Many mothers find that personal reading is a luxury that has been sacrificed in the name of family life. In fact, the number one reason women give for not reading is lack of time. Although we know the value of reading and believe in it, we are busy women, doing things that matter – being faithful to our callings. However, with a little creativity, most of us can make time to read. A little optimism opens the door to possibilities.
Instead of jumping to the conclusion that I can’t fit reading in, I can tap into creativity by asking myself, “What would it take for me to add a bit of deep reading into my life?”
6 Tips To Take Care Of Your Heart Through Reading
Tip #1 Commit to Developing a Reading Practice: Start Today!
Creativity follows commitment.
Embracing regular reading as an important part of our personal growth means it is not something to be pushed off to a later season of life. We need to make a commitment to start now; then find creative ways to honor that commitment.
“Do you ever miss your prayer when you’re traveling or have company? Does it ever feel like you just don’t have enough time in the day to pray?” I posed these questions to the priest sitting next to me at a luncheon a few months ago. He seemed perplexed by my question, so I stumbled to clarify. “I’m sure it’s rare but don’t you ever – every now and then – miss saying your prayers?” After an awkward pause, he slowly responded, “For me, it’s just the opposite. I miss other things, but I don’t miss prayer.”
I was surprised. His faithfulness to prayer seemed to spring from a deep well of self-knowledge and an acute awareness of his dependence on God. Through this brief exchange, I understood something new that might help us in our effort to read more and read well. When it comes to forming the habit of reading great and worthy books, many women lament, “I just don’t have time to read!” But is lack of time really the problem? Perhaps, if we delve deeper, we will discover that the problem is neither a lack of time nor a lack of willpower, but rather a deficient awareness of who we are – of the value of our own person.
I propose that the main reason we resist tending to our hearts by reading good literature is that we are not radical enough in our perception of who we are.
As persons made in the image and likeness of God, we are not just body; we are body and soul.
It is easy to lose touch with the cry of our own souls. One woman stated, “I do so much for everyone else; I honestly don’t know what I enjoy anymore.”
At the core of our being is the heart, and this heart must be cared for.
The forces that drive today’s common mentality attempt to crush the truth of our person. When we flit from distraction to distraction, squandering the days, we succumb to this mentality. We forget who we are. We forget whose we are.
Tip #2 Keep Your Reading Goal Small
We’re not talking about dropping everything else in your life so you can live with your nose in a book day and night. Reading is meant to enhance life, not complicate it. Start with a reasonable goal, like 15-20 minutes a day (or around 2 hours a week.)
Remember, reading is a form of leisure. When we read, we have to slow down and surrender to the story. We stop giving and doing and caretaking. Instead, we receive. This provokes questions in us, serious questions about the human experience. Great writers stir up questions that can be painful for us to face. In slowing down to read, I empty my mind and allow myself to be refueled by something outside of myself. Even when the literature itself is not uplifting, I can still be uplifted.
Tip #3 Make a List of Your Priorities
“What would it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” (Ps. 8) What would it profit a woman to get her children involved in a lot of activities, get them to Sunday school, and even help to educate them? What if this woman is able to keep a nice house, keep up with the laundry, and even get Christmas cards sent out before Christmas? What if this woman efficiently gets it all done but, in the frenzy, her very self gets lost so that she no longer knows who she is? What if this woman gets all these things done and more all the while forgetting that she is made to be in relationship with God? It’s obvious that this would be tragic. What can penetrate all of the busyness – good busyness – that fills her days in order to help her recover the true meaning of her life?
To be clear, I am not talking about escaping family duties. Some of our responsibilities are undoubtedly more important than reading. Try making two lists for yourself: first, list the things in your life that are truly more important than reading. Then, make a second list of things that are less important than reading (on most days.) Once you have identified these categories, it becomes easier to see available reading time. If you haven’t taken time to read and you find yourself doing something on the list of “less important” tasks, stop! Stop everything and set your timer for 20 minutes. Just read and don’t apologize. You will be modeling something good for your children and receiving something useful for your soul. If you wait, you most likely won’t read. Life is just that way. Taking a fresh look at our priorities can help us exercise leadership over our own lives and carve out some time daily – or at least weekly- for our own formation.
