Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Lost Art of Reading

Taken from my guest post @
I love to read a good book. I love to skim multiple books at a time. In fact, there has not been a time when I didn’t have numerous books in a scattered pile next to my bed, with bookmarks sticking out and highlighters clipped to the covers. I read everything from theological journal articles to blog posts from moms to the latest statistics from news outlets.

Many people will generically say, “I really don’t enjoy reading, it’s just not my thing.” While it is certainly true that there can be many factors (of which we won’t have time or space to address here) affecting whether or not a person naturally likes to read, it remains a learned practice to one degree or another. Personality, giftedness, and learning disabilities certainly play a role in the development of a child’s reading abilities and habits. However, what we want to address here is the why and how the discipline of reading serve as a critical part of your child’s character development.

Most parents want their children to be good readers. This article is not mean to serve as an academic expose on the various technical approaches. But, it will provide some practical points about the reasons children miss out on the discipline of reading, why they ought to cultivate good reading habits, and how we can help them. Let me first propose why reading is no longer a natural development in the lives of young children.

Fast-paced society
Everything moves fast today. If the microwave takes longer than sixty seconds to reheat something, we are annoyed. So sitting down to read a book for thirty minutes feels like torture!

Driven by technology
Gaming systems, Instagram and Facebook accounts, TV, iPhones for 3rd graders…there is no end to the distractions facing children today. Forget reading, that’s boring!

Extracurricular activities
Children are carted from one sporting event to the next, taking gymnastics and music lessons, going to craft camps, after-school tutoring. Of course many of these activities provide helpful and needed stimulation. But let’s face it – fifty years ago (really even twenty years ago!) children did not have near the options they do now. It’s like going to the grocery store, seeing over a dozen cereal options when you just need one for sustenance. Reading? Isn’t that just something we do in school?

Disconnected families
Because of the hectic schedules in our families, the resulting lack of conversation and gathering around the table, leaves little time for connecting, much less reading. By the time we all get home, we are exhausted and irritable – it’s time to veg out.

Now let’s consider the affects of neglecting the discipline of reading in a child’s life.

Not a thinker
He will rely primarily on what he is told for knowledge, instead of being able to apply a biblical worldview through the discipline of reading, leading to determinations about how he will live. He will hear a sermon, a lecture at school, or a conference session, and have few insights about how to interpret the information being thrust at him. More than that, he will have little motivation to go home and dig deeper to test the accuracy of what he heard.

Poor writing ability
Good readers make good writers. As a former teacher, I can accurately say that I am greatly concerned about the many students heading to college who cannot formulate a well-structured sentence and have no idea how to do research without Wikipedia.

Easily swayed by popular opinion or peer pressure
Lacking solid examples of character found in the great stories of early missionaries, war heroes, and the like, young people today lack the understanding of what it means to stand for something.
Whew! In light of all this “bad news,” how do we help our children cultivate a love for reading?

Make it a family event
My mother took time each night to read with my sister and I. Now, I have watched my sister do the same with her two children, and reading has quickly become one of their favorite activities. They cannot imagine going through an entire day without reading at some point. On a practical note, I think it’s important to introduce children to books other than only a Bible storybook, even at a young age. This teaches them about the varied types of books and allows you to help them apply biblical principles within other stories as an additional teaching method.

This is a challenging discipline, because most mothers end their evenings exhausted from a day filled with cleaning, disciplining, preparing dinner, running errands – the goal is typically to get the children to bed so that you can still have a few minutes prepping lunches for tomorrow and decompressing with a bath or quiet time. But, I promise you – your children will look back on it as a fond memory and a meaningful time spent together – I certainly do!

Demonstrate the value of it
Being able to properly analyze the content of what we read allows us to identify something as simple as the difference between a review and a critique. As you read scripture, or other books with your children, have them write a brief summary of the material, followed by a paragraph critiquing it. If they aren’t old enough to write well yet, ask them leading questions and have a brief conversation.

