Letting God Lead, Reading Thematically and Being Brave (Reading Well – pt. 2)

Reading for me is a deeply spiritual thing. How could it not be? The ideas and topics I choose to allow into my heart and brain stay with and shape me long after I put the book down. So, as a follower of Jesus, I sometimes pray about what I should read. Not all the time. I sometimes read things for no other reason than I am interested in a topic -and I often read just for pleasure. (Rachel Ray’s magazine is my guilty pleasure)

But I have also learned to listen for a bump in my heart when I come across certain titles and topics. I recognize that during different seasons of life, I am more tender and open towards certain topics. Therefore, I let Jesus have some say in what I choose to read, as it becomes a very important place of spiritual interaction for me. As I interact with powerful ideas and new vocabulary, of course they work their way into my prayer life. I don’t want to be the person who goes to the nutritionist for help and then tells them what I am going to eat, regardless of their advice. I want Jesus to have a place to speak into those things that speak into my life. How could the books I read not be included in this?

In light of this,

4. I tend to read thematically. I get interested in a topic that captures my imagination and will often read several related books in a row. In fact, my bookshelves are arranged thematically, because that is how I tend to read.  Sometimes the author is the theme and I’ll read several by a particular writer. When this happens, I am learning to recognize it as God’s way of getting my attention and asking me to focus for a while. Maybe the topic is prayer, or a biography, or missions, or marriage or a particular spiritual theme related to something in my life. Maybe it is a topic way way outside of my comfort zone or knowledge base – and I need to be aware of it. Either way, sometimes, though not all the time, I will spend a few months (or longer) exploring a particular topic. It is like my intellect itches – and I read till the itch is scratched.

This does a few things for me. One, it allows me to interact with a topic for a while, and some topics need time to be properly absorbed. Second, I don’t read books that just say the same thing. I read different authors on a topic, different sides of a discussion, different views and perspectives. This means that…

5. I am willing to read authors I don’t completely agree with. A while back, I hosted a party where a guy I didn’t know (he came with a friend) walked over to my (beloved) bookshelves and said, and I quote, “I wonder what sort of heresy you have over here.” I sort of hope he got his undies all in a bundle over some of the titles I own because he was a jerk. How is one expected to have any intellectual heft if one only reads one side of an argument? How can one come to their own deep-set theological convictions if they never have to defend them or think deeply about them? Just because one reads authors from the metaphorical other side of the fence doesn’t mean I agree with them. It just means I want to know what they know, to be open to discussion, because it helps me figure out truth in a deeper way, owning it in my heart in a deeper place. And who knows – I am open to the fact that I may be wrong. One thing I know is that I don’t know everything. Heck, I am willing to admit that I don’t know much. So while I definitely weight my reading within the stream of Christianity in which I comfortably swim, I don’t live in an intellectual ghetto because I am afraid of what others may think of me . Or alter my reading because I am afraid I am not smart enough to recognize truth when I read it. Or live in fear that God won’t speak to me about the truth of a topic if I explore alternate explanations. If iron sharpens iron, I think reading across the spectrum, carefully and with wisdom, can do the same thing. But it requires a willingness to be brave. As I discuss books with others, unfortunately, I often find folks who read from fear rather than courage.

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Talking and Planning (Reading Well – pt. 1)

If you’ve read Intersections previously or know me personally, it should come as no surprise that I am a reader. An avid reader. I love books and am constantly reading something. I have for as long as I can remember. On the blog, I write reviews every summer to highlight some of the most impactful books I’ve read over the course of the year. I quote them often. And I am periodically asked about the books I read and which I would recommend. I believe it was Howard Hendricks who said that one of the greatest things that can shape who you are is the books you choose to read. I am living proof of the veracity of this statement.

