A BookNet Canada survey indicates that Canadians read more during the pandemic, and while no one asked me, I count myself as part of the majority who read more since the state of emergency was declared in March 2020. I read more books, more magazines, more news, more digital formats, and today I’m sharing five books that give me hope.
While the novel coronavirus has dominated the headlines in my part of the world, we have been facing another public health crisis that was declared four years earlier, in April 2016. At that time, opioid overdose was the leading cause of unnatural death in British Columbia, surpassing “the combined total of suicides, homicides, and deaths due to motor vehicle collisions.” And just as the COVID-19 health emergency has made everything more complicated, it’s made the opioid overdose crisis worse too.
In A Prayer for Orion: A Son’s Addiction and a Mother’s Love (InterVarsity Press, 2020), author Katherine James shares what happened when she and her husband discovered their son was using heroin. This took place before the present opioid crisis, yet their experience speaks powerfully today: how they tried to help their son, how they connected with his friends, how they continued to love him through his addiction, overdose, and recovery.
A Prayer for Orion is a heart-breaking, inspiring, and beautifully written memoir that breathes hope in the midst of crisis. As James writes:
If you’re a parent and feel ignorant about drugs, don’t be afraid. While Rick and I knew almost nothing about drug abuse or the present drug culture, the atmosphere has since changed and now there’s a healthy and robust conversation taking place. Rick and I, perhaps because of our assumption that a certain type of parenting would prevent having a wayward child, were, as the Bible says, caught unawares. But parents today aren’t caught unawares, and my hope is that our story will both reveal the evil of The Evil, and the magnificence of The Magnificent. And if you’re in the midst of a similar story, take comfort in the fact that there are a lot of us out here who understand. There is so much help available now and as complicated as it is; yes, addiction is a curable disease.” (page 143)
The last year and a half has also highlighted issues of racial violence and the ongoing need for justice and healing. The death of George Floyd in the United States sparked protests across the country, here in Canada, and around the world. We have seen a rise in anti-Asian incidents, and in a recent interview on self-care, I was asked, how do you take care of yourself in light of this increase?
In Healing Racial Trauma: The Road to Resilience (InterVarsity Press, 2020), author Sheila Wise Rowe shares stories of fatigue, silence, fear, and lament over racial trauma, and what it means to heal and build resilience. I appreciate the diversity of stories she includes, and find hope in what she has to say about self-care:
When you choose to stay well, you accept that change and challenges are part of life. So, you can be totally alive rather than living in self-focused detached numbness. Racism and microagressions will still occur, but you can change how you interpret and respond to them. You can look out for signs of racial battle fatigue (for example, building a wall around your heart to prevent hurt from happening again). When you try to shut out the bad stuff, you may also cut off your heart from feeling all the good things God has provided. You are free, a real person with real needs; give those and the needs of others you can’t meet to the Lord. Jesus can help you to define and maintain your boundaries, such as choosing when you want to talk about or respond to race and racism. Boundaries prevent your heart from being an exposed space anyone can walk over or exploit for selfish reasons. The Lord is teaching us how to be healthy and balanced people who can say no without being manipulated by social media or other people. You can discern when to extend yourself safely. Ask the Lord to show you how. (pages 149-50)
This time of covid has also taken its toll on mental health. Studies in the last year indicate a decline in mental health among teachers, health-care workers, and the general population. In When Despair Meets Delight: Stories to Cultivate Hope for Those Battling Mental Illness (Way with Words Publishing, 2020), author Tony Roberts shares his personal story of living with mental illness and how he has reached out to others. I’ve shared some of his story before in Healthy Ministry and the Pastor with Mental Illness and Escaping the Self-Centeredness of Mental Illness, and I find hope in the way he continues to persevere:
Don’t get me wrong. I have not been cured of my brain illness, and I don’t expect to be in this life. But I can live with it, thanks to the healing mercy of Christ and the Holy Spirit flowing through the faith community. I believe this is possible for all my friends and family, who struggle with troubled minds. Healing happens when we walk together out of the destructive darkness and into the healing light. (page 160)
In On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books (Brazos Press, Baker Publishing Group, 2018), author Karen Swallow Prior casts a wide net to explore justice, courage, faith, love, patience, and other virtues illustrated in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Silence by Shusaku Endo, Persuasion by Jane Austen, and other works of literature. She includes a whole chapter on hope.
This was a fascinating read, and I learned a lot about life and literature, especially since I haven’t read most of the books she cites and perhaps I never will. But she gives me hope for my slow reading too:
Just as a fine meal should be savored, so, too, good books are to be luxuriated in, not rushed through. Certainly, some reading material merits a quick read, but habitual skimming is for the mind what a steady diet of fast food is for the body. Speed-reading is not only inferior to deep reading but may bring more harm than benefits: one critic cautions that reading fast is simply a “way of fooling yourself into thinking you’re learning something.” When you read quickly, you aren’t thinking critically or making connections. Worse yet “speed-reading gives you two things that should never mix: superficial knowledge and overconfidence.” Don’t be discouraged if you read slowly. Thoughtfully engaging with a text takes time. The slowest readers are often the best readers, the ones who get the most meaning out of a work and are affected most deeply by literature.6 (page 17)
6 David Mikics, Slow Reading in a Hurried Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2013).
In Sacred Endurance: Finding Grace and Strength for a Lasting Faith (InterVarsity Press, 2019), author Trillia J. Newbell offers hope for the daily challenges of faith and life. I’m not much of an athlete, but I appreciate what she says about how living a Christian life is both like and unlike training for a marathon. It gives me hope for all of us athletes and non-athletes:
Here’s the thing I’ve learned about fitness: it takes time, effort, patience, falling on your face in agony at times, and lots and lots of enduring. You don’t wake up one day, decide to run a marathon, and then run it that evening. You have to train your body and mind for months. You have to endure difficult workouts, setbacks, and the daily routine required. Even then, getting to the finish line may be a slow process. And some quit.
This is what it’s like to run the Christian race as well. We learn how to work the muscles of godly pursuits that result in sanctification; this is our sacred endurance. I’m motivated as a believer not because I have to but because I get to. Yet obstacles, real-life struggles, hard circumstances, and ordinary life make running the life of faith difficult. . . .
One difference between a track-and-field race and the Christian race is that in the second we don’t finish in our own strength. We don’t have to find every muscle fiber in our body and practice “mind over matter” to finish. Instead, we have great promises in the Word of God that help us realize that he is running this race with us and that the Holy Spirit is at work within us to equip us and empower us in the race. (pages 8-9)
I’m grateful for each of these books and each of these authors that speak hope to me.
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
– Romans 15:13
Writing/Reflection Prompt: What book(s) have you been reading that give you hope?
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