The things that books can’t teach

I like to be early.  Arriving late makes my heart pound and my blood pressure rise and I feel all kinds of anxiousness.  So I’m a clock watcher and a minute counter and I know when we need to walk out, not to be on time, but to be early.  So when I bellow, “Let’s go or we’ll be late!”  Not one member of my family kicks into high gear because they know we won’t actually be late.  We may just be less early.  Or even right on time.

This morning I checked the clock and stated to a certain munchkin who likes to push all boundaries that he better start eating his breakfast.  His retort, “Who made you the mom around here?”

There was a time I would have lectured on this.  Talked about using our words to encourage and about kindness and respect.  But the first born got all of that and with the third I simply shake my head and laugh and muss up his hair because he’s not being disrespectful or rude.  He said it with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye and he was only looking for a reaction so I might playfully swat his bum or tickle him until he takes it back.

Books don’t teach you this stuff, the difference between your first born and third.  They don’t lay out for you how your heart will change and your ways will mellow with subsequent kids.  They don’t tell you that all that was so important the first time around can shift.

I know this because when I first found out I was pregnant I bought all of the books.  All of them.  Of course there were the standards.  The What to Expects and all that but also biology books.  I had one entire book that was just beautiful pictures of what was going on inside my body from week to week.  Pictures showing little additions to my growing baby but started with simple cell splitting.  I loved every page of it.

I do this with everything.  Some people learn by asking questions, others through trial and error and I learn by reading.

So, when I want to cook better meals I read all of the reviews on every cook book on Amazon and then I order a whole bunch and I read them cover to cover.  And when I want to reduce the amount of chemicals that are in my home I spend hours (days?!) online bookmarking every website that has good information on toxins and how we can reduce these by making our own more natural products.  I google organics and herbs and read about green juices and how grapefruit can clean your shower and how to mix just the right essential oils to heal everything.  And when I want to be inspired I pick up a biography about people who lived through the hard and persevered and came through it all with great strength of character.  And when I want to know the in’s and out’s of culture I pick of Jean Twenge or Douglas Coupland and I read and read and read the words that they have to say because they study this stuff and, whether in pie chart or novel form, they offer insight.

Problem is, after spending a bajillion hours reading, after investing so much time, I still haven’t placed a better dinner before my family or mixed up a vinegar concoction to clean the toilet.

I picked up Shauna Niequist’s book Bread and Wine the other day and I just kept nodding my head through the reading of it.  There are very few books that I’ve found where I somehow feel like the author got into my brain and put into words what I was already thinking.  This is this book.  Only she says it more eloquently than my brain likely would.

“But then you find yourself standing at a bar or kneeling in the dirt of holding a very sharp chef’s knife and you realize all at once that it doesn’t matter what you’ve read or seen or think you know.  You learn it, really learn it, with your hands.  With your fingers and your knife, your nose and your ears, your tongue and your muscle memory, learning as you go.”

I do the same with my faith.  When I want to learn about prayer I buy a book and when I want to know more about fasting I read hundreds of pages on it and when I want to dig in to angels or divorce or healing or justice or love or the gift of grace I read and I read and I read.

I’ve found however, that though this is good, it can’t stop there.  Because if I only read about prayer but never actually get down on my knees and cry out to the Lord then I will never actually understand it.  And if I read all that there is to say about fasting but never feel the rumbling of my stomach or the longing of my soul then all the words on the page are just that, words on a page.  And if I read all that has ever been written about the poor or the oppressed or the orphans or the trafficked or the slaves or the weak but I never actually open my heart and my hands to see, to hear, to get a taste then all I have is knowledge.

God is stirring something in me that is pushing me to go beyond the books.  He’s kneading my heart with his hands, pushing out the air bubbles of knowledge, deflating the work the yeast of books has done and forming it into what he wants.  I don’t know if his plan is for bread or for buns or for croissants but I do know that He’s asking me to go beyond the books and put knowledge into action and head into hands and what I know from the pages into what I know in my heart.

Because the book couldn’t tell me that my third child would be cheeky and feisty and that I’d love him for it.  In the same way the books can’t tell me what it feels like to get down on my knees or to dig in with my hands or to smell the air of a foreign country.  They can’t tell me what the smiles of orphans will do to a heart or what the hunger will do in my soul or what the cries to the Almighty will do for the people I love.

I’m not giving up the books, I assure you.  But I’m also not stopping there.


2 thoughts on “The things that books can’t teach

  1. Valid point. You’re so right. I’ll never be able to do or accomplish or experience all the things that books can show and teach me. But I can with some of them. So happy balance of both, maybe?


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