Updated: Dec 31, 2018
During our junior year at Columbia International University, Dan and I got to know the parents of a few of our fellow students who lived nearby campus. We were invited to hang out in their home with a handful of others to read a book out loud together. This concept was completely foreign to me… why would we sit around a room to listen to Mr. Tuggy read us a story? My skepticism revealed by lack of appreciation for good writing, as well as my shallowness and naivety about what constitutes quality time amongst family and friends.
These reading times soon became the highlight of my week. It was so sweet to rest in a comfortable home with a hot drink, listen to a story that spoke into various aspects of real life, and then discuss the meaning of it with intelligent and thoughtful people. Our current, cultural interaction with the English language seems to consist mostly of short, productive text messages. In our fast-paced living, are we missing out on what could be incredibly meaningful times of patiently listening through a developing story, or discussing our understanding of life with a friend?
Just like many life disciplines, it can be hard to prioritize the “best” things in the busyness of life, especially when we are not in the habit of doing so. Our family has tried multiple times to read together – sometimes we finish a book, and sometimes we don’t ever get to chapter two. A few Decembers ago, a friend gave us a copy of Jotham’s Story, an exciting advent read, complete with discussion questions after each chapter. If you have kids between the ages of 5 and 15, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy as another way to remember Truth throughout the Christmas season.
At Timberline, our staff splits up into “family groups” that meet twice a month throughout the school year to connect with students consistently and in a more personal way. Dan and I love to introduce this concept of reading out loud with our Family Group year after year. After eating breakfast around the table together, we all get comfortable on the couches and floors of our living room to read and listen.
The story we often choose to share is The Lost Princess: A Double Story by George MacDonald, a Scottish man who lived from 1824-1905. MacDonald was a mentor through his writings to CS Lewis and many other highly influential Christian writers, and is one of our favorite authors to enjoy and learn from. His ability to paint pictures with his words and highlight God’s beautiful character through storytelling is rare.
In this particular story, we learn about two little girls, born on the same day, who, although coming from two very different upbringings, both struggled with the handicap of pride. This struggle came from the brokenness in the hearts of the girls, as well as the brokenness in those who were raising them. The story journeys through the girls’ growth, or failure to grow, as they interact with God’s character; it has challenged me each and every time I have read through it –sometimes through the eyes of a little girl, and sometimes through the eyes of a parent or mentor. The following is a slice of the story concerning one of the two girls, Agnes, who grew up on a humble farm. Her parents were poor, and were unable to offer her many material things…
“But by degrees they had spoiled her; and this was the way: they were so proud of her that they always repeated everything she said, and told everything she did, even when she was present; and so full of admiration of their child were they, that they wondered and laughed at and praised things in her which in another child would never have struck them as the least bit remarkable, and some things even which would in another have disgusted them altogether. Impertinent and rude things done by their child they thought so clever! Laughing at them as something quite marvelous; her commonplace speeches were said over again as if they had been the finest poetry; and the pretty ways which every moderately good child has were extolled as if the result of her excellent taste, and the choice of her judgment and will. They would even say sometimes that she ought not to hear her own praises for fear it should make her vain, and then whisper them behind their hands, but so loud that she could not fail to hear every word. The consequence was that she soon came to believe – so soon, that she could not recall the time when she did not believe, as the most absolute fact in the universe, that she was Somebody; that is, she became most immoderately conceited… As time went on, this disease of self-conceit went on too, gradually devouring the good that was in her. For there is no fault that does not bring its brothers and sisters and cousins to live with it. By degrees, from thinking herself so clever, she came to fancy that whatever seemed to her, must of course be the correct judgment, and whatever she wished, the right thing...” (pp. 65-66, 69)
If we let down our own pride, and allow ourselves to think critically about the situation in this story, we can benefit immensely! In what ways am I just like Agnes’ parents, practicing preferential treatment toward my kids or even certain friends? (Romans 2:11, James 2:1-5) How devastating to think that I could be hurting those I love the most, filling them with pride, by my own blindness and ignorance. Then, stepping into the dirty shoes of the poor farm girl, I have to ask myself, “Where can I recognize self-conceit in my own life? (Jeremiah 9:23-24) How can we develop the maturity to look outside of our own perspectives to consider others’ perspectives more regularly?”
Maybe it’s not for you, but I encourage you to find an edifying story to share with your family or your roommates, and invest the time to read it aloud together. It may mean taking a break from Netflix or social media, which may be surprisingly hard (I’ve been there), but I think you’ll find it’s worth it. In a world of instant gratification, it takes effort to break out of routine and learn to enjoy something new that takes time… something like the written word, and like conversation with people who think well, even if differently than you do.
Is there a book you’ve enjoyed reading out loud? Let me know in the comments!
Thankful for you,