Reading When Others Want to Talk

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Have you ever been trying to read when others want to talk and you end up reading the same paragraph over and over again? Do you find yourself internally “clinching up” and having to stifle your impulse to scream “shut up!”

Unless we decide to become hermits (who still depend on others for the necessities of life), a reality of life is that there will be times when we want to read and others want to talk. Even more, sometimes they want to talk with us!

Here are a few thoughts of how I (very imperfectly) deal with this dilemma:

  1. Sometimes you just need to give it up and choose relationships over books. Especially with spouses or partners or children who want to talk with us. Does it really pay to lose those you love to lose yourself in a book? I hope you don’t have to think too long about that!
  2. This also applies to social gatherings. Most people don’t assume this is a time for reading unless it has been arranged as a reading party–yes there is such a thing, and I’ve written about it.
  3. Try reading when others are sleeping, although this means sleeping on a different schedule.
  4. Agree on times that are “reading times” as a family. For the sake of the talkers, don’t exceed them! People will more readily allow you time to read if they know when you will be available–and you are.
  5. Sometimes, finding a quiet place, like a library reading room can work if that is the shared expectation. It only takes one loud talker on a cell phone to spoil it!
  6. If you want to read where there are conversations going on that don’t involve you but can be distracting, choose books that engage your attention, and don’t involve careful reading of densely articulated ideas.
  7. Depending on how you and other people in your household feel about it, and their bodily needs, the bathroom can sometimes offer a temporary refuge–emphasis on temporary!
  8. Weather permitting, is there a place outside your home that might be secluded, perhaps a “readers garden”? (I draw this term from a nearby bookstore of the same name).
  9. Speaking of bookstores, these also sometimes have alcoves or seating that allow for reading, and should be places that respect that.
  10. Sometimes, the best answer that combines reading and sociability is to read aloud together. Maybe you can even give each member of the family or group a chance to share a passage of what they are reading.

Reading is a conversation with an invisible author and requires our full attention. So do conversations with people. Most of the time, trying to multitask means we end up doing both badly, present to neither conversation. At least part of our screen time on cell phones is also reading–texts, comments, news, and shopping sites. Perhaps the offense of not being present happens here more than anywhere. Sometimes we are more present with what is on the screen than the person we are sitting with.

It all comes down, I guess, to which conversation we really want to be in.

 

Review: Life in the Presence of God

Life in the Presence of God

Life in the Presence of GodKenneth Boa. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017.

Summary: A contemporary discussion of the idea that a vital Christian life is one increasingly lived on a moment by moment basis in the presence of God.

So what exactly is an authentic Christian life? A set of activities or practices does not quite seem enough. Nor is adherence to a set of beliefs. Kenneth Boa, in this book, joins generations of Christians in proposing that a vital Christian life is led increasingly in the moment by moment presence of God. In his introduction, he frames it this way:

“Sure, it’s good to give the first–or the last–moments of our day to God. But what about the rest of the day? It’s so easy for our hearts and heads to end up somewhere else. Is that how God really wants us to live? Is that what he really had in mind when he said he’d give us abundant life (John 10:10)?

I’m proposing that we take our life with God–and our awareness of his presence–with us everywhere, not just into our quiet times but into our noisy times too, incorporating practices into our lives that help us keep that awareness right in front of us, throughout the day, every day.”

Boa’s book is divided into two parts. The first explores the biblical basis of this idea. This wasn’t thought up by Brother Lawrence, but rooted in the reality of what it means to be in Christ. Boa explores the biblical images, biblical exemplars culminating in Christ, and the image of “walking” with God that runs through scripture.

The second part turns to how we may learn to practice God’s presence. Here he does commend Brother Lawrence, the experiment of Frank Laubach and other practices of learning increasingly to abide moment by moment in Christ. Boa points to modern neuroscience’s understanding of the plasticity of our brains and how they may be re-wired through repeated practice. This also involves learning to re-see our world, specifically that we see that all of it matters to God and seeing it in the light of eternity. How we see our time is critical, especially in an age of busy-ness. Taking time to surrender our days to God in our waking moments, finding time to recollect ourselves through the day, and to conclude our days in thanksgiving and reflection are all important as well as establishing rhythms of work, rest, and sabbath.

