One of my earliest childhood memories is from when I was four years old, attending preschool at a local Baptist church. When Mom came to pick me up that day, I made a statement to her that I truly believe changed my life.
“Mommy, I want to learn to read.”
With that, instead of going to Kindergarten the next year with my friends, Mom started homeschooling me with first-grade curriculum, and I of course learned to read. That desire to read has never gone away—although I would say that advanced English classes in high school, where I was required to read certain books, did stifle it for a bit, but that’s beside the point.
What made me want to read? In preschool, we had a wooden bookshelf with many picture books propped up on it. I remember four-year-old me picking up a book and opening to a page with a picture of the Dallas skyline and some text below it, which of course I couldn’t comprehend—but I wanted to comprehend. Whether that desire to read came from genetics or from Dad singing me the ABCs while he changed my diapers, ultimately I believe it came from God.
I still enjoy reading. After a period during high school and part of college when I read only the books I had to, I again picked up the books I wanted to read. I enjoy all kinds of books now: fiction and non-fiction, old and new, secular and Christian (can a book be “Christian?”). I read because reading makes me think: I learn new information and glimpse new perspectives, compare and contrast the new with what I already know, and evaluate the insights. The “evaluating the insights” part is one reason this website exists.
I also read because it is a relaxer, a de-stressor. Sometimes, it’s an escape, a way to get my mind off a rough day. It slows me down yet keeps my mind engaged.
Sadly, many people don’t read much anymore, or at least they don’t read books. We live in a world of constant information to the point of overload, where sound bytes and quick clips snag our attention for a few minutes at the most before we move on to something else. Video and images have all but supplanted the written word for information transmission, and certainly for entertainment. After a long day at work or school looking at a screen, folks come home and—guess what?—spend their evenings looking at a screen.
I’m not saying that it’s bad to unwind by watching YouTube or checking Facebook. In fact, I think learning how to do something by watching someone else demonstrate on YouTube is great! I also think keeping up with friends can be important, too. What I am saying is that it’s, for the most part, not mentally engaging. You’re being spoon-fed information instead of feeding yourself. Reading allows you to take information in at your own pace, stop, and interpret it how you will. In other words, you’re actually using your head, and I believe God gave us minds so we can use them by thinking critically.
Even for leisure, reading is hard to beat. A good novel will transport you into settings in a way that a screen still can’t do, indirectly conveying information and emotion using all five of your senses. (Think about it, a screen uses only two: sight and sound.) Instead of merely sitting as an audience to a character, you are there with the character, knowing what’s going through his or her mind and experiencing the environment.
There are many other good reasons to read: science says it’s healthy, and your budget probably says it’s cheaper than Netflix or cable (think of your local library or Half Price Books). You can do the research, or the math, if you don’t believe me.
Some people think reading is boring. I think they just haven’t found something they’ve wanted to read. The sad fact is, a lot of people think of reading as work, and for good reason, since kids in school are often tasked with reading books that they don’t find interesting, and college students are burdened with reading laborious, inscrutable textbooks. I get that because I’ve been there, too. The key is to find something you’re interested in, acquire a book about it (check the library!), and just start reading.
Some people might be hesitant to start a book because they don’t think they’ll finish it. There’s a way around this, too: start reading short books and then work up to longer ones. Lists of short but edifying reads are a Google search away, and there’s nothing like finishing a short book to make you feel accomplished, especially if you don’t read very much. I highly recommend using the site Reading Length to determine about how long it would take you to finish a book.
Finally, if you want to read but don’t think you have time in the day to do so, I’m willing to bet you do but just don’t realize it. I read a book while I eat my lunch at work, and again in the evenings while “airing out” post-shower. Chart out your typical day and determine where you could “cut the fat” to squeeze in some reading. Like me, you could take a book to work and read during your lunch break. You could read while waiting for a bus, train, or airplane. You could read when you wake up, after dinner, or before bed. It’s those brief moments that add up to large chunks of time.
But, let us remember the words of the Preacher from Ecclesiastes:
The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. —Ecclesiastes 12:11-12
Read and enjoy, the key word being “enjoy.” Use the gift of reading that God has given you, but don’t wear yourself out from studying. And, most importantly, use the gift to glorify God by reading the words of the Good Shepherd.