Thoughts on Reading, Writing, and Rest

Sometimes, I find that I relate strongly with the writer of Ecclesiastes. For those who don’t know, this is the book of the Bible that seems a little out of place and appears to merely state that everything is “meaningless” or “vanity.” But sometimes, life feels a little like that. Often when I am feeling down, I read the book of Ecclesiastes. Odd, I know, but true nonetheless. There is something about that book that puts life into perspective and makes the world seem a little less hopeless.

I have been a little out of sorts recently. I’m not quite sure what to call it. I am not melancholy, or sad, or restless, or happy, or anything really. I know I’m tired, I can’t seem to focus long enough to write, and I’m struggling with direction. I’ve read a lot recently, too, and the books I’ve read were rather heavy. Among them were “Bullies,” “Brave New World,” “By Ways Unseen,” and the last was “Peace Talks.” If anyone knows the series the last one belongs to, you know how ironic that name is. And none of these books brought me any peace.

No, these books left me feeling disquieted. I read a great variety of books on a regular basis, often seeking something I can learn, maybe branch my understanding of how the world works and people think. I want to learn history, consider the future, and enjoy the fantastic present. But often, these thoughts become overwhelming, and none of them bring peace.

In all this reading, my mind never had time to rest, and it left me with a struggle I couldn’t grapple with. Frankly, it all felt meaningless. Why do I read, or study, or even write? Why can’t I even focus long enough to consider what I am reading and what it means? I wonder, do you sometimes feel the same way when you read or have read a great deal? You’re always searching and learning, but it’s not quite the thing you are looking for or needed?

This brings me back to Ecclesiastes. I love the whole book, but the ending is quite good. Here are the last few verses:

The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.
Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.
Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:11-14

Ouch. You feel that first line deeply. A related book, Proverbs, embodies that idea quite well. No one likes correction or even to hear what is wise and good and true. People are selfish by nature, and we can quickly become wise in our own eyes. Thus, hearing the words of the wise, especially given by The Shepherd, can make us feel quite uncomfortable. Perhaps that is why I always go back to this book? It puts not only the world but me into perspective.

But the next line really hit me this time. “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” I think we readers and writers need to keep this in mind. I am part of a couple of reader groups online, each of them quite different from the others in many ways but very similar in one: the people there are obsessed with books, reading, and study. I mean that pretty literally. It almost seems like that is their life, to read and even write. Reading is an end in itself. All I see in this is that there is no end to making books, no end to our trying to figure out this world God created, and to study it all like this will only tire us out.

Sometimes, and I see this especially with non-fiction readers, it seems as though they read to gains some status, though whether it is more than a worldly goal I struggle to say. They study and read and seek to understand all the while ignoring the one book that has the answers. They weary themselves with learning, but for the sake of what? This is not to say that people shouldn’t read other books. I read a great variety, and I find books fascinating and educational in addition to their entertainment value. I think God wants us to learn more about Him and what He has created. As it says elsewhere in the same book, God has put an eternity in the human heart. We long to create and explore…everything! But like it says in Acts, God hoped that we might seek and find Him, though He is not far from us. And in the verses above, it says that such endless study only makes us weary. What we need is rest.

But instead, we seek after knowledge and weary ourselves with our books. I don’t think God wants that for us. He wants us to enjoy our lives and the things He has given us, including books and learning, but not to our destruction or weariness. In Him, we find our rest. Our duty is to fear God and keep His commandments. That leaves so much of the world open to us! God wants us to explore and learn. But from time to time, we need to take also that rest that God made for us. Rest is good, and making ourselves weary with study is not good for the body, mind, or soul.

So, I’ve taken the last couple of days to rest from writing and reading. I think these breaks are good for me, even if I often resist them. I read all these things that left me disquieted, though I think they all were profitable to read. And I think there was another reason they left me feeling this way, one I will address at a later date. But I think part of it was because I don’t know how to rest my body or my mind. Somehow, for some reason, I feel like there is something wrong with not doing something productive. But this is not good for me, nor is it for you.

It is okay to rest from learning and studying and reading, even reading for pleasure. These are all profitable and enjoyable things, and I think that those are blessings from God. But it is okay to not always be reading. Perhaps you won’t have as many books on your Goodreads list as another person, but that’s okay. Wearying ourselves for a goal that we want to reach simply for the sake of achieving it in this world is meaningless. Let us enjoy the days God has given us, some of which include the rest of the mind. Let us take that rest He desires for us and consider the Shepherd’s words and all the things we have read in the days before.

Blessings to you and yours,

~Madelyn Rose Craig

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