It takes great courage to write about a topic when you are still living it. Usually authors share their experience when it is past tense. Doing so allows them to control the outcome and present a cleanly resolved plot. K. J. Ramsey, author of This Too Shall Last: Finding Grace When Suffering Lingers, knows that sharing her ongoing journey with chronic illness is bucking literary convention, hence the opening line in her book:
“This book is not a before and after story.”
This Too Shall Last is part memoir, part psychological study. Ramsey shares her journey with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful autoimmune disease that causes joint inflammation and stiffness. She uses her experience with this disease to write about pain—physical, mental, and spiritual. But Ramsey takes her examination further than most Christian Living books. Where most authors use suffering as an obstacle to overcome, Ramsey portrays it as a foil that reveals God’s faithfulness, reminding readers that God remains near even if healing doesn’t arrive.
Beyond Personal Experience
When it comes to the issue of suffering, Ramsey’s expertise derives from more than her personal health. She is also a licensed therapist with a master’s degree from Denver Seminary. She helps clients with a wide range of mental health issues, specializing in those with chronic illness. Her education and research are evident throughout her book, which pairs her personal stories with quotes and studies from experts in fields ranging from theology to neurobiology.
Most of Ramsey’s chapters begin in narrative form. She vulnerably shares many difficult experiences from her life, including frustration with dismissive doctors, impatience at insensitive comments from fellow churchgoers, and the despair that led her to confess to her husband that she didn’t want to live anymore. The stories, though painful, are engaging and well told. Each one ends too soon. As I read, I found myself wanting the stories to continue. But Ramsey uses each tale as more than a relatable anecdote. Within her chapters, she also shares tools to help readers understand how our minds and bodies handle difficult situations.
This book is a crucial resource for the church, as we do not have a great track record when it comes to serving those who suffer. Ramsey admits, “Church is where I’ve felt most alone and most alive.” Some Christians told Ramsey that her illness was the result of unrepentant sin or lack of faith. There were times during church where she felt unseen, like when she attended services emphasizing only stories of miracles or days when she was too sick to stand for worship and was the only person sitting.
But as a woman of deep faith—and a pastor’s wife—she also begs readers to hold “hope for the body of Christ, even as we name the ways she has unknowingly failed us.” Her hope for the church is that it will share the stories of faithful suffering as often as it does miracles; that it will emphasize how Jesus can sustain us in the midst of trial, not just help us overcome. Only then can believers adequately understand the full mystery of God’s strength. Only then will those who suffer see themselves represented in the body of Christ and feel assured of their self-worth.
An Important Resource
This Too Shall Last is a must read for any Christian experiencing physical or mental illness, but it is just as relevant for believers in general. We need to learn to better care for each other. We also need to learn how to better lean into our own suffering.
If you are weary of books with slap-happy endings, with stories that feel too big or emotional to be relatable, This Too Shall Last will restore your love for nonfiction. You will not find theatrics, but grounded-ness. Depth. Patience. And beautiful language woven by a skilled writer.
It is not a before-and-after story, but a book for right now. Ramsey invites readers into her suffering so that, wherever they are in life, they can see God’s goodness reflected in an unhealed body and know that he continues to sustain, as long as the journey lasts.
Cover image by Anton Darius.