By Florence Gildea
Circle Books, 2021
Paperback: 104 pages
Reviewed by Amy Rivers
Lessons I Have Unlearned is a short but mighty book packed with insight, wisdom, and vulnerability. Florence Gildea provides an intimate glimpse into her struggles with mental illness and both the subtle and profound ways in which her faith led her toward grace.
According to Gildea, we all have ideas about what we think life will be like – ideas we pick up from books, films, music videos, the adults around us, and even church. We think we have a roadmap that will guide us toward success. But it isn’t long before life throws some curveballs at us. So true, and Gildea doesn’t pull any punches as she dissects the feelings and anxiety that plagued her youth. Instead of suggesting a one-size-fits-all approach solved all her problems, she opens her heart and paints a picture of a young girl struggling to control the circumstances and trajectory of her life.
Her battle with anorexia is a cautionary tale that will resonate with many people, especially women, young and old, who have been fed a continuous stream of external expectations about how they should behave, look, and feel—myths we have absorbed from films, fairytales, advertisements, and songs. When it became clear that her efforts to control every aspect of her diet and appearance not only were not addressing the underlying issues but also threatening her life, Gildea adopted Christianity as a lifeline.
One of the things I love most about this book is the author’s frankness in addressing how she (at first) used Christianity as another means of controlling her life, and the ways in which it backfired. There are countless books on the market telling us that faith is the only thing that can heal us, but Gildea illustrates quite beautifully how religious practice can become a crutch. This level of self-awareness is courageous and humbling.
Asked what she would like readers to gain by reading the book, Gildea says, “I would love to help people see themselves more truly, instead of through the filters which various different sectors in society have given us, and to help them shake off the burdens which they were never meant to carry. I think that’s the basis for people to then be able to relate to each other and God more deeply.” As a reader, I felt this attitude from cover to cover.
In 104 pages, Florence Gildea embarks on a journey of exploration, weaving sociology, scripture, and personal anecdote to illustrate a very important point: we are not alone (not one of us) in this life. Without making assumptions about her readers and without setting her own expectations of us, Gildea lends us her perspective and invites us to open our hearts and minds to a critical truth: when we let go of our illusion of control and embrace our faith, we find grace.
© 2021 by Christian Feminism Today.
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