In light of how I love books, I wanted to spend a few posts and discuss how I choose the books I do, how I interact with them and their content and offer some suggestions on how to get the most from them. Full disclosure – I am a devoted follower of Jesus and primarily a non-fiction, spiritual topics reader. While I do read across the spectrum of topics, genres and themes – and believe that good reading habits apply to all sorts of books – the majority of the reading I will be talking about in the next few posts will center around books of the faith – those written by fellow followers of Jesus describing some aspect of how to know and love Him more. Of course I read the Bible regularly, but it is in a category all by itself. How to read It is a topic for its own blog series at a later time.

1. I talk with people about books. A common question discussion starter for me is to ask people what they are or have recently read that they found particularly interesting or helpful.Especially those whom I respect and look up to. (It doesn’t always have to be a book either. In today’s world, what we read online can be just as impactful.) When I go into people’s houses or offices and there are bookshelves, I inevitably find myself walking over to have a look. The books I am reading percolate in my head and heart for a while. They change my vocabulary for a season as I absorb and interact with their content. So it is only natural that the books I am reading enter my conversations. It is a great way to move from talking about nothing to talking about something, revealing something of who I am and what moves my heart, while sometimes opening a beautiful window into who someone else is and what moves their heart.

2. I keep an active “To-read” list on Amazon. As different books come across my radar through my conversations and interactions with other readers, I make a note of them. Then I research the book on Amazon, read reviews for it or peruse it at Barnes and Noble. If I want to stay aware of it, I put it in my queue on Amazon. It allows me to remember those books I want to read later, when it is time, when my heart is receptive to its content (more on this later), when I have the intellectual space to spend with its content. The recommendations I receive from others about the books they’ve read are too important to me to lose track of on the back of an envelope or receipt. (Often, my normal note-taking material.) And there are many wonderful books out there that will never appear on best seller lists or get highlighted at a store. The only way I will find them is through the recommendations of others (including Amazon’s recommendations) – and the only way I will remember them is by listing them somewhere. Amazon is my tool to do so.

3. I often map out my reading months in advance. This practice came from my time in Europe, where my access to English books was limited. I visited America once a year, so my trips to the bookstore while stateside needed to be well planned out. I would spend months sometimes researching what books I thought would be most beneficial, which authors I needed to read to be current, what topics I would enjoy or find useful. Evenings on Amazon, doing research, is sort of fun for me. (nerd alert) As such, I spent time thinking about my reading months ahead of time. While I have relaxed this a bit now that I live back in the states, I still think through my reading ahead of time. I typically buy my books 3-5 at a time and spend a few months working my way through them. Towards the end of that time, I begin researching what direction to take my reading next.

Life is too short to read bad books. And there are so many of those out there. I don’t leave what I will read to chance, so I am intentional – inviting others into the process of helping me choose which direction to take my reading time.

An Unexpected Ache

The picture made me so unexpectedly sad that I just sighed. And my shoulders slouched. Then my heart got heavy. It was such a surprising reaction on my part to what was actually quite a happy photo that I knew I needed to pay attention to it. To what it was revealing in my heart.Older, younger woman hands

It was a photo of a not-too-old-but-older woman and a not-too young-but younger one, together on an outing. The photo showed the two standing side by side with the younger’s arm resting on the older’s shoulder. And the older woman was tenderly and affectionately grasping the hand of the younger. I know a little bit of their back story. The older came alongside the younger when she needed some help. A soft place to land. A safe relationship to sort some things out. A season passed. The two became friends. Then the younger one figured things out and launched out on a new trajectory – one that will lead to an intertwined and sweet continued relationship with the older.

My emotional response had nothing to do with who the women are, but from what the picture represented. And what it surfaced in me came from such a deep heart desire on my part I almost feel a bit too vulnerable writing about it here. I am confident however that the desire is a very common one among women, so I’ll take a chance and share.

I read Titus 2:3-5 (below) and it describes something so beautiful, so natural and life-giving, that it should be a part of every woman’s life. It talks about how older women – those who have walked with God well, who have learned through the years how to love their husbands and children without bitterness and resentment, who have managed to end up closer to Jesus and more healthy in all sorts of ways than when they started – are to come alongside younger women. And love them. Share life with them. Teach them the things that we are supposed to know how to do, but that we have no clue how to do. To become spiritual friends. Sisters. Moms where the role is unfilled. Mentors. Wise counsel. And older women are supposed to initiate.

