Noel, Michele (2022) Respect the Path, Meadville, PA: Fulton Books, Inc.
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There’s a very real sense in which love cannot exist if the concept of sin does not exist. In our culture, love seems to mean simply being kind and tolerant and giving. But from the divine perspective, that’s not necessarily love at all. Love from the divine perspective is to will the good for another being. It’s a principle of action, not mere feeling, and the end of that action is to help someone have more good in their life. Of course, the decision to turn to that good can only be the individual’s choice, no matter how much we want them to make that decision, no matter how much we are willing to help them make that decision and follow through with it.

Thus, love cannot exist unless there can be a discrimination between good and evil. If all is a compound in one, as Father Lehi put it, and there is no good and no evil, how could one ever wish the good for another? It would not be possible. The Law of God and the Light of Christ help point us towards the good and away from evil. Indeed, without the Law and the Light, we in our mortal probation would be lost in terms of how to find happiness and peace. In the context of loving others, we’d be reduced to willing whatever is conventional in our cultures for those we love, and that would most certainly include willing some evil for the one we love. I think here of the mothers who broke and bound their little daughters’ feet in imperial China.

The Law and the Light mark certain things as good and others as evil, and condemns that which is evil as “sin.” Thus, without the concept of “sin,” we will not be able to truly love another in the way Heaven defines that verb.

This is why, as a society becomes corrupted, one of the first things attacked is the very idea that something can be a “sin.” In our own culture today, using the word “sin” marks one as beyond the pale, for the new conventional wisdom is that there is no sin in thinking or behaving in any “authentic” fashion. The only real sin is in thinking there is real sin. But in undercutting the very idea of sin, we simultaneously diminish the concept of love in a profound way. The hearts of men grow cold because there can be little real love in a society where anything a man does is no sin.

As Elder Christofferson recently said, “I have long been impressed by, and have also felt, the yearning love of the prophets of God in their warnings against sin. They are not motivated by a desire to condemn. Their true desire mirrors the love of God; in fact, it is the love of God. They love those to whom they are sent, whoever they may be and whatever they may be like. Just as the Lord, His servants do not want anyone to suffer the pains of sin and poor choices.”

If all that is true, then the rubber hits the proverbial road when someone truly loves another who is in the grips of sin. We cannot control that person or their choices, for without agency there is no possibility of fleeing evil and embracing good. At the same time, a recipe of “kindness, tolerance, and giving” is not necessarily “willing the good” for the other person, and may rather enable them to remain in sin. Is it kind, tolerant, and giving to buy a drug addict his fix? Maybe, but it’s certainly not loving. President Nelson has expressed it as follows:

“Boundless mercy can oppose justice. So tolerance, without limit, could lead to spineless permissiveness . . . Real love for the sinner may compel courageous confrontation—not acquiescence! Real love does not support self-destructive behavior” ("Teach Us Tolerance and Love," Ensign, May 1994, p. 71).

Navigating a path that is both compassionate and truly loving in the face of grievous sin is like being on the front lines of a vicious war—there’s no room for cowards there. As Noel puts it, “As in any war where the survival of souls, families, and sanities are at stake, the names of fellow tattered and exhausted heroines who never gave up will line the walls of the grand halls above when the work is done” (9). Amen to that.

Michele Noel has written a book meant to be a companion to those who must negotiate that frontline intersection of love and sin—either as someone who loves another in the grips of sin, or as the person being gripped by sin. Noel is, in her own words, a recovering drug addict and a recovering codependent, as well as a committed Latter-day Saint. Indeed, she even spent some years keeping up appearances of normalcy in her ward while addicted to pain killers. After her recovery, she has been involved in helping hundreds through addiction recovery programs in the Church—and she is a great-grandmother. This is a woman of wisdom, and she is well worth hearkening to in this time of increasing darkness.


Noel’s book is loosely organized around the 12 steps used in recovery programs. Her intended audience is women, for women are often the emotional glue that binds families together, and they thus have a trickier time navigating real love when it clashes with the desire to keep relationships intact and loved ones pleased. The book bears the title it does because “the call is to respect God’s work in perfecting others in their path, even if it includes pain for us” (5).

That pain is rooted in our feelings for the other person. We do not wish to be parted from them, or see the relationship wither. But in some cases, it may become virtually impossible to have a close relationship with someone intent on marching towards hell, because one of you would have to decide to go in the other’s direction for you to stay together, and that person should not be you. To stand fast on that point will create a distance between yourself and the other person—and that distance is not evidence of being unloving. Indeed, it may be the most loving thing you could do—even if it causes you great pain.

And where children are involved, a parent must be prepared to protect them, no matter what the cost is to others, to relationships, or even to themselves. We will stand accountable before God for failing to protect innocent children in our charge.

