On Becoming a Reader...
I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember. In junior high, while other girls were collecting scrunchies and Swatch watches, I was curating a summer reading list and dreaming about Black Beauty and Anne of Green Gables. Great stories can provide an escape from reality and fascinating insight into other people’s realities. I have learned so much about life and people from reading terrific fiction books.
It was non-fiction that I could not “get into.” I mean, where is the fun in that? No plot, no character development, no climax that keeps me up way past my bedtime because I must know what will happen…non-fiction was the brussels sprouts of the reading world. A total snore.
But in my twenties, when I started to get serious about my faith, I realized that reading fiction could only get me so far. I needed to read some books that could help me grow in my relationship with Christ and apply God’s Word to my everyday life. I needed some brussels sprouts.
So I tried this book, and that book, but I could never “get into” the books. My mind would wander within ten minutes and I would give up before getting halfway through the book. I felt like a shallow Christian and a terrible failure. I’m a reader, for goodness sake! Why couldn’t I read these books? Didn’t I care about growing in my faith?
Of course I did. But reading nonfiction is different from reading fiction, and it turned out that those books needed a different approach. They still do. I don’t take C.S. Lewis to the beach or spend hours in a hammock with a Timothy Keller book. Those books require more focused attention and I need to eat them in smaller bites.
So, in case you are anything like me and have perhaps struggled with reading “deeper” books, I thought I would share the practice that has helped me digest everything from A.W. Tozer to Philip Yancey: Read it devotionally. No, I don’t mean buy a devotional of C.S. Lewis quotes or Charles Spurgeon sermons (although both of those are good things); I mean, find a big ‘ol book that you really want to read but can’t seem to “get into” and just read a couple pages a day. Maybe only one.
Take some pressure off yourself. Stop worrying about getting through a chapter and read a little bit at a time. Read until something strikes you as particularly interesting and then stop. Underline it. Think about it and maybe jot a few thoughts in your journal. If you don’t journal, then decide to think about that idea a little more while you do your hair or wash the dishes. Chew before swallowing. There is no point in reading a book designed to make you think if you never actually stop to think about it.
Reading the work of deep thinkers will make you a deeper thinker. In just a few pages a day, you will find your thoughts turning more toward heavenly things and less toward The Bachelor. You will find that you have enriched the soil of your heart so that the seeds of Scripture have fertile ground in which to grow. You will find that your faith grew in between pages and that you have more to talk about at dinner parties. And maybe, just maybe, you will discover that nonfiction can keep you up past your bedtime because it is more fun than you ever imagined. Maybe.
If you’re wondering where to begin, here are a few books that I have enjoyed in smaller bites:
Traveling Light, by Max Lucado
If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, by John Ortberg
Your God is Too Safe, by Mark Buchanan
The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning
Jesus Mean & Wild, by Mark Galli
Of course, you can jump right to the classics, like:
The Knowledge of the Holy, by A.W. Tozer
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence
Hearing God, by Dallas Willard
Whichever you choose to read, read it slowly. Don’t expect to ingest it like a novel. Chew on it and ask God to help you integrate what you are learning into your life. You will be blessed (and you just might become a reader)!