times and places not here on Earth. But this is a whole different discussion not offered in Everything Happens for a Reason. I’ll review another book that will allow us to go there soon!
There is an underlying theme in this book and in society that the medical system has our backs and supports us. I guess most people have that belief and maybe even need to believe that. Maybe it serves them. But after living with a chronic illness for nearly 30 years, that has not been my experience. I have come to look at the system of healthcare as a system built for capitalism. It is not for helping people live better lives. Doctors, nurses, aides, and other specialists may be very deeply committed to helping people. But I see a system that sets them up for failure.
When I think of health now, I think of me working with my body. Being on the same side, never fighting against each other. Medications like chemo seem like an all-out war on the body. I am concerned about why this is still considered the best cancer treatment after so many years of cancer research. Plenty of people have had what are generally deemed “miracle recoveries.” Is the miracle that they did not spend a fortune poisoning their bodies? Instead they found ways to strengthen their own body’s ability to heal. I wish there had been someone that was helping Kate befriend her body during this time. Although she may not have welcomed that. So I will rephrase and say, I would want someone to help me stay friends with my body at a time like that.
Kate’s Medical Trial
Kate went through a whole ordeal of getting access to what was sold to her as her best chance at survival. She had to fight insurance companies, raise money, call in favors to get a spot on the trial. Then in order to participate, she had to fly to another city weekly. Each time she spent all day with medicine pumping into her body. Periodically she underwent tests to see if she was still fit to participate in the grueling study. At the end of the day, she flew home. It sounds exhausting and UN-healing on so many levels. But I imagine hearing about it, most readers were cheering for her, with that belief that we have to do whatever it takes to keep our bodies alive.
I definitely would not put myself through that. But in our society, perhaps doing everything we can to stay alive is a more revered way to die. I don’t think she ever addressed the possibility in the text that she could be receiving the placebo. She also didn’t realize that the researchers were far more interested in proving what their medication could do than her living. I found it sad that she felt she had to subscribe to this system. There were no other options in the mind of Kate Bowler.
“I think I’m running out of time…,” I say finally. “I’m not trying to be dramatic, but here’s what I worry about: What if you are too?” She knows what I am saying…her selflessness has caused her to surrender too much of herself to “someday.” And now someday has come, at least for me.” – For my people pleaser friends!
“keep having the same unkind thought—I am preparing for death and everyone else is on Instagram. I know that’s not fair—that life is hard for everyone—but I sometimes feel like I’m the only one in the world who is dying.”
“Nothing about my life is lucky,” she has argued. “Nothing. A lot of grace, a lot of blessings, a lot of divine order, but I don’t believe in luck. For me, luck is preparation meeting the moment of opportunity.”
“Aging is a fucking privilege.”
“I am, unfortunately, amazing at being miserable.”
Is Everything Happens for a Reason really a lie?
I would love to know what you think. While I have shared a little bit of what I think about it, but I would love to hear alternative opinions. I see it as a choice, believe it all happens for a greater purpose and flow with it, or fight against reality and see it as unfair and awful to be in the world. How do you see it?