Unlike most other kids I knew, I wasn’t a really active child. Partly due to my overly shy personality and partly due to the severe restrictions imposed by my parents (which, of course, contributed in a lot of ways to my shyness), I didn’t spend a lot of time running around outside or playing with friends. Instead, I spent a lot of time reading. I would lose myself in books for days at a time (in Junior High, for example, I finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy in three days).
I was thinking about this a week or so ago, when I was feeling lethargic and decided to try and compile a list of all the books I remember reading (thankfully, I started keeping a record of that some years ago). As I looked over that list, especially the fiction section, I could see how various authors and genres were fairly representative of different stages in my life. Upon further reflection, I realized that the books I read as a child completely misled me about what I might expect from life. Everybody talks about how great it is for a child to become a lover of books… but I’m not so convinced.
When I was young, I read a lot of adventure-style books — books by authors like Tolkien, Howard Pyle, Sir Walter Scott, Alexander Dumas, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, and even Henryck Sienkiewicz. On top of that, the “non-fiction” books I was reading at that time were a lot of stories about Christian missionaries or martyrs — things like The Cross and the Switchblade and Run, Baby, Run or Through Gates of Splendor or God’s Smuggler. Truth be told, there was a lot of overlap between that which was presented as “fiction” and that which was presented as “non-fiction.” Add regular devotional readings of the Bible to that mix and, voila, one ends up receiving a wildly inaccurate picture of what life would be like.
I thought life was going to be thrilling — full of mystery and beauty and excitement and miracles. A swirl of passions and trials (that would always be exciting to experience even though they would be hard). Despite everything, love would overcome fear, virtue would triumph over power, God would intervene, and we would all be healed and liberated to pursue abundant life together.
Jesus. Talk about setting somebody up for disappointment. Not to say that there is no mystery or beauty or passion in life. It’s just, well, it’s just that there are a helluva lot of other things that are tedious and boring and painful (not in the large dramatic ways, but in the ways that poke at you day after day after day). Nobody is ever as great as you expect them to be, everybody will let you down, death tends to win more often than life, almost nobody gives a damn, and those who do are only capable of sustaining that for a set amount of time before they also burn out or blow up. Sheeyit, man. Maybe I would have been better off watching TV.