Noel asserts that it is not only those who have a physiological addiction such as to drugs or alcohol or porn that are addicts. There are also those who, in trying to live with an addict, suffer from a post-traumatic stress syndrome response simply from trying to survive living with craziness. These survivors develop “repetitive thought patterns,” as Noel puts it, which revolve around “guilt, regret, blame, self-pity, dark sadness, shame, fear, anger, depression or anxiety”—just like the addict himself (12). These dysfunctional survival mechanisms are what Noel terms codependency, or co-addiction, and may be as hard to recover from as addiction itself. As Noel expresses it:

“Dysfunctional thinking pathways become as automatic, physical, and desired (often on a subconscious level) as any crave-thinking process experienced by a substance or behavioral addict. It is as if the physical synaptic course of the thought carves a path just as a small stream becomes a large river. With time, this pattern becomes as natural and consistent as breathing. Thought choice is dismissed . . . This pattern or channel becomes rigid over time and gives the sufferer a new sense of hopelessness” (15).

One of the most important keys, then, to recovery is to reintroduce thought-choice, as Noel puts it. We must remember that “our godly DNA provides thought-choice, whether we are exercising that choice or not . . . we [must] believe in our own ability to change how we think” (31). She continues,

“The promise is that our thoughts will no longer condemn, unsettle or control us. No dread, shame, or emotional trigger will overpower us because we have learned how to immediately choose and employ faith when a threatening thought enters our conscious mind. We cannot control what pops onto the stage of our minds, but we certainly can control how it affects us and how long it hangs around” (29).

To do this, we must develop our capability to exercise control over our thoughts. Noel rightly observes, “with no active defense in place, we are left with the natural desire to do whatever is required to stop the pain. If a substance or behavior has been our relief of choice, we desperately seek that relief. When the thought becomes repetitive, then the go-to place is the sought-out relief thought pattern” (32).

Noel offers several good techniques for reasserting control over our thoughts and short-circuiting our thought “ruts.” These include techniques for developing greater mindfulness about what thoughts are arising in our minds and why. She also includes an excellent discussion of ways to short-circuit the repetitive thought as it attempts to make its full lap around our minds and hearts. Physical movement and verbalization are two methods of doing so. Lastly, she discusses how to replace old thoughts with new ones. All of this is very hard work, and it will seem futile for the first while. This is part of the hard work of recovery that we must choose to undertake if we are to heal. Every success brings greater strength.

Thought-work must be matched by what Noel calls “hope-work.” She quotes Elder Richard G. Scott saying, “Satan will press you to continue to relive the details of past mistakes knowing that such thoughts make forgiveness unattainable. In this way, Satan attempts to tie strings to the mind and body so that he can manipulate you like a puppet” (50). Long ago, I learned for myself that hope was actually the foundation of all good things, including faith and charity. While we sometimes view hope as the least of these three sisters, I now reject that view. It takes active, heroic choice and also God’s grace to feel hope, and without it no other virtue is possible. (Indeed, I named one of my daughters Hope for this very reason.) And when hope shines, it withers noxious weeds such as shame and despair. One of the most powerful forms of hope-work is a study of the Atonement. There can be no greater justification for hope than that profound act of love which reverberates through all space and all time. And there is no surer way to feel hope than to cultivate gratitude for that great and eternal sacrifice.

With that hope comes an added gift: a feeling of safety that we may not have ever truly felt in our lives before. As Noel explains, “When women finally reach the point [that] they are absolutely secure in their relationship with their Savior, they know they will be safe no matter what happens” (88). And what happens when a woman finally feels safe? “These women then become a power of unstoppable faith, fearless and determined” (88).

When we become like these women, our attitude towards pain or other negative emotions transforms. Typically, we want only relief from these things. And yet, they are God’s greatest teachers. Here’s Noel on the subject:

“Our culture swims in anti-hope . . . We have come to a sad place where pain is the enemy instead of the motivator and teacher. Instant relief is demanded . . . We demand the same thing regarding anxiety, depression, or manic pain of the mind. We want relief from the pain instead of using pain as an indicator that we may need to change our behaviors, thinking, or core responses to life” (108).

Using hope as our sturdy friend, if we can begin to see negative emotions and feelings as teachers, we will truly begin to surrender to the Lord’s plan for us. We will let these negative things teach us so that we may come out on the other side where there is both joy and wisdom waiting. For it is these negative feelings that bring us to the point of change—contentment and ease certainly cannot bring us there. Realizing this, and surrendering to the lessons being taught, and putting those lessons to work in changing our lives, is true meekness, according to Noel. That is the path the Savior trod, and which He invites us to walk, as well (120).


Noel suggests we ensure we have these two tools in our kit: boundary-setting and detaching with love. Both are means to ensure we get out of the way of God’s tutoring of a soul suffering in sin. And both are very difficult for the co-dependent that is not willing to risk a relationship, even for the sake of love. Co-dependents try to control the addict to stop the pain, both the addict’s pain and that of the one who loves them. But as Noel puts it, “codependent responses halt the addict’s path to Christ. Any manipulation of the free agency of another is against the eternal law of gaining knowledge as one seeks knowledge . . . Addicts in recovery all testify of the moment when they ‘came to themselves’ as the conscious decision that life in addiction is worse than the effort it takes to work recovery” (75).

