Reading Helps with the Storms of Life
By Joel Raymond
One of the comforts of attaining old age is the ability to take a long view, recalling how God has carried His children, this child, through the storms of life. So I can see our present pandemic, causing suffering for many, as another bad storm that has not yet passed, but it will. Will things return to normal? Probably not. Our society will be changed. Let’s pray and work for the good of our society, to be a God-honoring society.
Why has God allowed such suffering? (Age-old question) Can He use it to shape us? (Nod your head.) Yes. As in everything that has gone before, He will work “for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Of course, this is always true. While our country has taken to sheltering in place, God’s shaping good can be worked here.
How can we individually use this change in our normal for good? My “go to” is reading the Bible, works of godly men and women, and even poets to gain a broader perspective. Take this line from Robert Browning, “Rabbi Ben Ezra”:
“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made: Our times are in His hand, who saith ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; trust God; see all, nor be afraid!’”
This poem was based on the real Abraham ibn Ezra, a renowned astronomer, theologian, writer, etc. Later in the poem, he says:
“Then, welcome each rebuff that turns earth’s smoothness rough, each sting that bids nor sit nor stand nor go! Be our joys three parts pain! Strive, and hold cheap the strain; Learn, nor account the pang; dare, never grudge the throe!”
Browning, or Ezra, can be read to point Christ-followers to value what is counter-intuitive: grief and loss, with the understanding that they have the potential to enlarge our souls.
Who else to read? On the subject of aging, I remember the book “Finishing Well”, by Bob Buford, a Christian businessman known for founding the Halftime Institute in Dallas. He had interviewed Dr. Donald Seldin of the University of Texas Health Science Center, who was still working, researching, and writing every day at age 82.
The author asked Dr. Seldin, “Do you think there are parts of the brain that remain vibrant and engaged as we grow older?” ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I believe there is. Long term memory and imprinting may be sustained in the setting where there has been intellectual and emotional commitment.’ . . . The parts of the brain that are focused on the things we love remain resilient and vibrant into late old age, he told me.”
Even novels can be enlightening and encouraging. My favorite female authors are Dorothy Sayers and Jan Karon. Karon’s Mitford series features a fictional Episcopal priest, Father Tim, and his wife Cynthia, a renowned children’s author. It is a romance of sorts (their courtship in his 60s, marriage, and life together), with a healthy, effective dose of gospel in each book. These books beautifully illustrate Christian lives with joys, griefs, friends, enemies, and outlaws.
Finally, a book and study course I heartily recommend is “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality”, by Peter Scazzero, a pastor in Queens, New York. The lack of passion and persistence in my own love for Christ and my neighbor was a factor in my first participation in the EHS course at Lake Church. I wanted to be able to love well: Love God well; love my neighbor well; and necessarily love myself well. I learned that “It’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” That was two years ago, and I believe God has put me on the road to loving well.