No Cause for Celebration: Question Four of Ten

   Taking The Dave Test during the Holidays

                                    Question Four: “Can I admit that some things will never get better?”


Introduction to the series

Much of the last year was thread through with considerable loss.  My brother, Dave, battled a fatal brain cancer for nearly eight years and he died this last January as the result of a fall that was due in large part to his disease.  He would have been 58 years old in October.

In reaction to Dave’s quest to find a durable faith and supportive friends, I wrote a book called The Dave Test, which was just released by Abingdon Press The book distills Dave’s quest into ten questions that any of us can ask ourselves, when we are in one of life’s hard places or when we are trying to support those we love.  Whether that hard place revolves around divorce, death, unemployment, abuse, illness, or some other misfortune, I hope that the questions I ask and the answers the book offers will help us all sit a bit more easily with life’s ragged edges.

Over ten weeks I plan to apply the questions in The Dave Test to our preparation for the holidays.  At this time of year for many there is — as the expression goes — “no cause for celebration.”  But I am convinced that there is reason for hope and I don’t believe that we need to navigate the holidays alone.  I hope that the book and this application of The Dave Test’s  principles to the holidays will help ease the sense of isolation that is so much a part of life for many of us at this time of year.


This week’s Dave Test question: “Can I admit that some things will never get better?”

“Cheer up, it could be worse.”  Of course it could be and it often is — for someone, somewhere.  Pick any day of the week, including the holidays and there are people for whom life will never get any better.  Loved ones will be lost, jobs will vanish, relationships will implode.   There is no getting over those experiences.  As one expert puts it, there are times when the best we can do is “re-learn the world.”

So, why do we find it so hard to admit that is the case when we, or someone we love suffers a devastating loss?   The reasons vary.

For some, admitting that things will never get better is fundamentally a matter of denial.  The shock of finding ourselves in a world that is forever changed is too hard to absorb.  So, we go on asserting that “things will get better,” or they are “a blessing in disguise.”  At times, we can be so deeply shocked and frightened by life’s realities that it is easier to believe that things will somehow snap back into place.

Some fear that acknowledging the truth about our losses will lead to despair.  So, in an effort to spare ourselves or to spare a friend, we delay admitting the truth.  My brother struggled a lot with people who refused to admit that things would never improve.  He knew better the day that his MRI detected the brain tumor that destroyed his eyesight.

Others have specifically religious reasons for postponing the moment of honesty.  Strangely, many of us are taught that in some sort of emotional or spiritual slight of hand, if we leave open the possibility that the world around us will return to normal, then we have done our part in being faithful.  Conversely, we are taught that if we tell the truth about how little chance there is that some things will change then we aren’t being faithful and we have actively foreclosed on the possibility of God intervening.

Whatever our reasons for failing to admit that sometimes things will not get better, we are living at odds with a fundamental truth about our lives: We are mortal and everything in this life — however good — comes to an end.  The greatest of our holidays and the greatest of our religious traditions understand this truth and derive hope, courage, and perspective on life.  But that can’t be achieved without first owning this truth.

When we do own that truth, we learn what really matters in life, we get a clearer sense of what endures and what does not, we reclaim the importance of love and relationships, and we discover what “faith in the love of God” really means.  Celebrate the holidays with communities that can admit that sometimes life is lived out in those thin places where things are not going to change.




For more on taking The Dave Test during the holidays:


Question One: “Can I say life sucks?”


Question Two: “Can I give up my broken gods?”


Question Three: “Can I avoid using stained-glass language?”


To read more about The Dave Test, or to order a copy:


(Click on the book to order)


About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, including forty-four entries in Doubleday’s Anchor Bible Dictionary, as well as articles in Feminist Theology and The Scottish Journal of Theology. He is author of A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). His latest work, The Dave Test (Abingdon Press) will appear in the autumn of 2013. He is also the series editor for the new Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series.

From 2000-2012, he worked as Director of Spiritual Life and Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. As one of Perkins’ senior administrators, Dr. Schmidt was responsible for programs in formation, serving over 500 students. He developed the School's program in Spiritual Direction which has thus far served over 150 students from across the country; the program in Anglican and Episcopal studies; and the spiritual formation track in the Doctor of Ministry program. Prior to his arrival at SMU, he served as Canon Educator, Director of Programs in Spirituality and Religious Education, and Acting Program Area Manager at Washington National Cathedral. In this capacity Dr. Schmidt was responsible for the development of a program of religious education and spirituality that annually provided resources for broad-based audiences of over 5000 adults. He also designed and produced workshops and seminars for ecumenical and interfaith constituencies; hosted foreign dignitaries from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union on behalf of the Meridian Institute; and developed the programmatic work and daily operations of the Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. Before going to the Cathedral, Dr. Schmidt served as special assistant to the President and Provost of La Salle University in Philadelphia and as a Fellow of the American Council on Education. From 1994 to 1995, he resided in Jerusalem, where he was Dean of St. George’s College and Residentiary Canon of the Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr. He has also served in numerous parishes, including St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, All Saints Episcopal Church in Hershey, Pennsylvania and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas.

His work in higher education includes service as associate professor of New Testament Studies, as a lecturer in New Testament studies at Oxford University, and as a tutor at Keble College, Oxford. He has been a guest lecturer at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland and the Southwestern Medical Center at the University of Texas, Dallas.

Dr. Schmidt holds a bachelor’s degree from Asbury College, the Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University. His honors include a Fellowship in administrative leadership with the American Council on Education; a Senior Fellowship with the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research; the Young Scholars Fellowship presented by the Catholic Biblical Association; nomination to Class XI of the Clergy Leadership Project, sponsored by Trinity Church, Wall Street; the Angus Dun Fellowship (Episcopal Diocese of Washington); and an Ecumenical Service Award given by Christian Churches United (an ecumenical organization covering a tri-county area and based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). He is a recipient of the F. W. Dillstone Scholarship awarded by Oriel College, Oxford; the Hall Houghton Studentship awarded by the Theology Faculty of Oxford University; and an Overseas Research Student Award, presented by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom. Dr. Schmidt is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. From 1998 to 2000 he served as a member of the Institutional Review Board for Heart, Lung and Blood Research at the National Institutes of Health and he currently serves on two Data Safety Monitoring Boards for NIH. He is Secretary-Treasurer of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars and a member of the Board of Examining Chaplains for the Episcopal Church, USA.

In addition to his work in the academy and the church Dr. Schmidt currently serves as a patient safety and ethics consultant on Data Safety Monitoring Boards for the National Institutes of Health and Allergan, Inc.

He lives with his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), and Hilda of Whitby, their Gordon Setter.