Welcome, my friends and fellow bibliophiles, to Independence week here on the blog. This week we have an exciting line-up of an article, a book review, and a special edition post on Wednesday, July 4th. After all, this country is my home turf, and I hope to give you a little slice of American Independence before the week is out.
This is a grand and glorious time to be free.
Note that I shall not be discussing the present state of American affairs in the political realm, nor deploring the state of the nation in the passing of the new health care bill. No doubt such a time will come, but this is a week of gratitude to our Lord for granting us 236 years to live in this constitutional republic. And as such, we will be celebrating the past, not deploring the present.
Today I shall share with you an important literary lesson I learned. The most important one I have ever learned thus far. I learned it on the 4th of July, two years ago.
You see, I prided myself on never shedding a briny drop when I read a book. Now granted, there were plenty of books that my parents read to me, in which I raised a very tempest for the tragedy. But on my own, I disliked to succumb to the weakness. I was strong. I could rise above the stories, and overcome the tragedy. Mostly, I just wanted to overcome the tragedy of death--perhaps I was afraid of people seeing me react to it.
This may seem pretty silly to some of you. Big deal--so what if you do, so what if you don't? It's personal preference; we're all created differently. But in reality, emotional reaction is a very important concept to any dedicated bibliophile. You see, I had successfully stifled the tears (most times) but along the way, I had lost other things as well--I couldn't see the tragedy behind wrong decisions, as long as they turned out "all right" in the end. The humor passed right over my head. And most of all, I took for granted the grace of God--not His grace to me, but the grace evident in the lives of the story characters. I was so blind that I didn't even know I was missing these things, just as a person losing their sight can't compare their present dimness with past clarity. It's a gradual loss of color, of detail, and even of enjoyment. All because I tried to maintain a dignified front--when reading a book, of course.
Then came the 4th of July, 2010, where we gathered around us a few friends and relatives to celebrate. On that day, holding a bowl of homemade ice-cream, I was startled by the following question:
"How often do we weep at the grace of God?"
We weren't even talking about books; we were discussing some of the struggles we all had overcome around that time. And that question stuck with me:
"How often do we weep at the grace of God?"
It's a strange question. Weep? Shouldn't we rejoice? Rejoicing comes with laughter, with smiles, with excitement. Tears are for sorrow. But the Christian understands that grace is a manifestation of Christ's mercy; grace is God's free and unmerited gift to us of salvation and blessing, both now and in eternity to come. When we realize the meaning of His grace, then we are forced to examine our own unworthiness to receive it. Grace is a free gift; otherwise it could not be grace. And grace in the Christian life is a result of sacrifice and suffering.
I realized that afternoon that I was so paranoid about losing my running competition, that I didn't even value the grace of God. It had become commonplace in my reading. And I prayed, "Lord, will you help me to love your grace so much, that I would even weep at its manifestation?"
This may not sound appealing to some of you. After all, it is an emotional reaction, and most women don't need prayer to become more emotional. But we do need prayer to express the right emotions, and tears are no unworthy things when used correctly. Strong men in the Bible were bowed with them when contemplating God's mercy. Jesus himself shed tears, which shows that men and women can use them correctly. Granted, they shall all be wiped away in heaven, but until then they are given to us as part of our make-up.
I can't remember exactly how long it took me; I think it was about five months later in December of that year. I was listening to a story of redemption in the midst of suffering, and as it drew to its close, I wept. Needless to say, it was a bit hard to explain to my astonished family members. ;) They weren't tears of sadness, but tears over the redemption in one man's life. Tears that were not maudlin, or excessive, or painful, but a refreshing release of the overflow of goodness. Because in reality, God's grace should overwhelm us so much that we have to seek release in something--whether tears or otherwise.
And gradually, as I allowed myself to do this, God opened up a whole new world in my reading. Stories sparkled so much more. I could find jollity I never suspected before, and pain I never knew existed. And I could find His redemption so much more easily. It was as if a blindness lifted from my eyes, and the pictures showed so much clearer. With the grace came a greater pain when I read books in which characters rejected it. But I would rather live on the heights with both than in the valleys with neither. That's the way books are meant to be read.
The point of this post is not that everyone should weep over stories. I realize that some people aren't designed to react this way. But do allow yourself to react. To get swept up in the drama, the excitement, the pain, and the joy. You'll be surprised at what touches you, and what doesn't. Don't harden your heart for a competition like I did; allow it to remain soft and open to the lessons that the stories teach. You'll enjoy it so much more that way, like I am now. I would never go back. Emotions are often designated as weakness; but Christ himself used them to great effect, and used them well. When we try to surgically remove them from our reading as a fear of vulnerability or weakness, we are stifling a God-designed part of our mind. Read stories as a whole person. Tears and all. When you read them with your whole mind, you will be able to glean from them all that God has for you. Throw yourself into them as if they are real, for they are in a sense. With every high stake, it is a picture of right or wrong--which shall prevail? Christ used stories in his earthly ministry--and He used them to spark not just an intellectual response, but emotion. Tragedy, joy, fear, contentment, relief, faith. I covered more of this back in the article Why We Love Stories.
When I shut out my heart to sadness, a mixture of pride in my strength and fear of giving way, I shut out a lot more than I ever knew. But by the grace of God, I found freedom from this often unrecognized trap.
I find it ironic that I found freedom while celebrating America's Independence Day. Now I have a double reason to celebrate: as a staunch American, and as a dedicated bibliophile.
- Our fathers' God to Thee,
- Author of liberty,
- To Thee we sing.
- Long may our land be bright,
- With freedom's holy light,
- Protect us by Thy might,
- Great God our King.
Don't forget to come back tomorrow for a special edition post on Independence Day! :)