Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Post in Which I Unload My Mind About Books

I read a lot.
No, really, I'm serious. I read a lot.
I love it. I've been reading, well, ever since my parents taught me how by making me spell through the alphabet every time we got in the car. (I still have vivid memories of standing behind the driver's seat [this was before seatbelt laws] reciting, "At, A.T. Bat, B.A.T, Cat, C.A.T...." and so on)
I've always read as much as possible; genre didn't matter. I read classic fiction, historical fiction, mystery fiction, biographical fiction, romance fiction, comedic fiction, legends, mythology, fantasy fiction and science fiction.
I didn't really read very much Non-fiction, though. Oh, every now and then if I had to for a school assignment or something, but non-fiction was just so boring.

I don't remember when it started, but at some point after my first child was born, I started feeling guilty for how much I read. Guilty!? Why? Reading is so good, right? We are always trying to get kids to read; libraries, schools, everyone wants everyone to read, read, read! Why would I feel guilty for it? So I pretty much ignored the feelings, and convinced myself that it was alright, I was reading; reading is good.

But the feelings wouldn't go away for very long.
About a year or so ago, I couldn't get rid of the guilty feeling at all. I tried to convince myself it was ridiculous even as I went on another of my "binge" reading sprees (I get into an author or genre and go a bit crazy sometimes- a book or 2 per day for a month or so).
At around the same time, we were attending a new-to-us church and it was so great. I started feeling like I actually had a relationship with Jesus like I've never really experienced before. But I could not shake the guilt (In Christian-ese you'd call it conviction) about the reading.

And this is why:
Ephesians 5:15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

2 Corinthians 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

Proverbs 4:23  Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life. (what goes into my mind eventually gets into my heart) 

In addition to theses specific verses, as a Christian, my focus should be on Jesus Christ. When I am reading a fiction book, rarely is my mind on the Lord. There are some (I just finished one, actually, and it was fantastic), but the majority of fiction doesn't turn one's mind to Jesus. Especially fantasy fiction- which was my obsession for quite a while.

Another reason I was feeling convicted about reading so much- I was beginning to notice that when I read, my attention goes to the book and/or to myself and I begin to get short and snappy with my kids. Which is not okay. When they are just being kids and I am grumpy about it, something is wrong and it is time to start looking for the problem. (Hint: the issue is not with the kids)

All of these things hit me in the face in a very short amount of time. No longer did any amount of justifications or excuses change what I knew to be true. Reading is a problem for me. A part of my life I was not willing to surrender to the Lord. And that lack of surrender was holding me back from growth and blessing the Lord wanted to give me. I wanted to read what I wanted to read. To fill my mind with an alternate reality was enjoyable for me. I didn't want to let anyone dictate to me what I should and shouldn't read. 
I am a bit of a control freak. 

Okay, time to get to the point. 

Books are great. I love them. Stories are good. Jesus used stories to teach.  Not all fiction is bad. There is some very good fiction out there. But there is also some bad fiction. And it may not be bad in the way you expect. 

See, our minds are a battlefield. So often, we forget or just plain don't know this.  As Christians, we are in a WAR. A very real war. We just can't see it or touch it with our physical bodies. We are in a war for our hearts- and our minds. 
On one side is God- the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. On the other is Satan, the devils, the world, and our own sinful human nature. 

The war is already won, but the battles continue. And anytime we turn our minds off to what is true Reality and what really matters- a battle is lost.

Now I'm going to quote books besides the Bible to make my point.

I love this quote I just found- it says it so clearly and concisely:
I believe the greatest trick of the devil is not to get us into some sort of evil but rather have us wasting time. This is why the devil tries to hard to get Christians to be religious. If he can sink a man's mind into habit, he will prevent his heart from engaging God. 
From Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. And it doesn't apply just to religious habit but to books or TV or any other alternate reality we engage our minds in!

And isn't that what Christianity is about? A heart engaging relationship with our amazing Lord and Saviour?

I'm currently reading Confessions of a Prayer Slacker by Diane Moody.
She makes a point I love:
To paraphrase - If the President of the US invited you for breakfast, how would you start your day? Hitting the snooze button on the alarm multiple times? Calling and saying you're too tired to come? Probably not. So why do we treat the Creator of the Universe- our Lord and our Saviour that way!?

Diane Moody is talking specifically about prayer there, but I love it. It applies to so much more than prayer!

What am I spending my time on? I'm always so busy (I bet you can relate), but I have discovered with all my busy-ness, that I always have time for the things I love to do. I always have time to read. I always have time to knit- if I really want to. We make time for the things we love. So how we are spending our time shows what we love.

 I tend to love alternate realities that are found in books. But those alternate realities- and the time they take- take me away from the things that truly matter in Reality. So are they worth it? That's time spent in a way that keeps my heart from engaging God.

It all comes down to what I really believe is important in life. If I really believe Jesus is important in my life, I'm going to make Him a priority. So if what I am doing is not drawing me closer to it worth doing?

Probably not.

And that's just it.

Is it drawing me closer to Jesus- or drawing another person closer to Jesus?  Isn't that the purpose of my life?  So, shouldn't I be doing things that fulfill that?

This is the conclusion I've come to:
I have a desire to read; I love to learn. The thing is, what am I learning? Is it worth learning? I don't think my desire to read is wrong, I think that what I was choosing to read was not healthy. It was a victory for Satan because it was preventing me from engaging my heart with my God.
Now, I still read, but I actively seek books that will improve my relationship with my Lord. Books that will draw me closer to Him and keep me grounded in Reality- not books that will take me to Unreality.  Escape may be nice for a moment; but I have found that it damages relationships, rather than building them.

And there are a lot of books out there that are really worth reading!  I already have a list that will take me more than a year to get through. I'm finding that I am really enjoying the learning. I confess, I didn't expect to. My reading slowed down a great deal for awhile, but I'm finding books that I can really get lost in- and learn from at the same time.

Some of the books I've read recently that have really affected me:

Concerning Christian Liberty by Martin Luther (Soooooo good. Every Christian should read it.)
The Plug-in Drug by Marie Winn (I am so ready to throw out the TV forever!)
Lord Foulgrin's Letters by Randy Alcorn (highly recommend! Extremely thought-provoking!)
Pascal's Pensees by Blaise Pascal (Thoughts of an intelligent man on things that matter. Some great apologetics)

My current read: Confessions of a Prayer Slacker by Diane Moody. Only a quarter of the way into it, and loving it. It's hard to put down.

A (very small) portion of my to-read list:
Perelandra by C.S. Lewis
Lotus Buds by Amy Carmichael
Anything by G.K. Chesterton, John Piper, C.S. Lewis, and more.

Seriously, my to-read list is massive. When I was originally fighting letting go of my fiction, I believed the lie that to read what was truly good instead of just not "evil" would be boring and awful. That really is a lie. I am loving this. And I am apparently not the only one. Joel has made comments on how much more interesting our conversations are.  I'm not grumping at the kids half as much. I know, because they've noticed; and because their attitudes have changed too.  It's a win-win situation. Why did it take me so long to learn this!?
Surrendering everything to Jesus is always worth it.

Ephesians6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,[a] against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—

Your mind- my mind- is a battleground. Who will win the battle for your mind- and ultimately, your heart and soul? 

Matthew 6:19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.