Reading and the State of My Soul

Reading and the State of My Soul

I lived through a horrible season about a decade ago. The details aren’t important now but the lessons learned during those days of darkness are. Among them is a truth about reading and the condition of my inner being that has proven invaluable: the act of reading reveals the state of my soul.

I first realized this when I tried to read during that horrific time. I found that I couldn’t read for very long or at any great depth. It was as though the pain crept into the space in my soul intended for the words. I was fidgety. I was distracted. The meaning didn’t penetrate. I started dozens of books but finished none of them.

What did I learn from this? If I can’t read, there is something wrong in my soul that requires attention.

All these years later, I’ve learned to use reading as a measuring device for the condition of my heart. If I can’t sit quietly and contently and absorb a book, then I’m in a kind of inner turmoil that is impacting me every minute of every day whether I’ve fully taken notice or not. I should close the book and tend my soul—call the friend and apologize for that misdeed, turn my worries to God, extricate myself from the situation that keeps me in turmoil, cease the striving and the competing, or do whatever else I can to calm the waters of my heart.

It is a simple lesson but it has helped me immensely. It also takes a variety of forms.

  • If I can’t decide what to read then it usually means that I’m living so fast and so at the surface of life that no topic or theme grabs my heart. This means it’s time to slow down and recover my depth.
  • If I can only skim news and commentary but can’t dig into a good book at length, then the distractions and the chopping up of my time have taken its toll. It’s time to get alone, shut down the “devices” and force the ever-present world back into its boundaries.
  • If I find I don’t care about anything I read, then it is likely a wound or an offense has rubbed a callous on my inner life. I’m probably living somewhat robotically and stoically. Others have probably noticed, but it usually takes my tug of war with words on the page for me to figure it out.
  • And if I can’t find patience for the way various authors tell their stories in varying ways, I’m likely exhibiting this same impatience with any voice but my own in the way I treat those around me.

There are variations in application but the lesson remains the same: reading reveals the soul.

I’ve become so convinced of this truth that I have begun asking my clients to read books as I work with them. Naturally, I ask this because I want them to learn from the wise and successful in their fields. Yet I also know that what surfaces during the act of reading will help us drill down into matters of heart that directly shape leadership, communication, and the marshaling of gifts that success requires.

I’ve become a better man, a better Christian, a better husband and a better leader through this small lesson. I’ve watched others do the same. The lesson for you is this: read, read widely, and read constantly. As you do, be sure to take note of what surfaces. It is surfacing at other times, too, and knowing this can help you master yourself and be more effective in every area of your life. Maybe this is part of the meaning of the words, “Read to Lead.”