Book Review: I Can Only Imagine

I Can Only Imagine
by Bart Millard
Read by the author

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Singer and songwriter Bart Millard, lead singer of the band MercyMe, shares the full story of the band’s best-known song, “I Can Only Imagine.” Though this story was shared with the world through the movie by the same name, as Millard explains at the beginning of the book, a movie has time constraints that a book does not; thus, the book is able to go into more detail about Millard’s relationship with his abusive dad and his dad’s transformation shortly before his death.

You know how a song can be so popular, played so often, that you almost start to not care about it, even though you thought it was a great song when you first heard it. I won’t pretend I enjoy “I Can Only Imagine” as much now as I did when it was first released in 2001. But reading this book definitely puts the song in a whole new light. Though it sounds like Bart Millard has told the story about his abusive-turned-repentant dad many times over those years, I don’t recall ever hearing it, and I haven’t seen the movie. And wow, it is quite the heartbreaking story. From the physical and mental abuse to the (worse in some ways) checking out of his dad later, Bart Millard has every reason to be traumatized. And to know that it has continued to affect him in more recent years, even while playing music to large crowds, of which, at various times, I’ve been a part, only adds to the sadness.

I am incredibly grateful for so much of the music that Bart Millard has written and that the band has recorded, and I think it’s important for “fans” to keep in mind that these are real people with real problems. They often seem like they have it all together, like they have all the answers, to the degree where even when they’re standing on the stage telling us that they’ve had some rough times, we imagine those rough times to be over, because otherwise, how could they be standing there in front of us leading us in worship? We assume that whatever problems they have can’t be as bad as our own, and maybe by the time they get to writing a book like this, they’ve got it all sorted out. But most likely, Bart Millard will continue to struggle with PTSD and the feelings of inadequacy that his dad instilled in him, while thanking God that he had some good times with him before it was too late.

I listened to the audiobook, because I wanted to hear the words in the author’s own voice. I’m incredibly glad I listened to the book, and though I’ll probably never quite think of MercyMe songs the same way again, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Find out more about I Can Only Imagine and MercyMe

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!