It’s no revelation to say that eating a balanced diet helps keep the body healthy and strong. But it might be surprising to apply this theory of intentional consumption to our souls.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that the media and marketing we take in through the course of a typical day has some impact on our hearts and minds, whether for better or for worse. It follows, then, that to lead a full and fulfilling life, we need to examine the media we absorb and its effect on our spiritual state.
It’s easy — and honest — to say that we take in so much information each day, it would be hard to make room for another book, podcast or artist on our mental plates. Hard, yes, but also necessary.
From my experience, adding spiritual reading into a busy life doesn’t have to mean a shift in how you spend more than five or 10 minutes a day. And it’s more than possible that God will take that time and multiply your effort into a dramatic change in your relationship with him.
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The key to developing a true habit of spiritual reading is finding your way to consistency. Consider this: you have a time and a place where you brush your teeth each day, and so this act of hygiene probably isn’t something you even think about doing. It just seems to happen. It’s possible to create a practice of spiritual reading that is similarly ingrained in your day-to-day so that it isn’t a chore. Instead it becomes something you can’t imagine living without.
It’s been said that “a goal without a plan is just a wish.” And so, the first step is to realistically look at your daily schedule and consider when you can set aside five or 10 minutes.
If you commute on public transportation or routinely spend time waiting for something, this could be your sweet spot. If you tend to start your morning scrolling through social media, it could be beneficial to swap half the time for a few pages of an eBook (your phone is already in your hand!).
For others, the end of the day might be a better fit. Perhaps you’ve been looking for a way to unwind without blue light, so reaching for a hard copy at your bedside would be an easier practice to get into. Spiritual reading might be just the thing to recenter your heart before you turn in.
It’s essential that you don’t get discouraged if your first attempt doesn’t work out. If you’re just too wiped at the end of the day to take anything else in, try setting an alarm on your phone to take a quick walk at noon while you listen to an audiobook. If you keep forgetting your paperback when you go out, buy an eBook or look to borrow one from your library instead. It’s okay if what works for someone else doesn’t work for you, as long as you keep trying for what does.
Finding enjoyable reads
The next step is finding something to read. Don’t neglect to consult the Holy Spirit as to what would best suit the current state of your soul. You might also ask your priest, a religious sister or a friend for a recommendation, or check out the list below:
- A personal narrative can be more inviting to a beginner than a spiritual treatise. I loved “Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It” by Jennifer Fulwiler.
- The writings of Pope St. John Paul II (available for free online at the Vatican’s website) are good starting points, particularly Mulieris Dignitatem.
- If you’ve never read it before (or if it’s been a while), pick up the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
- For practical guidance on holiness in little chunks straight from a saint, read “Introduction to the Devout Life” by St. Francis de Sales.
- To dig deeper into the Bible, try “Who Does He Say You Are?: Women Transformed by Christ in the Gospels” by Colleen C. Mitchell, which will challenge you to see yourself in the Gospels in a new and encouraging way.
Next, consider enlisting an accountability buddy: either someone who will read the same book simultaneously and discuss it with you or someone who knows your intention and can check in now and then to keep you on track as you build your habit.
Finally, it helps to make your practice enjoyable if you’re going to stick with it. Some people like to underline and dog-ear as they read. If that’s you, make sure to have a pen on hand. If those last lines made you cringe, consider using book darts (or simple Post-it Notes) or reading eBooks, where you can highlight without making a permanent mark on a page, or have a notebook nearby to capture quotes and reflections.
While perseverance is certainly a virtue, if the book you’re reading isn’t hitting home, allow yourself to put it down for a time and pick up something else that better captures your heart. The goal isn’t to finish a book for the sake of finishing; the purpose of spiritual reading is to draw you into a closer relationship with the Lord who loves you and wants the best for you.