"The institutional crap doesn't mean anything to them," my brother observes.

Both men—and others whom I have met—are people who pass what I've started calling the Dave Test.

The Dave Test is a set of ten questions you can ask yourself when life sucks or before you talk to someone whose life is in the same sort of place. It is a test that will keep you from

  1. Thinking and saying hurtful things
  2.  Looking for comfort at the expense of others
  3. Using stained-glass language
  4. Defending broken ideas about God

It is a test that will keep you

  1. Honest about just how harrowing life can be
  2. Present to your friends
  3. In touch with God

What we are told and what we say to others when life goes to hell can be crushing or comforting. It can ring true, or it can sound like a pack of lies. If you are looking for God, honesty, answers, direction, and peace (or if you are trying to help others find them), then apply the Dave Test before you open your mouth or believe what you are told. No flinching, squinting, or sugarcoating the truth.

Each chapter of this book is devoted to one of the ten Dave Test questions:

  1. Can I say, "Life sucks"?
  2. Can I give up my broken gods?
  3. Can I avoid using stained-glass language?
  4. Can I admit that some things will never get better?
  5. Can I give up trading in magic and superstition?
  6. Can I stop blowing smoke?
  7. Can I say something that helps?
  8. Can I grieve with others?
  9. Can I walk wounded?
  10. Can I be a friend?

In each chapter I tackle one of those ten questions, offering some thoughts about how you might find your own, more durable answers and deeper ways of living and exploring answers that might be misleading or hurtful.

I invite you to use the Dave Test not just to examine the value of what you think, do, and say. I urge you to use the questions to craft a different way of living and caring for yourself and for others.

The Dave Test is not a method. No one ever saved a friend by arming oneself with the right answers or by making compassionate noises. What we need when we suffer are companions who are, by nature, able to walk with us and love us. Each of those people will look a bit different. Some of them will look very different from what you might expect.

When I shared an earlier draft of this introduction with Dave, he sent it along to one of his friends who wrote back:

Thanks, buddy! It reads well and is embarrassingly kind toward your two asshole friends. Doesn't he know how we laughed when you fell in the lake in Canada? . . . Yes, he mentions going to the shooting range, but why doesn't he mention that we comment that you can't see for shit? ... P.S. Where are you? Are you and your truck available on Friday afternoon? And don't give me shit about being out of town or not feeling well. This is all about me.

There is no prescription for caring this way, and this version of caring might not be your cup of tea (or bottle of beer). You may not like the language or this kind of humor. For example, my wife would not talk to her friends the same way that some guys talk to one another.