The Effects of Reading
By: Anthony Zaccariotto
I cannot think of a more excellent way for a person to change their perception and observation in life than by a good book. When I was in high school I had no desire to read or study, in fact I thought it was for nerds only. Yes, many times in my life I have fallen into the trap of misconceptions and have held many false views on other people. God has many times turned my wisdom into foolishness and I think if there was one habit that has contributed to growth in my life both spiritually and intellectually it has got to be the habit of reading. I am sure many people in the church are living very busy lives and can easily say that they don’t have the time. However, I am going to propose a few ideas to you throughout this blog and try work this powerful habit into your lives. I wouldn’t do this unless I genuinely felt that it was going to help you.
My journey to the church didn’t just happen overnight. The one thing that initially helped me to open up my mind was my decision to pick up a book. This was not the Bible, however the book I picked up did assist my journey to my faith. For the first time in my life I felt that I was able to improve myself from reading other people’s experiences, and also experiencing something more real other than just watching actors on TV. The influence these books had on me was astonishing. I noticed some of the books I read had a different impact on me than they did on other people too. This could be directly related to how a person may read the scriptures. For example, an atheist may read it with a proud heart and get nothing out of it, whereas a person with a humble heart may completely transform their life by it. It was Edmund Wilson who said that “No two persons ever read the same book.” I can highly relate to this statement surrounded by many people with different worldviews.
How many times have you read a book, finished it, put it down and then felt tremendous peace and comfort? I love taking suggestions from people on what books have touched their hearts because I want to experience this too and experience what they felt. We really need to get into the habit of reading in our lives. If we spend the first 30 minutes to an hour of the day before we go to work or school and pick up a good, positive and inspiring book, this can set our minds up for the whole day. This is the moment you are absorbing the most after a night of rest. How often do you notice at the beginning of your day your mind is so much quieter and focused instead of the end of the day? By setting aside 30mins – 1 hour in the morning, waking up early and reading a good positive book can make a tremendous change in your attitude. When I first started reading I would read a lot of positive thinking books in the morning and everyone throughout the day would notice a huge shift in my energy and attitude. I was so much happier, focusing on the good rather than the bad. My preference in the morning now is of course the New Testament due to the profound words and wisdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. I need this to keep me in check and remind me throughout the day of where I am going and what I need to do.
It is very easy for us to make excuses and neglect the necessities in our spiritual life. I think the only way a person is going to break the habit of not reading or not praying is to first force themselves. St Ambrose of Optina once said “if you do not feel like praying, you have to force yourself. The Holy fathers say that prayer with force is higher than prayer unforced. The kingdom of heaven is taken be force (Matt 11:12).” Every time I have substituted time I could have spent reading to time I spent watching TV, playing games, eating copious amounts of food or watching YouTube videos, I always ended up regretting it. I realised that what was becoming the biggest obstacles to my reading was my distractions and excuses. Imagine the progress I would have made if I had cut out all the idle things I was getting involved in.
One of the traps I fell into when I first started receiving suggestions from people on what books to read, was the guilt of not finishing it. This was particularly difficult when the book was not interesting me at all. Please do not feel that you have to finish every book you read. There is nothing wrong with stopping and moving on to another book that interests you, lest you lose your passion and get discouraged. Josh Jameson said that “There comes a time when you have to choose between turning the page and closing the book.”
This can also work the other way around too. If a book has highly influenced you, transformed you or had a profound positive impact on you, read it again! Can you imagine if we only read the Bible once and then never picked it up again? C.S Lewis says “I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.” Recently I started re-reading books that had a profound impact on me some years ago and I was now able to pick up some incredible information I didn’t pick up before. It was truly amazing and it helped me grow even more than other books I have been reading and wasn’t able to contemplate much on.
If you were able to set time aside and just read 10 pages a day of a spiritual book, the odds are you could read 20 books within a year. Can you imagine the spiritual progress you would make if you just read only 10 pages a day! What if you read only 3 chapters of the bible each day? You would be able to read the Bible at least once every year until you finally get to be with Him. “Every book we read is pouring ingredients into our mental faculties and the fabric of our lives are built from these ingredients” – Jim Rohn. Remember the parable of the sower that our Lord Jesus Christ told us. Imagine if we were constantly reading and allowing these seeds to fall on good ground and then bearing these fruits in our subconscious with patience. Can you imagine the spiritual progress we would make!
We should always keep a book on us at all times, whether in our car or in our bag. Many of us don’t realise this but the amount of time we spend in cars, standing in line for food at a shop, waiting for a friend to pick us up, going on the train or bus etc. can also be used for reading too. We should utilise the time we have and take advantage of these moments. Another opportunity we have is in our travelling. We should try to play more audio books in our car and pick up on some incredible life lessons and wisdom. By doing this we won’t get bored and we will always be learning and improving. Before we know it we will have achieved great progress in our lives and it was all done by filling in the time we had all along.
Take some time to examine things in your life that are preventing you from picking up that book. How much TV are you watching, how much food are you eating (this can make you very lazy and unfocused), how much time are you wasting on non-spiritual things, how much are you sleeping in, how much time are you spending watching YouTube clips or going on Facebook, Instagram, snapchat etc? Don’t let these things be an obstruction in your spiritual life. Remember what our Lord Jesus Christ said to us in Matthew 5:29 “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” Its time for us all to start eliminating the junk from our lives and start building ourselves up for the Kingdom to come and one of the best ways to accomplish this is by forming the incredible habit of reading.
I have read many books and I will leave you with a short list of the ones that have really stood out for me in the church, if anyone would like some suggestions:
- The Bible
- The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
- Mere Christianity by C.S Lewis
- Jesus the bridegroom by Brant Pitre
- Our Thoughts Determine our Lives by Elder Thaddeus
- The Gurus the Young Man and Elder Paisios by Alexis Trader
- The Imitation of Christ by Thomas E Kempis
- The Fear of God by Pope Shenouda
- Everyday Saints and other Stories by Archimandrite Tikhon
- Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father