I remember reading a story to my niece on her front porch last year, and I would stop periodically throughout the story, asking things like, “Did that little girl in the story make a good decision?” followed by “Why?” or “Why not?” As we talked she was able to identify biblical truths that applied to the circumstances in the story. Even better, a day or two later when my niece was heading toward a misbehavior situation, I reminded her of the girl in the story and she was able to recall how that might apply to her current dilemma. Use your family reading choices to help train your children in biblical living.

Regard it as a biblical discipline
The proverbs are replete with instruction for wisdom. And that wisdom is gained by reading, studying and meditating on the word of God. Similarly, in Deuteronomy 6:6-9, parents are advised to pass on this wisdom to their offspring:

 “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

One of the best ways we learn is by reading and repeating. So if you desire for your children to know and love scripture, and be able to apply it to all of life, they must grow up in an atmosphere where reading is practiced regularly. Read with them, read to them, and ask them to retell the story to you.

Reading may not always be fun, and the more we neglect it as a regular discipline, the less fun it will be. But it can be eternally rewarding, leading a child to a redemptive understanding of God. Children ought to view reading as a normal part of their daily lives. There are many more considerations and resources we could pursue, but for now, go home and start reading with your kiddos!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Our Satisfier

I know a lot of discouraged people these days. If not for God's grace, I would be one of those people too. And I am sure I will be at some point in the near future, and then I will need someone to encourage me. As I was considering all these hurting people, it made me think back to a time in my life when I had a friend who was deeply discouraged - she was burdened for the salvation of her children (as any mother should be), she was trying to help several people around her who were deeply distressed, and she was facing some frustrating concerns in her ministry. At the time, I was away for a few weeks, pursuing my master's degree in California in a summer intensive program. When I returned, I gave her a letter summarizing some of what I had been learning from my professors. I need these reminders myself as I seek to encourage those who are currently hurting. Here is a portion of that letter.

When I was at school, one of the main things I remember hearing from one professor over and over again, was in regards to the cross. We often tend to think that the cross is all about our salvation and about acquiring heaven. And it is, but it is even more about being transformed and restored to the image of God (which is how we were created) day by day. The “new man” Paul speaks of putting on in his letters is Christ – Christ is the new man! We are putting on Christ every day. We know the two greatest commandments are to love God and love others. That should be your priority at all times. And when you evaluate your life and how you are progressing, it should be in regards to those two commands. In causing you to be dissatisfied with some of what you see when you examine your life, God is giving you an opportunity to find your complete satisfaction in Him. When you wish that you could be more diligent or have more time to minister to various friends and to teach specific things to your children – He is showing you that it is only in Christ that you can minister effectively at all. Take heart, you are ministering when you simply love others, even if you can’t give them all the particular time or attention that you would like. These are opportunities for us both to be saturated in the Word, because that is truly the only comfort we can give to others. Reason with your friends and your children from the Word. May it be on the tip of our tongues in every conversation we have with these dear ones. Here is one brief “nugget” that I think might be helpful in your conversations with both your friends who are struggling with hard providences right now, and even in your communication with your kids:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-11)

Jesus had truly become the Satisfier of Paul’s soul. And I know He is your Satisfier – now teach your friends and your children to find Him most satisfying! All men will sacrifice most willingly for that which they find most satisfying. Ask your friends, ask your children – what are you zealous for? What do you value most? What are you living for? (and don’t let people get away with the cliché response of “for God’s glory”) Get practical, especially with the kids. For instance, you could ask if they are finding more value in their friends or a certain toy than in Christ. Obviously as lost souls right now, they can’t find Him most satisfying. But by pointing those things out to them, Lord-willing they will begin to see that nothing else can satisfy them permanently, and so they will cry out in need of a Savior. We are so well taught with doctrine that we can recite these answers flippantly without dealing with our hearts. Asking ourselves these questions is how you and I can see our own sin more clearly and flee from it. And we aren’t just fleeing from it; we are fleeing to Christ, the Satisfier!