Q: Dear Father John, There is just too much to read! I feel like I should be reading more about my faith and the spiritual life, because I want to grow more. But I am so frustrated, because even if I would spend all day reading, I feel like I would barely be scratching the surface. So I get tense, confused, and then I don’t do anything. What’s going on with me, and what I should I do about this?
In our first and second posts in this three part series, we discussed the spiritual gluttony of frustration and ways to recognize how to develop our intellects in a Christian manner. We examined frustration and also how we need to learn how to experience God’s love for us.
“One Step Enough for Me”
Third, the next-step factor. The practical trick for keeping this healthy desire for greater knowledge healthy is to think in terms of the next step. Don’t look at the 3.3 million volumes in the Hesburgh Libraries at Notre Dame. Rather, look at the two or three books that you really feel drawn to right now – and dip into them, and work through them, seeking to increase both the breadth and the depth of your knowledge. As you are working through these books, other titles will come onto your radar screen. Put them on your wish list. When you are ready for another book, you can look through the list and see which ones draw you most intensely. This is how the Holy Spirit guides us, often – he will draw us to certain titles or courses, and we kind of follow along. He knows what will help us most in each moment and each season of our journey, and he will guide us in subtle, gentle ways.
Another approach, if you are a planner and an organizer, is to set yourself some goals for each liturgical season, or for each year. Plan ahead what you would like to study and why, then get all the materials on your active bookshelf, and work through it gradually, enjoyably, peacefully. You can have a goal, for instance, of reading four or five books on prayer this winter, or making your way through five great Catholic novels in the spring, or reading all the works of St. Francis de Sales this year. As more items and ideas pop up on your radar screen, put them in your wish list and pile them onto your inactive book shelf.
If you find yourself worrying about whether you made the right decision as regards which books to read right now, watch out. Most likely, that is a distraction (unless it persists and persists and persists, then maybe the Holy Spirit is trying to get you to switch channels). Trust that if you are truly seeking to get to know better God and his plan for your life and for the world, he will make use of whatever you dive into. In fact, you will find yourself utilizing things you just read in conversations the very same day or week – God loves to multi-task, so he loves to create situations for us to use what we learn to help others.
Be grateful for the good, holy desire in your heart – the desire to know better and better all that God has revealed to us about himself, this world, and the way to live our lives to the full. Keep acting on this desire, but do so with the childlike humility and joy that Jesus values so much. We will always have more to discover as we venture towards the Father’s house, and that should fill our hearts with delight, not frustration.