Intimate, Raw, and Hopeful: A Review of Beth Scibienski's "Who Is God When We Hurt?"

Here’s what I dislike about most books on grief and suffering--generalities. Far too many of these kinds of resources spend the bulk of their words on non-specific, Instagramable wisdom. That’s not what I want when I’m hurting. I said to my friend Brittany recently, “When I read a book about someone’s grief, I want the details. I want to know what flavor ice cream they binged on.” We said, it’s the details that make you feel like you’re reading a real person’s story. It’s in the details where you connect and relate.

The details are what I love about Beth Scibienski’s new book, Who Is God When We Hurt? In it she shares her experience taking care of her husband as he battles MS, a story undergirded by a treasure trove of stories from her time as a pastor. Scibienski tells us the color and texture of the carpet in her bedroom as she lies on it crying. She tells us the exact words she yelled at her husband and later felt guilty for. She tells us why she goes to the chiropractor. She tells us what she promised her husband in her bespoke vows at their wedding.

This book is real and raw, intimate and personal, but when you read it you don’t feel like a stalker, watching from afar. You feel like a friend, brought close, invited in. Scibienski’s voice is warm, likable, and trustworthy. You’re rooting for her, and you’re eager to follow where she’s leading. I found myself surprised by how much I connected to this story. Though I’ve never been a caregiver and though I’ve never lost a spouse, Scibienski’s words felt like a truth I’ve lived. In seeing her pain so clearly I felt seen myself.

Many times in this book, Scibienski talks about the community of people around her, enabling her, lighting the dark. That’s a theme I found myself coming back to again and again in my own writing on grief. Scibienski covers that ground generously and beautifully. As she closes, considering her titular question, “Who Is God When I Hurt?” Scibienski writes,

“Who was God when I hurt? God was the one who loved us, in sickness and in health. God was the one who stayed beside us, and looked exactly like our close friends, our neighbors, and our church family. God was the one who didn’t shy away from my tears. God was the one who held my hand. God was the one who made sense of medical bills. God was the one with the stethoscope.

God was the pharmacist who asked the best questions. God was the dance of my closest girlfriends as they packed up my kitchen, having to move when I didn’t want to. God was the dance of my congregation who embraced Pete with a walking stick, a walker, a rollator and eventually a wheelchair. I didn’t have to ask “where was God?” because I knew who to look for when I needed God the most.”

My other favorite quote from this book comes in a meditation on anger. Scibienski writes, “Anger is not something to avoid or ignore. Anger collects data. When I stopped long enough to listen to my anger, I learned what I needed.”

Anger collects data.

Yes! If you’ve ever lost something huge--a person, a path, your normal life--you know anger. Scibienski lets her anger work for her, leading her to a better understanding of her emotions and needs.

If you’re a caregiver for someone who’s terminally ill, I highly recommend this book. If you’re someone, anyone else, I still recommend it. It’s a masterclass in the work of redemption, turning something devastating into something both devastating and beautiful.

Get your copy HERE.