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  • Writer's pictureAnn Skalaski

The Joy of Reading

By Ann

More time to read is one of the things I love the most about summer. Whether it’s long stretches of reading on the beach or on a cozy porch in the mountains or stealing a few minutes during the day or before bed, the slower pace of summer means more books! This summer, Chris, Maddie and I wrote about what we were reading. And I spent some time thinking about why I am drawn to certain books.

Stories that Point to The Story

Most fiction has a somewhat predictable progression, or story arc. A gentle beginning, a turbulent middle building to a crisis, and an ending where there is resolution to the conflict. Really good fiction adds interesting characters, situations, and plot twists to camouflage this predictable progression.

Some of my favorite fiction includes characters that feel like friends. As a child, it was Anne of Green Gables. When I was older, I was introduced to the Baxter family created by Karen Kingsbury, perhaps the most prolific author of our time with almost 100 titles that she has authored or co-authored. During one season of my life, I devoured everything she wrote about the Baxter family. One of the Baxter children was actively involved in Children’s Theater, and the theater director was a beloved character in the books.

In my real life, I am a theater patron and one night I was meeting cast members after a performance at the University where my husband coached. Talking to a senior about to graduate, I asked about her post-graduate plans and goals. When she told me her dream was to direct Children’s Theater, I blurted out that I had a friend who did that. Only when she asked me where they lived, did I realize that my “friend” was actually a character in a book! Awkward.

Apart from the “friends” I meet, I love reading fiction because of the familiar progression of the story arc. When I find myself in a difficult chapter in my own life, it reminds me that I am only in the middle of my story. The resolution is yet to come.

Stories also point us to the larger story God is writing, of which we are also “in the middle.” But God has graciously given us glimpses of what lies ahead:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”” (Rev. 21:1-4 ESV)

Books That Challenge Me

I have previously shared that, as an Enneagram 4, I am often drawn to self-help books. Lately, however, the non-fiction I have been reading has focused on theology. Books about the character of God, and other foundational tenets of my faith.

Honestly, the self-help books weren’t helping all that much. Things would improve for a while and then whatever habit, behavior, or attitude I was trying to change would resurface. Then I heard a quote, “If you want to change your actions, change your beliefs” which got me wondering about faulty beliefs that I might be holding on to. Beliefs about God, his sovereignty, grace, suffering, prosperity, and heaven. Because those beliefs determine how I interpret what happens every day. And how I interpret my circumstances, ultimately determines my response.

Currently I am reading, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund. The book is a deep dive into how Jesus describes himself in Matthew 11:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30 ESV)

I was drawn to this book because, like many of you, I am weary. Rest for my soul in 2021 seems a bit like a mirage. As I get closer, it disappears amid another spike in COVID cases, natural disasters and human evil causing horrific suffering around the world and my own battles with sin. Heavy burdens.

I long to draw closer to the heart of Christ, gaining a fresh perspective on who Jesus is and his affection for us in the middle of our messes.

I am only a couple chapters in, but already I have found encouragement in Ortlund’s words. He writes:

“You don’t need to unburden or collect yourself and then come to Jesus. Your very burden is what qualifies you to come. No payment is required; he says, “I will give you rest.” His rest is gift, not transaction. Whether you are actively working hard to crowbar your life into smoothness (“Labor”) or passively finding yourself weighed down by something out of your control (“Heavy laden”). Jesus Christ’s desire that you find rest, that you come in out of the storm, outstrips even your own.”

These words challenge my theology at the heart-level. While my head knows that rest is found in Jesus, I too often forget that it is gift, not transaction. And the idea that his desire for me to find rest is greater than my own is good news to my weary heart.

The Great Story Ever Told

Undoubtedly the most significant book I will ever read is the Bible. Starting each day reading God’s Word is the only path to lasting hope, peace, and joy.

Some mornings I have time to read and reflect on substantial portions of God's story, other days it might be a quick “grab and go” verse. Both provide sustenance, manna for the day.

As the slower pace of summer is replaced by the hustle and bustle of fall (a.k.a., football season), my prayer is that we will seek and find time to read books that nourish our souls. And that The Book, will be at the top of our lists.

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