Book review: The Dave Test

by Frederick W. Schmidt


Can a downer be a positive reading experience?

This is a book that needs to be read, even though it’s not enjoyable. It’s about how to relate positively to those who are going through hard times. How to be a friend in love. It’s written from a Christian perspective by an Episcopal priest, but it does not pretend that faith solves all the hard problems.

Schmidt’s younger brother Dave was struck with cancer, and endured seven years of the disease before succumbing to death. Sometimes life just sucks. Hoping for a handy guidebook about what to do in such situations, maybe a collection of pick-me-up promises like “God won’t give you more than you can endure” or at least a can’t-fail casserole recipe to bake for a suffering friend, I read all the way through to the end before I finally accepted that I was not going to be given any Biblical solutions for coping or helping another cope. This is just down-to-earth advice on how to validate and share the pain of another. As Schmidt would say, ditch the stained-glass language and learn to walk wounded.

And yes, it WAS a frustrating read for me, most of the way. If I’m going to endure a downer of a book, can’t it just teach me to dispense a little Hallmark wisdom and send me on my way?
Perhaps the best advice I gleaned from the first nine chapters (by reading between the lines) is this: When times get tough, go befriend a couple of recovering alcoholics. They understand struggle and neither coddle you nor make light of your pain.

Schmidt’s message finally sank in as I neared the end of the book, with these three strange words: Availability is incarnational. It’s really not as cryptic a message as it sounds. After stressing that Jesus’ interface with humanity was in the flesh–incarnational–and after stressing that sincere love is sharing a genuine presence, making oneself available, the advice finally hit home. There’s lots of other advice in the book, of course, this just happens to be the message that finally penetrated for me. The simple secret of dealing with another’s grief, for both your own benefit and that of your friend, is this: Availability is incarnational.

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