Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

A Force of Will

Even without happy endings, there is hope.

The new book by Mike Stavlund. Available now.

A Force of Will

“He writes with consummate skill and style and clarity … A Force of Will is a beautifully rendered manuscript and memoir.”

Phyllis Tickle Founding editor of the Religion Department, Publisher's Weekly

Photo credit: PeterBPhoto


It’s been more than a little fulfilling to have the book out– to read reviews and endorsements from people who I venerate, and to see writers whose work make me wither  describe A Force of Will as “well-written”.  And of course to see so many kind folks leaving reviews on Amazon is awesome, too.  It’s been scary and exciting to present talks and academic papers on some of the ancillary themes, and thrilling to get good feedback on these talks (look forward to my piece on Derrida’s ‘Impossible Grief’ to be published next year).  It’s also been great to do some interviews on radio and podcast, and to see how my thoughts develop each time we talk about the subject of grief and loss.
One common issue that comes up is about helping those in grief.  What should we do?  It comes up in almost every interview, and it’s not a hostile question, but one asked with deep seriousness and longing:  ‘how can we best hep our friends who are struggling with loss?’.  And though my friends were (and are) incredibly helpful in my loss, I’ve been uncertain of just how reproducible those outcomes might be.
Until recently, when I got a renewed vision for helping others in their loss.

Steve and Rick, keeping the wheels on the Wild Goose. Photo credit:  Geoff Maddock

It was at the Wild Goose Fest in early August in North Carolina.  The organizers had kindly paired me with Frank Schaeffer, intending for us to be a part of a ‘talking circle’ on grief.  As we sat down the day before to make plans for the meeting, Frank was incredibly gracious, insisting that the meeting not be about him (and the recent loss of his famous mother Edith Schaeffer), but about me and my story and the stories of the people gathered with us.



The venue for our talking circle was at the far end of the festival site, the last camping spot at the end of a long road.  Those taking part needed to be very intentional, walking along the muddy path past many other venues and campers to finally arrive at a picnic table on a small spit of land wedged between the river and the railroad tracks.  With only a dozen people in attendance, we quickly dispensed with the formalities.  Frank talked briefly about the recent devastating loss of his dear friend, and I briefly shared  my story and some of my thoughts about grief.  Then we asked anyone who wanted to share to do so.

Author and speaker Frank Schaeffer.

It was amazing.  Folks talked about losses expected and unexpected, and about the heartbreak throughout them all.  A young woman spoke of two suicides she had encountered firsthand.  A man talked about the debilitating mental illness that he knew would eventually kill him. A retired man mourned the loss of his beloved wife in an auto accident, which happened on a trip to counsel a friend through her grief.  An 8-year-old girl talked about her grandmother’s last word– her precious granddaughter’s first name.  “I prayed for God to heal my Grandma,” she said in an even voice, “And he’s been completely silent ever since.”

What was even more remarkable than the openness of those gathered there was the response of everyone.  There were no platitudes, no projection, no uncomfortable minimization of the depth of anyone’s loss, no promise of a happy ending in some sweet by-and-by.  People just honored one another with the gift of silence.  As our time together wound down, my mind was racing as to how to conclude– a prayer?  A poem?  More silence?  Questions which were washed away by the heavy rain that started falling the very minute our time was concluded– the tears of God.

All of which was for me the answer to the question, “What do we do to help one another?”

We want friends.  Not friends who will distract us, or friends who will try to cheer us up.  Not friends who will talk too much, or tell us that everything will be alright.  Friends who know the truth:  we can’t be distracted, and we don’t want to feel better.  We know things won’t be normal, not ever again.  There will be a new normal, and that will be alright.  But we can’t turn back the clock.

What do we want?  We want friends (even friends we’ve just met).  Friends who will sit with us, and listen to us.  Who will cry with us and then just sit in that holy silence that proves that we are not alone.

That’s all.  We want nothing more, and we want nothing less.

Praise for A Force of Will

“Mike Stavlund’s writing grabbed me by the heart and soul from the first paragraph and has yet kept its grip. I literally had to force myself to put his writing down and get back to work; the first thing on my list being to pray Mike had not already found representation. The message of Mike’s book FORCE OF WILL — that God will reckon us to himself by whatever means he sees fit – is one in which anyone who has ever suffered heartbreak will find solace. But I think it’s written even more for those who’ve somehow managed to live any measure of life and yet somehow still deny that heartbreak can be God’s greatest gift.”

Sandra Bishop 2010 ACFW Agent of the Year, Vice-President of MacGregor Literary Group.

“I flew through the initial reading of the manuscript because he's just a damned good writer: intellectual without being pompous, emotional without being cheesy, poetic without being flowery. ... he writes with a beauty and sensitivity to language that makes you whisper parts of his writing to yourself as you read.”

Amy Moffitt Musician, Poet, Discerning Reader.