Suffering and sin are also realities that intrude upon our lives. In suffering, we learn both to lament and to walk in God’s presence in the way of the cross. In sin, growth in experiencing God’s presence means learning to recognize the stages of temptation (a section that was worth the price of the book for me!) and to quickly confess and repent.

The book concludes with two chapters that focus on our visions of community and of the well-lived life.  While we can have unhealthy notions of community, which Boa discusses, good communities practice encouragement that leads to growth, accountability, and living the gospel with “one another” in communities where good soul care is practiced. Finally, to live in God’s presence is to become who we were meant to be–to live into our calling–even as Strider the Ranger must become Aragorn the King in Lord of the Rings. To be in the Lord’s presence is to live with a different vision of the “good life” centered around a vision of eternity.

Each chapter concludes with practical exercises that help us hear God’s Word and to practice his presence. It is the practical element, combined with good biblical grounding and Boa’s own experience, that makes this book so helpful whether you are a recent convert or a lifelong believer. Boa focuses his attention on the everyday in our lives, which in fact make up most of life. To live in God’s presence here is to discover God’s presence in all of our lives from the seemingly mundane to the moments of crisis. And to live in God’s presence is to take creatures rooted in time, and help them live in the light of eternity. Could anything be more important?

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

 

Review: Luminous

Luminous

Luminous, T. David Beck. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013.

Summary: Explores how purpose, presence, power and peace enable us to radiate the light of Christ in our everyday lives.

“Jesus never intended his people to sit in neat rows like drones on Sunday mornings, or even to fill up our schedules doing things for him because we think he would like them. He wants relationship—such a close relationship, in fact, that he actually shines through us. That’s how he wants to show the world who he is.”

It was to this conviction that David Beck came after a life-changing mission trip to Haiti when he had the opportunity to save the life of a sick child he had been looking after in a feeding program. This led him to a fresh embrace of the truth that living the Christian life was not a matter of living for Jesus but with him, in which his presence becomes luminous in our lives.

In this book, Beck traces the formational practices that position us to shine with the light of Christ under four words: purpose, presence, power, and peace. First of all in chapter two he talks about embracing the missional purpose of Jesus and to keep saying “yes” to that purpose in a life of ever deepening surrender. Chapters 3 through 5 explore the idea of presence with God, our bodies, and each other. Striking here to me is that Beck joins a growing number of those who stress the importance of affirming our embodied life and the practices of offering that life to God.

Chapters 6 through 8 focus on power. There is paradox here as he talks about the power of surrender and the power of humility in the first two of these chapters. Yet the surrender is indeed empowering as we surrender our tyrannous selves to the God who can free us, as we relinquish prideful control to be receptive and available to God. All this opens us to the empowering presence of the Spirit of God, which he discusses in chapter 8. This may make some uncomfortable with its openness to Pentecostalism and yet focuses on the essential that life- and light-giving ministry must be in the power of the Spirit. He affirms a simple, wait-receive-go pattern to ministry.

Chapter 9 then speaks of a peace or shalom that re-frames evangelism as compassion that draws people into conversation about Jesus, mercy that models the mercy of God toward all, and justice that seeks the liberation of people from spiritual as well as physical oppression. The book then concludes with the challenge to accept trials and a life of simplicity in a high contrast life of light in darkness.

One of the most helpful aspects of the book are pauses at the end of almost every section to reflect and act upon the content of each section and prayer exercises at the end of most chapters. What separates this book from many books on mission and many books on spiritual formation is how it unites the two of these at a very personal, and not merely theoretical level. Yet this makes so much sense. Mission is leading people into encounters with the living, risen Christ and how can this occur if He is not indeed living within us?