Tip #4: Join a Book Club or Find a Reading Buddy
Pope John Paul II’s “Letter to Women” leads us to understand that bringing leisure back into our society is a particular call women can pursue together. The impact is not just personal. It ripples out to our families and friends and into the culture. But it starts with feeding our own souls.
“Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the outflowings of life.”(Pr. 4:23) Well-Read Mom encourages women to accompany one another in friendship to read more and read well. Why? There are many wonderful benefits that reading brings to our lives, but at the deepest level, the reason that we consider reading to be a worthy work is that the great works of literature help to restore our understanding of human nature, of our relationships with others, and with God. In a way, we can say that good books nurture our very selves.
Most goals are easier to reach if we have friends to help us along the way. Reading is a form of self-care and friendship. We often forget that we need to nurture and grow in our humanity. Women want more than efficiency and a utilitarian life. We want to grow in relationships and in our person. We know that the beautiful and highest things in life are made for us to partake in, and it is enjoyable to share them with others.
Tip # 5: Don’t Be Afraid to Read Great Books
Great books – by the way they are written and the stories they tell – ask to be read deeply. Deep reading is a different kind of reading. It is relational. A dialogue happens between the author and the reader. I know when I am reading deeply because I relax and experience a sense of active, engaged enjoyment.
Human beings have a unique capacity to imagine. The imagination is what allows us to perceive more than what is immediately before our eyes. We ponder the universe. We can live with a sense of wonder. We ask questions like, “Why am I here?” and “What is the meaning of life?”
When we take a book in our hands, we also take up a means for rediscovering our true hunger and thirst for the infinite. We wake up to the fact that we can’t save ourselves; that we really do need a Savior. Thus we can say that the work of reading can help us grow in our Christian life.
It is my hope that as we accompany one another in reading great books, we may witness ourselves living with a greater – a more radical – awareness of who we are.
Tip #6: Consider a Reading Retreat
If it’s tricky to work reading into your regular routine, you might try a reading getaway. I ended up having a reading retreat once despite myself. I was nine months pregnant with our seventh child, and my husband agreed to stay home with the first six, so I could make a silent retreat. I was thrilled and thankful. Settling in with every intention to pray and read my Bible, I found myself falling asleep. On and off, I slept for most of the long weekend. When I was awake, I read Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! for a few minutes, only to fall back to sleep.
During my hour of spiritual direction, Fr. Larry Gillick, the blind priest who was guiding the retreat, asked me how the weekend was going. Feeling rather embarrassed, I let him know I felt guilty because I had spent most of the time sleeping and reading a novel. “I’m nine months pregnant with my seventh child,” I explained. “I’ve been snapping at the kids and short with everyone—especially my husband. I’m grateful to be here, but should I really be reading a novel?”
“Are you enjoying it?” he asked me. I said I was. Then in his gentle way, he let me know, “This is exactly what you should be doing. If you need to sleep, sleep! Read your novel, and don’t feel guilty.” I shared with him how the heroine in O Pioneers!, Alexandria, was giving me courage through the way she faced the extreme hardships of life on the prairie. If she could push the plow on the virgin prairie, surely I could maneuver the Maytag and keep the laundry going.
Fr. Gillick laughed, and then, bowing his head, he began reciting a passage of O Pioneers! from memory:
“But the great fact was the land itself, which seemed to overwhelm the little beginnings of human society that struggled in its somber wastes. It was from facing this vast hardness that the boy’s mouth had become so bitter; because he felt that men were too weak to make any mark here, that the land wanted to be let alone, to preserve its own fierce strength, its peculiar, savage kind of beauty, its uninterrupted mournfulness.”
This blind priest was intentional about seeing beauty.
Fr. Gillick helped me understand that I did not need to apologize for reading. Great and worthy books stir my spirit, conjure up courage, bring needed restoration, put life in perspective, and help me live my everyday duties with greater stamina. It is not a waste of time but a good use of time.