With Or Without Me: A Memoir of Losing and Finding

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter


With Or Without Me: A Memoir of Losing and Finding


Esther Maria Magnis (translated by Alta L. Price)


Plough Publishing

Publication Date:

March 22, 2022




201 pages


Esther Maria Magnis was fifteen when her parents told her that her father had untreatable cancer. The doctors predicted he had less than a year to live. Magnis already had a complicated relationship with faith—at that time, church often seemed superficial or distant. As her father’s health worsened, she found she desperately wanted God to answer her prayers, but wasn’t sure why he wasn’t answering them. She details this journey and the spiritual questions she struggled with after her father’s death… and a few years later, when one of her brothers contracted cancer in his 20s.

Memoirs about losing faith after losing a loved one aren’t new. What many readers may not have experienced is Magnis’ brutally honest depiction of her struggle with God, and with people (religious and secular) who gave cheap answers when she craved substance. Various Christian writers have circled these ideas in their books about suffering. K.J. Ramsey makes acerbic comments in This Too Shall Last about vapid questions (“have you prayed for healing?”) people ask about her chronic illness. Pete Greig discusses in God on Mute how he came to a hard-won understanding that God doesn’t always answer our prayers for healing but often does something else… and the Christian author who told him not to write about that because it isn’t encouraging. These writers recognize that cheap sympathy and cute answers don’t help the hurting in the long run. Magnis makes that message central to her discussion, which proves quite refreshing. She shows that it’s possible to talk about being angry with God, about being angry with vapid religious people… and also recognize that God is still there.

The second half of Magnis’ story (returning to God after years of doubt and anger, then new spiritual struggles when her brother contracted cancer) is equally compelling. She describes how she realized that as angry as she was at God, living like God didn’t exist meant living in an unlivable position (believing that there wasn’t any truth). One has to believe in God to have any concept of truth—even to understand the evil that made one angry in the first place. Her journey back to faith parallels ideas that various Christian apologists have discussed, but she takes an experiential approach. Occasionally she even uses creative nonfiction tools (imagining her cynicism as a laughing clown who reacts to her changing views, mocking her attempts to find meaning in life) to depict her inner journey. The result is visceral and engaging.

When she shifts to talking about what she learned about faith from her brother’s cancer journey, she shows that rediscovering faith doesn’t necessarily lead to a worry-free life. Suffering is guaranteed in this life, and going through one dark spiritual journey doesn’t mean more trials won’t come. However, Magnis’ journey with her brother proves to be something more than a retread of her experience with her father. New lessons are learned, and while some questions remain unanswered, faith remains. In some ways, the fact that Magnis ends the book talking about her brother (instead of a more inspiring ending where she stopped a few chapters early) is refreshing. Not all stories have a Hallmark ending. The fact that life can take another dark turn just when the dust has settled… and yet, at that moment, we find our faith is still there, putting down new roots, is redemptive in a way that Pollyanna endings cannot provide.

A mesmerizing, compelling story about loss, family, and faith.


Rating (1 to 5 stars):

5 stars

Suggested Audience:

Christians seeking an honest reflection on learning to trust God when he doesn’t answer prayers for healing, on facing the problem of evil, and learning what faith looks like after experiencing a loss.

Christian Impact:

Magnis refuses to give easy answers about her difficult faith journey, leading to life-giving answers in ways a cuter treatment wouldn’t provide.


With or Without Me: A Memoir of Losing and Finding


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