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This past week, I picked up the John Le Carre spy novel, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” It’s a thick book, and it will take me quite a while to read it. Reading the book probably won’t teach me something important that will contribute to my overall success in life. But it’s good for my soul.

I can be a bit of an intense person. I am constantly learning, thinking, writing, and discussing ideas. I think a lot about how I can be more effective, improve, and be a better teacher, writer, friend, and Christian. Maybe you can relate to this push, always striving to be better. It can be exhausting.

As a psychologist, I’m very interested in people’s choices. Some choices are big, and tell a lot about a person. What does a person choose to do for their career? Who does a person marry? What does a person decide to do about God and faith? But I also think that you can tell a lot about a person by their small choices that occur every day. What does a person watch on television? Do they order a small or large coffee at Starbucks? What kinds of books do they read?

If you look at the kinds of books that I tend to read, I think it paints an interesting picture of who I am. For example, The Encore Effect, a book about how to give extraordinary performances that keep people wanting more. Resonate, a book about how to give excellent presentations at work. The Benefit of the Doubt, a book about the positive role that doubt and wrestling with God can have in your faith.

These books are all about improving, getting better, and making progress. And that’s okay to a point. But I think there is a downside to this focus on progress. Namely, when all I’m focused on is improving and getting better, sometimes it’s hard to love myself where I am right now. I forget that God’s grace and mercy touches every part of me, even the parts that aren’t improving fast enough for my liking.

I think that’s why I read fiction. Tyrion Lannister reminds me to relax and not take myself so seriously. Harry Potter tells me that there is a time to work and improve, but also a time to rest and just be. Reading about the adventures of Frodo Baggins, warm under a blanket with a hot cup of tea… Why, that’s grace.

Discussion: What kinds of books do you read? What might this say about you?

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