Let’s face it, we’ve all done something we regret in our lives. Maybe it was the time you lied about the origins of the ding in your parent’s Buick. Maybe this regret is rooted in a weak moment where you found yourself crossing boundaries you never meant to cross…
Maybe you cheated on a Chemistry test…
Maybe you cheated on a spouse…
Maybe you passed gas and blamed it on the dog.
For all of us, the details are all different, but the story is always the same. We acted in the wrong, and because of our actions, we felt that pang of guilt deep in our soul.
“Why did I lie?” we ask.
“How could I be so reckless and self-centered?” we lament.
These laments create in us a desire to crawl into some forgotten corner, or better yet, a shower that will hopefully allow us to scrub ourselves free of the guilt which now covers us like tar.
Guilt. Shame. Regret.
Emotions and feelings we are all too familiar with, and these are emotions and feelings we’re not all too sure how to deal with, and move past.
In “If Only,” Michelle Van Loon attempts to do that very thing.
Things I liked:
If Only is filled with stories and written in an easy narrative form. Mrs. Van Loon fills the pages with story after story from her own life, and in doing so, she puts skin and bones to a topic which is often dealt with in the abstract. If Only isn’t a term paper filled with words with no meaning, rather Mrs. Van Loon has placed pen to paper and brought before the reader the result of her own wounds and experience out in a way which invites the reader, hand in hand, into their own pain, and hopefully, through this pain into a place of healing.
In If Only, Van Loon gives permission to seek help: As Christians, we so often do great damage by over-spiritualizing serious emotional and mental wounds. We offer $5 words and overused maxims about faith and healing, all while ignoring the desperate need for a hurting individual to find healing from men and women trained to help others process and find resolution from the scars that come from their past. Our over-spiritualization of our emotional wounds creates within people a dichotomy: the spiritual self and the hurting self, or our Sunday self, and our Monday self. This attempt at emotional compartmentalization is at odds with the real message of the Gospel…the message that God wants to redeem, not just the Sunday self, but the entire self, and one of the beautiful ways he accomplishes this is through the counseling and therapy. If Only gives its readers the permission to reach out for help.
Oh, how needed is this word in the church today!
Through her story, Van Loon leads us to examine our own baggage: There is no more disarming way to bring a person into the realization of their own deep need for healing than to share how you have found healing yourself. As people, we’re far more interested in learning from someone who has experienced the thing we desperately long for. It’s why an addict finds such solace in the presence of other addicts, and why they find the deepest healing from those who have experience victory over vices of their own. In If Only, Michelle has begun the process of creating a community of sorts. A collaboration of like-minded ragamuffins who are all walking together in their pursuit of healing.
If only is designed for self-reflection: At the end of each chapter, the reader will be invited into a series of questions designed to aid in leading the reader into a deeper understanding of their own self. In what ways do the principles discussed in the chapter intersect with their own lives? How is God interested in redeeming and freeing them? How can I find a deeper healing? The questions are simple, intuitive and greatly aid in driving the messages found on each page home.
What I wished for more of:
If Only stops a step short. There were moments in my reading of If Only that I longed for the message to move to a deeper level, for Mrs. Van Loon and the reader to move away from the Sunshine and into the mess of the Spiritual life. I found that what makes this book engaging and inviting is the very thing that keeps it from entering into the darkness in which our guilt and pain resides.
Now, I do understand the reality that a book can never truly delve into the full darkness of a humans experience. This is the area for God and a trained to probe and pry. However, I still found myself hoping for that next step.
If Only is a beautifully written book, and will be an important work to those who live with the moment-by-moment anxiety and despair over something that they did in their past. Kudos to Mrs. Van Loon for her courage in sharing her story, and for doing it in a way that is engaging and relevant for people today.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Would I recommend this book to others? Absolutely.
More about Michelle:
Michelle Van Loon is the author If Only: Letting Go Of Regret (Beacon Hill Press, 2014) and two books about the parables of Christ. She’s contributed to four recent devotional projects including the Hope In The Mourning Bible (Zondervan). She’s been a church communications director, served on staff at Trinity International University, and currently serves as a consultant for a handful of small faith-based non-profits. She’s currently enrolled part-time at Northern Seminary. She’s married to Bill, and is mother to three and grandmother to two. Her writing focuses on issues of the church and spiritual formation. She blogs at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/pilgrimsroadtrip/.