I long for this. Greatly. In fact, it almost aches within me. To have a godly older woman see something in me. To want to invest in my growth. To see a future me that I may not be able to see just yet and to say to me with her life, “I want to be a part of the unveiling of who God has made you to be. Of helping you figure things out. And I’d like to spend time with you, to be the place you can come when you feel like it is all falling apart. I can help you sort through the pieces. And then help you put it all back together. And I might even make cookies for us to share while we do it.”

I have spent the better part of my adulthood learning to be the older woman for others. It has been a source of great joy and unless the Lord has some unexpected twist upcoming in my future, will always be a part of what I do. But there is still something in me that feels like the younger woman. Like the one who really doesn’t know what she is doing and just wants an older woman to hold my hand for a bit and help me figure things out.

While there have been those in my life over the years who crossed my path at pivotal times and filled parts of this role to some extent,…this relational void in my life feels huge.

To be honest, Jesus and I wrestle about this. I worry that I am unlovable and not worthy. He assures me that He loves me and that He is enough. And so I work through the tension of wanting/needing something and Him saying either no or not now and trust Me.

The photo pushed this bruise on my heart. And it hurt a bit.

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children,  to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. (Titus 2:3-5)

Landing Well – Healthy Marriage Practices pt. 9

I was talking with another friend who has been married long enough to know. To know how it feels when some of the passion/emotion/sexual tension that drives so much of the early part of a relationship has settled. Not faded. But morphed and matured into grown-up love. Beyond the “We-can’t-keep-our-hands-off-each-other” passion (which certainly is a lot of fun!) or “We-could-stay-up-all-night-talking” excitement of getting to know the other. Those of us who have been around the block a time or two with our spouse have learned through experience that the majority of a marriage relationship is most definitely spent outside of the bedroom. And eventually you come to the place where, when you both are in the bedroom, sometimes (thought not all the time)  you prefer to actually sleep together. I mean, really sleep. With your eyes closed.

I don’t mean to put passion and maturity on opposite sides of a spectrum, because they are most definitely not mutually exclusive. I am trying to contrast how love…grows. And as things age, they look different. Look at your family photos over the years. My kids are not nearly as energetic now as they were at 2 years old. But now, they are certainly better conversationalists, more poised and more fun to take out to a restaurant for family dinners.

My friend was describing a couple she knew who  had just moved out of this first marriage season and were making the transition to the next one. They were growing up. Growing together. She said, poetically and appropriately, “They have landed.”

She wasn’t implying they weren’t still in love, or passionately hot for each other, or that they were now fuddy-duddy old people who ate dinner at 4pm in their pj’s. She was saying that they were in the process of maturing in their relationship together. And they were doing it well.

And it occurred to me that all married couples must make this transition. To grown-up love. To a love that has landed – in reality. Because this is where we have to live.

We don’t live in the world of candlelight dinners and flowers every night. There are dishes and laundry to do, bottoms to wipe, bills to pay, lawns to mow.

My point is that finding love there, in reality, on the ground, rather than floating around in the air where no one can live forever…this is what grown-ups do. This is what makes a marriage so beautiful. Learning to live a real life together. And somehow not lose your affection and passion for the other.

After 17+years of marriage, I’ve found that…

Kisses are much more passionate, not just when driven by hormones, but when accompanied by memories of a lifetime together. Holding hands fully clothed can be powerfully intimate at the graveside of a parent or in the midst of heartbreak and tears. A simple meal can be incredibly romantic when it is shared with the crazy/loud three kids God chose to put in your family – and who don’t want to leave the dinner table because they are enjoying family time so much.

Landing well…staying and growing in love, real love…this is a most healthy marriage practice.