Jennie Pollock, If Only: Finding Joyful Contentment in the Face of Lack and Longing (Good Book Company, 2020)
If only I had said yes to that job offer. If only I had said no to this house share. If only I was married. If only I wasn’t married. It’s not difficult to re-imagine life under different circumstances. With one or two tweaks here and there, a person can create a far better reality than their current situation.
Christians are not immune from if only thinking, and it this mindset that Jennie Pollock challenges. After sharing her understanding of contentment, she asks the reader three fundamental questions: Is God good? Is God enough? And Is God worth it? How we answer these questions at heart level, argues the author, determines our ability to grow in contentment irrespective of circumstance.
The author writes from personal experience. Jennie has always desired to be married, have children, and be content as a stay-at-home mother. But none of these longings have come to fruition. This book is a result of her resolve to face and address the sense of lack in her life and explore the fullness of life that the Bible promises to all who believe. Although the author presents a different challenge, Christians addressing same-sex attraction will find much to help them learn how to live from a place of plenty rather than paucity.
‘We want to know what life in general, and our life in particular, is all about. What’s the point? What is it all for? Without a sense of being part of a greater narrative our lives seem at best impoverished, and at worst completely hopeless.’ (p.80)
All six chapters adopt a similar pattern. The author offers several pages of teaching followed by questions concluding with a short testimony illustrating the points made. This method works well, and the questions are designed to unearth any faulty thinking we may be unwittingly harbouring. I could certainly see this book being used within a small group setting.
Jennie does not shirk from addressing tough questions.
‘And yet, if we’re honest, the questions still remain. If he can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3v20) and he does love us, how do we process that when it seems he is withholding good things from us?’ (p.22).
The author argues that the most essential element in learning contentment is to know God more fully and more intimately. It is within this relationship that we learn, appreciate, and trust that God’s understanding and outworking of good can be vastly different from our own.
Using scriptural illustrations as well as personal testimony, Jennie considers a person’s short-term needs against long-term blessings. Comparing the attitude of Esau – relinquishing his inheritance for a bowl of stew – with Jesus – who resisted all temptation to just take the effortless way – the author illustrates the importance of priority and submission.
I found chapter 5 most helpful as it addressed the importance of choice. Do I hold on and be defined by my lack, or do I let go and explore the reality of being a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17)? Do I choose to be weighed down by my own unfulfilled desires or choose to live from a base of gratitude for what I do possess?
At no point does the author minimise a person’s wants or needs, but this book’s aim is to encourage the reader to consider other ways in which those desires can be fulfilled. She cites how her desires for motherhood are currently being channelled into spiritual parenting, her home-making skills feed her life-group every week, and her desire for a husband has drawn her into greater dependency and intimacy with the Lord.
Does Jennie conclude that her life is now one of unrestrained joy and satisfaction? Well, no, and that is what makes the book worth reading. There are still times that longing, pain and disappointment appear as unwelcome visitors, but true contentment, she concludes, is found in being more passionate about Jesus and the wellbeing of others than in the fulfilment of self.
‘The bigger our view of God, the more we find our commitment to his will growing. As we cease being consumed by our own wants and needs, we find ourselves beginning to care about what is on God’s heart.’ (p.138)
‘If only’ thinking is common to all. Whether it is simply an occasional fleeting thought or a burdensome mindset, Jennie Pollock’s book will be of help. Pastors, small group leaders, and even friends will find that it readily exposes points for consideration, discussion, and follow-up action. It would be an excellent addition to your bookshelf.