Monday, April 18, 2016

Reading Under Stress

“I’d love to hear a post on reading in stressful times.” was a request of a long-time follower of Living Books Library. I understood. I have lived through some stressful times myself.

Reading helps. Let me be more exact: reading is a survival technique.

Through nearly 40 years of marriage, six children, aging parents, 20 moves, farming, and who knows what—starting a library and homeschooling and keeping up with grandchildren—I’ve had my share of stressful times. I know what it’s like to live in a pressure cooker and wonder which end is up.

“My times are in your hands,” says the Psalmist (Ps. 31:15) recorded in the best book to read every day, the Living Book of books. David had a few stressful situations in his life. There is nothing new about stress. Later, he says, “They are all in Your book, the days numbered for me, before I was born.”(Ps.139:16)

My friend, Elisabeth Elliot, when I was a young mother and going through a tunnel of days without light, encouraged me, “Do the next thing.” And my other mentor, Charlotte Mason, encouraged her student teachers not to be in a hurry, not to fret, but to faithfully not waste time, and they would find they always had plenty of it. (The Story of Charlotte Mason I in no way condone the prices they are asking for that book, just include the link to show which I refer to) She knew. Her own days were ceaselessly packed and demanding. She read books in every one of the days appointed for her life. At certain hours, that was the next thing.

It is easy in stressful times to think we don’t have time to read—and sometimes we don’t have much—but when we are drained and depleted, besides sleep, and prayer, reading is a source of strength—because our minds need rest, energy, refreshment, nutrition as much as our bodies do, and they feed on ideas. The thoughts and ideas received from books supply, sustain.

Besides, whether it is a novel or a work of philosophy or science, the act of stepping into another world, listening to a different voice, even momentarily, even for a page, is a break, an energy bar for the mind. When we have something outside of our stressful circumstances to think about, to chew on and marinate in, we are not just diverted, but fed.

Carry a book in your pocket or leave it in the car or on your pillow. Pick it up, open, and read for three minutes. There is life beyond today, and help for today, whether in nonfiction or fiction, someone is writing from a different place, about things outside of your current concern, and just as skipping meals wears the body down, skipping idea helpings wears our spirits down.

Time is slow when we want it to pass, and passes too swiftly when we want it to slow down. The days blur together, following one another in remorseless inevitability. Time is ticking and we feel the pressure, the panting need to spend the hours wisely.

For years I have wanted to read an Elizabeth Goudge novel I have never had available to me. I requested it from an obscure resource five years ago. It came today. This is what her inspiration for The Dean’s Watch was, an epitaph on a grave in Lydford Churchyard:

“Here lies in a horizontal position the outer case of George Routledge, Watchmaker.

Integrity was the mainspring of prudence the regulator of all the actions of his life; humane, generous, and liberal, His hand never stopped till he had relieved distress.

So nicely regulated were his movements that he never went wrong, except when set going by people who did not know his key. Even then he was easily set right again.

He had the art of disposing of his time so well, that his hours glided away, his pulse stopped beating.

He ran down November 14, 1801, aged 57,

In hopes of being taken in hand by his Maker,

Thoroughly cleaned, repaired, wound up, and set going in the world to come, when time shall be no more.”
Imagine never taking a moment of time from the daily round for opening a book to be reminded of such an eternal glory.

For the joy of reading,

Liz

8 comments:

  1. Totally get that reading is a survival technique, for me it's as simple as breathing, a must.
    LOVE The Dean's Watch, my absolute favourite Elizabeth Goudge.

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    1. Erin,

      Emily gave Dean's Watch to our pastor, who now buys every copy he finds to give to other pastors.

      Liz

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  2. I probably read more during times of stress rather than not! It's the perfect coping mechanism, I agree. Off to check out The Dean's Watch.

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  3. Love this post, Liz!!! Thank you! I loved what you said here, "It is easy in stressful times to think we don’t have time to read—and sometimes we don’t have much—but when we are drained and depleted, besides sleep, and prayer, reading is a source of strength—because our minds need rest, energy, refreshment, nutrition as much as our bodies do, and they feed on ideas. The thoughts and ideas received from books supply, sustain." YES. YES. YES. So true!

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    1. Thank you. I was reading a beautiful bit this morning in Gladys Taber's The Book of Stillmeadow and it was just SO beautiful and inspiring and I thought of this post.

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  4. Amen, Liz! Someone (you?) should write a book called Too Busy NOT to Read :) Books are some of my best friends, and I love meeting new ones. So grateful for people like you who love my friends as much as I do :)

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    1. Is it going too far to say that a day without reading isn't worth living? Probably, but I'm thankful that I am not in a famine of books and can turn to any number of books for counsel, fun, interest, knowledge, pleasure.

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