I love to read – most anything, really (except Jane Austen – Gasp – get over it, and books about vampires or witches). No, really, classics aren’t my favorite; or maybe it’s just that I’m really picky. I like Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Pathfinder, The Last of the Mohicans, and my favorite of his – The Scarlet Letter. I love Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley was excellent, as was Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. And who can top Les Miserables by Victor Hugo??? I also like reading Biblical Counseling and psychology books, practical theology books (War of Words by Paul Tripp is highly recommended) and apologetics (Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace). I like autobiographies, as well. I recently read Seeking Allah; Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi. Amazing.
But I am by no means a book snob. My favorite snuggle-on-the-couch-with-hot-chocolate past-time is reading Christian fiction. It can be romance or murder mystery/suspense, but it’s light and usually trivial (well, murder mysteries aren’t really trivial, but you know what I mean). I make no apologies J
Dee Henderson is one of my favorite authors; she writes mostly murder mystery/suspense and has a series of books called The O’Malley series. Each of the books in this series follows one member of an unusual family of siblings who each grew up to be some kind of public servant/first responder. What makes these seven siblings unusual is that they are not related by blood. They grew up together in a children’s home and decided to be family – to the point that when they grew up, they all officially changed their last names to – you guessed it – O’Malley.
One of the things I like best about these books is the way this unique family sticks together through thick or thin. They each have their own unique set of issues stemming from childhood trauma/neglect/abuse, and they each have their own personality quirks that could drive someone insane – but it doesn’t matter. They love and accept each other for who they are. They tolerate each others’ weaknesses, idiosyncrasies, mistakes, miss-steps, and faux pas’ while also celebrating and leaning on each others’ strengths. There is no rivalry between them; when one suffers, they all suffer, and when one is exalted, they all exalt. They call each other out if the need arises, but it is done and accepted in love. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?
This is my dream. This is what I aspire to and what I wish/long for from other people in my relationships. If only it were that easy.
At the start of this new year, I wanted to choose something spiritual to focus on for the year. The thing God impressed on me was to pray for an increased capacity for faith, hope, and love. So, as I’ve been reading my Bible every morning, I’ve noticed these three things in my readings more than I have before. It’s amazing how much of Scripture focuses on loving others. I mean, we all know it’s there – how can you miss it; but sometimes it becomes so easy to say, “Yes, I love people,” and yet have no idea what that’s supposed to look like or how to implement it when things get tough.
I’ve been reading through I and II Peter this past week. Have you ever realized how much in those two books focuses on love for others? Not just what it is, but also what it needs to look like and from where it has to come – because friend, when you see what it’s supposed to look like, you have to admit it can’t come from just inside yourself!
Today, reading II Peter chapter 1 (I only got through verse 9), God really highlighted this for me. Basically, it says this: “Let excellence supplement your faith; let the knowledge of what is right and wrong inform what excellence looks like; let this knowledge inform and produce self-control (as opposed to the world’s idea of knowledge setting you free from restriction, the biblical idea of knowledge sets you free from self and sin); let perseverance strengthen your self-control; let a God-ward heart – rather than self-reliant one – supply strength for self-control; let godliness not be self-focused or self-isolating, but let it cause you to focus on the good of the community of believers as well as the world at large.” This is love. This is the how of it.
It then goes on to say that any lack in these things – in any area – will make me short-sighted. That means I will end up focusing on myself and on temporary things rather than others and eternal things because I will tend to leave God out of the equation. In forgetting His grace to me, I will lack grace for others. I will become blind to my own sin and forget the sinful state God found me in and cleansed me from. This will in turn make me self-righteous and judgmental - the very opposite of love.
So, what does this have to do with my discussion on books? Just this. The fictional O’Malley siblings are wonderful. I love the example they inspire me to follow. They help me put concrete “flesh” on an abstract “idea.” But...they are fictitious. The real world of relationships is much messier than it is in the imaginary O’Malley realm. That, however, doesn’t change God’s command to me to love others. In fact, He often has to remind to me love people more than need people, and this is easier for me in some areas than others.
This year, I’m praying for an increased capacity for loving others. I don’t expect it to be easy, and I don’t expect to always get it right; in fact, I know I will fail way too much. I do, however, expect for God to answer my prayers, give me strength, and help me grow. That’s one aspect of the faith and hope part.
Why is this so important? Because in John 13:34-35 we find that Jesus said this to his disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this, all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Dear God, increase my capacity to love others!