A Review of Jamie Ivey’s “If You Only Knew”
I think everyone’s got a skeleton or two in their closet. I know I certainly do. This isn’t the time or place to really talk about the bad I’ve done in my life, but, suffice to say, it’s enough that I was curious about Jamie Ivey’s If You Only Knew. The book — while aimed more so at women readers — is about all those sordid mistakes you’ve made in the past, and how you might be able to come through them to a place of peace. Given that the author is a conservative Christian from Texas, you know the answer to the predicament: Jesus.
I’m not going to admonish the author for her beliefs, because that’s not how I roll. But after reading John Shelby Spong’s upcoming book Unbelievable, I had a hard time reconciling God and/or Jesus as a supernatural person living in the clouds up in the sky. This version of God is sort of what Ivey presents to us, so, whether you like it or not, that aspect of the book is something you’re going to have to sit with. That said, there are still parts of If You Only Knew that are relevant to everyone, no matter what your leanings are in the culture wars. Take away the atonement theology and doctrine of sin that Ivey believes in, and you’d have a book that liberals like myself wouldn’t have too much of a hard time swallowing. (That said, I think this is a book best suited for conservative evangelicals.)
Ivey has a folksy style of writing that is woman-to-woman, and she does have a fascinating story to tell. Being a conservative Christian, she talks of her regrets of becoming sexually active at the age of 16, getting pregnant twice in her late teens and early 20s, and suffering two heart-wrenching miscarriages. You can see, given her background, why her story may be problematic to share. At the same time, progressive Christians like me may feel for the author, because this “shame” (her words) that she’s lived with really isn’t all that bad at all. If she didn’t live in a patriarchal conservative Christian culture, she may have realized that birth control (rather than trying to abstain, which is what her church taught her) may have been a viable option. If Ivey lives with any shame, it should be that the very religion that has given her her freedom from her past also saddled her with poor education around expressing her sexuality in a healthy way at a younger age.
I really wanted to reach out to the author and tell her, “The pain and torment of suffering miscarriages aside, your story really isn’t all that horrible.” There are far worse “sins” (again, the author’s terminology) to commit. In all her sexual encounters, for example, she was in a monogamous relationship. For two, and I lightly kid here, she never put an icepick between the eyes of any of her lovers. I don’t want to make light of the fact that she lost two children, but, really, is having pre-martial sex a really bad thing? My take is that God has got bigger fish to fry when it comes down to it: what you do in bed and when and who you do it with shouldn’t really be an issue with God if you’re consenting adults.
That all said, there are parts of If You Only Knew that are astounding for their honesty. The part of the book where Ivey spends some time talking about her addiction to pornography as a woman is startling, if not refreshing to hear. I also liked the way Ivey talked about being vulnerable with other people, which allowed her to really move into a more loving, committed relationship with the man she would eventually marry. Beyond theological leanings, my only complaint about If You Only Knew is that Ivey can be a bit jokey at times — probably in a move to lighten the mood a little on what would otherwise be a pretty dead serious topic. It strikes the reader, though, that the author might be lacking a little confidence in the story she’s weaving, but, given her background and the audience she’s probably really writing for (ie. evangelicals), one can see how humor might be needed to defuse the powder keg she is lighting with her tale.
Also noteworthy is the author’s talk of wearing letters that she’s pinned to herself, even if it’s a scarlet “W” for whore. It’s a stark reminder that we are probably most judgmental of ourselves, and that’s something that everyone needs to hear — no matter their theological or political leanings. Thus, even though parts of If You Only Knew weren’t really for me — I don’t believe that Jesus died for my sins, thanks, because that would mean that God is a punitive God, and who needs a punitive God in their lives, right? — there were still some takeaways. In a sense, If You Only Knew reminds us that we are all worthy of being redeemed for the wrongs we’ve done, and there actually aren’t any real wrongs that you can do that aren’t forgivable to some degree.
In the end, If You Only Knew is for those who have the skeletons in their closet (probably you) and still hold dear to conservative doctrines of the church (maybe not you). Though it doesn’t present a version of God that is aligned with my beliefs, at no point does Ivey judge — so neither should I. Read this book, then, if you want to hear one woman’s story of being at inner war with herself and how she was able to move past that. It may not be for everyone, but If You Only Knew is worth reading for those who have secrets locked away, and are wondering how to bring them out into the open to fully banish them.
Jamie Ivey’s If You Only Knew: My Unlikely, Unavoidable Story of Becoming Free will be published by B&H Publishing Group on January 30, 2018.
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