Noel offers many examples of boundary-setting, such as not loaning them money, or paying their rent, or allowing addicts to live with you, or rescuing them from a life on the streets, or bailing them out, or giving them a place to crash. And it also means setting boundaries for yourself of not explaining, not bribing or begging, or not whining or arguing with or shaming them. The ability to express empathy and love without enabling is key to setting healthy boundaries. In this way, “we can let God have His way with our loved ones” (81).

As Noel explains, “healthy relationships cannot remain healthy without healthy boundaries! With well-developed self-boundaries in place, we have a built-in protection against the demeaning behaviors of any other person . . . we know how to put consequences in place for those who cross those boundaries . . . [Boundaries] are the kindest thing we can do for our addicted loved ones. Addicts often benefit immensely from proper boundaries set by family and friends, even when the addict does not respect the boundaries . . . [Remember], the Lord is the author of boundary setting. He sets clear boundaries about what is needed [to live] in His Heavenly kingdom” (104, 125).

If boundaries are crossed, then the second tool is needed: the ability to detach with love. This often involves a real physical detachment, such as sleeping apart, or living separately. Only by facing such consequences can the truth of what is happening because of the addiction be clearly seen. It takes a valiant heart to be able to detach with love, and it involves detaching without negotiations, bargaining, shaming, or begging. In the case of physical abuse, it absolutely means calling the police and prosecuting. Noel describes what this feels like: “I can love you deeply and learn to set correct boundaries and consequences and feel safe in my own space . . . I have learned to let go of your Recovery path and let God take care of you. I trust that he is in your life and will help you find your way . . . I can remain kind and loving but firm in carrying out the consequences set for any boundaries you may cross” (128).


There are other good tidbits in Noel’s book. For the fainthearted, she points out that, “Some days we may feel that we only have the strength to decide to begin” (58). If we think of all we must do to fully recover, we may become fatally daunted. It is better to stay in the undaunted zone, so that our path seems walkable. My own personal motto has become, “I will make better mistakes tomorrow.”

Noel also helpfully discusses the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation, which is something about which I have also written. Forgiveness is about you and God; it need not involve your abuser at all. And forgiveness does not inevitably lead to reconciliation in this life. God does not want us to return to a situation where we may be abused once more. It is important for family members to work these things out in clarity about what forgiveness is, and what it is not.

Noel reserves an entire chapter to the issue of pornography, which is highly addictive. Unfortunately, not only is pornography ubiquitous, the attitudes of young people have shifted from thinking it shameful to seeing it as harmless and normal. Noel asserts, “Every informed bishop that we have worked with has told us that 100 percent of their youth males and an alarming number of youth females are struggling with pornography” (46). That is indeed a very depressing thought. Not only are these young people becoming addicted, they are addicted to something that will rob them of the ability to see each other as respected equals, and to be able to truly love the other. When our world ends, a lot of the blame will go to internet porn.

Noel also speaks extensively of the need for self-honesty. Recovery and healing are not even possible unless we are prepared to be honest with ourselves. Here is where an eternal perspective becomes so important. We are here on this planet to learn, and that means we must make missteps. And God knows we must make missteps, and has a plan of redemption so that we may come back Home despite our missteps if we repent. This is a strong and sturdy plan—it’s a plan we can trust with our whole hearts. In that context, why would we be afraid to take an honest look at ourselves? Such honesty, while painful, can only speed us along the path. It cannot take us off the path. A soul that is honest with itself is a teachable soul. A redeemable soul.

Lastly, Noel waxes eloquent about our need to “respect the path,” our own path with all its twists and turns, as well as the path of others in this school of hard knocks: “The circumstance of mind or heart or physical situations of all parties involved has brought us to this present place. We cannot change the past; we do not know the future . . . What matters most [is] what we think the purposes of the current circumstances are and what we think about the future . . . We should always seek and choose a good path, but not all of us will learn what is needed on what we would call a “good path . . . Knowing that, can we judge [another’s] path as one [they] should not have taken?” (80–81, 137). The path actually does not matter if it ends in the celestial kingdom. Noel continues:

“We respect the path our lives have taken and will yet take. We respect the path that every other person is taking or will take, even when we think it is a dangerous one. We may ask, “How can we agree with someone’s unrighteous path?” We do not need to agree with the path; we are merely accepting that their path is vital for their learning. We are not condoning bad behavior or ridiculous choices. We can separate our judgments from our love of others . . . I have seen paths move from the filth of street-thinking to being fully lit by the Savior’s light” (161).

Amen, Michele Noel! For those on the path to recovery, or for those who only have the strength to decide to begin, this book may be a boon. Learn from this Wise Woman.

Full Citation for this Article: Cassler, V.H. (2022) "Book Review: “Respect the Path” by Michele Noel," SquareTwo, Vol. 15 No. 1 (Spring 2022),, accessed <give access date>.

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