There is an old Latin proverb that says, “Experience is the best teacher.”
What we really know is not the sum of our theoretical knowledge, but what we have accumulated through truth applied to our experience.
Though I hold this as foundational truth, as a father of four growing children it makes me shudder. There are many things I want my children to learn firsthand, but do I want them to pass through every shadowy place or every field of heartache to gain the wisdom possible on the other side? No, definitely not. I want to prepare them for this broken world and the challenges that come from living in it, but how do I prepare them without scarring their souls and muddying their feet with destructive experiences?
The answer to this soul-searching is found in a word: reading.
Reading is a pathway to live another’s life, to see through another’s eyes, to feel another’s feelings. A pathway of experience.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…the man who never reads only lives once.” -G.R.R. Martin.
This might sound like wishful thinking, but Scripture attests to its truth.
As I read 1 Timothy 4:13 recently, I was arrested by Paul’s words to the young missionary pastor Timothy: “Until I come, give attention to reading…”.
Though some commentaries and even some translations add the concept of public to the word reading, the original text carries no such modifier. The context may imply reading the Scriptures, which is fundamental to our faith, but Paul does not say that he means exclusively Scripture. The admonition simply states, “Give attention to reading.”
But why? I think the reason is in the very word itself. The Greek word used by Paul here is anaginosis, which means, “a knowing again, an owning”. It is from a broader Greek word anaginosko, which is made up of two words: ano—“again,” which is used to intensify ginosko—“personally known”. So this word anaginosko properly means, “to know again through reading; reading enables others to re-live (appreciate) what was conveyed or experienced by the original author.”
When Scripture says, “Give attention to reading,” it is also telling us the power behind such reading–the power to live a thousand lives, to learn a thousand lessons, to experience things without walking their literal pathways ourselves. This is one reason why any man, woman, or child around the globe can pick up a Bible in his own language and be transported to the world of Christ. He can see experientially the life and death of Christ and come to trust Him fully, though he has never physically met Him.
If I want to prepare my children for the pathways of life ahead by employing the best teacher, experience, I can do so by purposeful, planned, and proactive reading. When I sit them in my lap I am not simply entertaining them, I am equipping them. Every time I suggest a book, I am adding the life in that story to the vast treasure-house of experience that they can use to navigate the pathways ahead.
They can learn to deal with losing a family member with Jo in Little Women.
They can possess the tear-filled treasure of sacrifice with Charlotte and Wilber in Charlotte’s Web.
They can learn courage to do what is right with Janner Igiby in the Wingfeather Saga.
They can pledge to live for a Mended Wood with Heather and Picket in The Green Ember.
They can taste failure and its bitter consequences at a safe distance. They can feel the heart-pounding jubilation of victory. They can experience the laughter and trials, the hopes and fears, the blood, sweat, and tears of multitudes of lives… but only if they read.
As Ray Bradbury put it, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
As a father I strive to place my children in a pathway to full living and, because reading and the experiences that it creates are so powerful, I am committed to giving my children not just any books, but the best books. I must give them living books, life-giving books, that lead to honor, kindness, goodness, and hope. May the armchairs of my home become the launching pads of brave and noble lives.