Saturday, September 18, 2010

Obsessive Reading Disorder

My name is Dave.  I'm a readaholic.

I recently entered a 12 step program to help me address this issue.

Step 1:  Finish school and thereby finish all required reading.
Step 2:  Become pastor of your first church.
Steps 3-12: Have children.  Its not that these last ten steps mean you have to have 10 children.  Its more metaphorical than that.  Instead, these ten steps can represents the ten months you will go without sleep.  Or they can represent the ten times you will be woken up every night.  Take your pick.

Of course, its not like I hadn't dabbled a bit here and there over the last several months.  There was the reading for sermons and Bible studies.  But that's stuff that anyone could justify.

But then God decided to test me by allowing my children to actually sleep occasionally.  The more my children slept the more rested I was and the more free time I had.  It wasn't long before I started to slip back into my old habits.

I started seeing a counselor.  No, its not what you think.  I don't actually know of any counselors trained to treat obsessive reading disorder.  I was seeing this counselor to help me be a better counselor in my role as a pastor.  Little did I know the path this would lead me down.  He actually assigned reading for me as a part of my training.

So I started reading again.  It was slow at first.  But then something here or there would catch my interest.  The book I was reading on counseling was a kind of gateway reading.  It led me to reading a book on family systems therapy which led to reading a book on grief which led to reading C.S. Lewis.

But even at this point I think there still would have been hope for a quick recovery if it hadn't been for my wife.  She too had abstained for a long time because of our life circumstances which was part of what helped me to stay off the sauce.  But now someone had loaned her the Harry Potter series.  (I always knew those books were evil.)  She got a taste and it was all downhill from there.  She always had a book in her hand,  reading everywhere; on the couch in front of the TV, in bed, in the middle of the day!  It was awful.  The housework was neglected.  Children were left in my care for long periods of time.  It wasn't pretty.

Of course, what they say is true.  Its always the kids who suffer most.  I can already see how my wife's reading habits are impacting our children.  Hannah plays with letters as if they were toys and she is constantly asking me to read to her.  Malachi is not even a year old yet and he stares longingly at books as you turn the pages for him as if he can't wait for the day when he will be able to drink in their magic.  Poor kid.

But even with all the destructive effects of reading laid before me, I still couldn't help myself.  And so, after nearly a year without any binge readings, I picked up The Works of John Wesley, Vol.1.

And now its seems that things are worse than they were before.  That was less than a month ago and somehow I find myself already half way through volume 4.  I've even experimented with a few other books between volumes.  The worst part is that I can't stop thinking about when my next reading will be or what I'll read next.  Just the other day we were all in the van on the way to church and I pondered out loud to myself "I wonder if I should starting reading Luther in between volumes of Wesley so that I can compare them or if I should wait until I've finished all 14 volumes of Wesley so that I don't get them confused."  Jess was quick to point out to me that she didn't think this was a question that very many people asked themselves which I am pretty sure is just her way of telling me how special I am.  But just in case I was wrong, I decided not to tell her that I was already calculating in mind how long it would take me to get to Calvin and Barth too.

My addiction has become so severe that, as of late, I've actually tried to step back and reflect on where this compulsion for reading comes from.  For a long time, I could justify my addiction easily enough.  I was in college.  I was in seminary.  Everyone else was doing it.  I was just working hard to prepare for being a pastor and I could quit whenever I wanted.  I've even considered the very real possibility that my compulsion to read stems from having too much of my self-worth wrapped up in intellectual achievement. (I probably have the psychology reading I did to thank for that one.)  But the truth is, while all of those statements have some truth to them, none of them completely exhausts the compulsion I feel for reading.

The irony is (cue the serious part of the post) that as obsessive as my reading habits are I really do believe that this is one of the primary ways that God has chosen to work in me.  Perhaps that sounds like the ultimate crutch; like the alcoholic or drug addict saying "I can't help it.  This is just the way that God made me."  but it is, in fact, what I believe about myself.  That's not to say that I don't have to be careful about how much time I spend reading, especially in a profession where my use of time is largely self-directed and there are many important things to do in addition to studying.  I readily confess that it will always be a temptation for me to study to the extent that I neglect other important aspects of my role as a pastor (and as a husband and father).  I also recognize that when I find what I think is a good balance between reading and other aspects of life there may be others who do not agree with that assessment.

In spite of all that, I still believe that reading and study are and will likely always be one of the primary means of grace in my life.  This is about more than having answers or being prepared.  This is about how God is shaping me as His servant.  I believe this because I know how God used my time at ENC and NTS to transform me as a person.  I believe this because I know that now, as I've dedicated larger amounts of my time to studying once again, I feel God working in me in new ways again.   These last few weeks that I've spent reading Wesley have been some of the most intense time of spiritual formation I've experience in the last couple of years.  God has spoken to me about weaknesses and blind spots in my life and ministry while also helping me let go of some burdens that I've been holding onto for quite some time.  I'm looking forward to finding out what else the Word can work in me through the written words of others in the months and years to come.

No comments: