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I Married a Sinner (and So Did He)

Nothing Else to Marry

What follows is an excerpt from my book, Love Your Husband/Love Yourself. I am posting here at the request of a blogging friend from Thankful Homemaker.

The letter quoted at the end of this passage is a personal one that Elisabeth Elliot sent me in response to a letter I mailed to her over a quarter century ago.

That was in the days before the Internet, when handwritten correspondence was still in fashion.

The ink on that correspondence has faded a bit and the stationery yellowed with age, but the advice Mrs. Elliot gave me therein is as timely today as it was then.

It deserves to be shared and taken to heart — for in a world filled with Hollywood chick-flicks and high expectations and Harlequin romances and (even) homeschool courtships, it is easy to lose sight of reality.

That reality is this: Your husband is human. He has flaws (as do you). And forgiveness will be essential if you ever hope to look beyond those flaws and build a happy, successful marriage.

~ Words of Wisdom ~

We know that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), but there is a difference between philosophically acknowledging your husband’s inherent sin nature, and experientially coming face to face with a particular offense which affects you. This is where the rubber meets the road, where forgiveness becomes more than a theoretical platitude.

I first grappled with this distinction back in 1986, the year I finished college. Doug and I had met two weeks before graduation and become fast friends. We held so many things in common — values, goals, beliefs, even mannerisms — that my own mother told me she would fear we were siblings had I been adopted as Doug was.

We were soon making plans for the future, determined that our life together should be built on trust and transparency. Against the advice of all his friends, Doug was completely candid with me about his past failings, and I am eternally grateful for his honesty.

Although the events he described had occurred in the distant past, his confession was difficult for me to bear; it consumed my thoughts by day and tormented my dreams by night.

Careworn and weary, I finally wrote to Elisabeth Elliot for counsel. With her permission, I close this chapter with her response, dated September 30, 1986.

Dear Jennifer:

How my heart went out to you last night as I read your letter, just received. I understand perfectly how you felt…. Even God, who forgives the sin and casts it into the depths of the sea, does not undo the effect of that sin, nor can you…. The tears, the nightmares, the unbidden imaginary pictures that torment you — how well I empathize with all of that, and pray for your comfort and healing.

First let me say that Doug is to be commended for not allowing himself to deceive you. He must have been in an agony over the decision to tell you, knowing at least a little bit how much it would hurt.

Second, you suffer not alone, but actually and redemptively with Christ (see Colossians 1:24, Philippians 1:29, 1 Peter 4:12-13, and many other passages). This aspect of suffering is a real life-changer. Study it for the rest of your life.

Third, you suffer quite literally because of another’s sin, which is exactly what Christ did. Because He paid the price for yours, you too must be willing to pay the price for Doug’s — the price of sorrow, heartbreak, the sense of irremediable loss…. Forgiveness means absolute relinquishment of all that. It is a laying down of your life. Your dream of the “perfect” man has to go — it is this man God has given you, another sinner (there isn’t anything else to marry!) — it is this gift you receive in thanksgiving, acknowledging the fact that in this fallen, broken world, there is no place where the heart may be perfectly at rest and wholly filled except at the Spring of Living Water. Drink there, dear Jennifer, and be at peace.

Doug’s admission will always be a reminder to you that he needs your sacrificial, self giving love. When you sin against him, as you certainly will, any wife does, you will then know, when you have to ask his forgiveness, that you are two human beings in need of the Amazing Grace that saves WRETCHES!! You are, as Peter wrote, “heirs together of the grace of life.”

So forgive him freely, utterly, joyfully — for that is how Christ has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32). Bring all those awful thoughts and imaginations under the Lordship of Christ (2 Corinthians 10), and receive this man as your God-given husband, promising to honor, which means, among other things, never to bring up again that which has been put under the Blood.

I know a young woman who steadfastly refused to forgive her husband…. She has, in spite of Christian profession, destroyed her marriage, destroyed her own life, and blighted the lives of others. Don’t refuse the grace of God for your own deep needs, nor refuse to Doug the grace He will give you to forgive him.

Lovingly,
Elisabeth Elliot

I’m not sure what I had expected Elisabeth Elliot to say to me, but — twenty-eight years and twelve children later — I am so very grateful that she gave me the advice she did… and that I had sense enough to take it.

If this is an area of struggle in your life, I pray God will give you the grace to take it, too.


Want to read more? You can find Love Your Husband/ Love Yourself at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and many other fine booksellers. It is also available for Kindle or the Nook.

Love Your Husband/ Love YourselfWhat readers are saying:

“This book is the talk your mom never had the nerve to have with you.”

“I wish I had read it years ago…”

“Don’t miss this one.”

“…a message openly opposed by our culture and sadly sidestepped by the church.”

“…one of the most candid, honest, beautiful books on marriage I have ever read.”

Kirsten Dunst: She’s Simply Stating the Obvious

Neurological research has demonstrated what any two-year-old could tell you: Men and women are not identical in either nature or function.

Equal? Yes. Identical? No.

Actress Kirsten Dunst made headline news last week for her comments concerning traditional gender roles.

“I feel like the feminine has been a little undervalued,” she told Harper’s Bazaar UK. “We all have to get our own jobs and make our own money, but staying at home, nurturing, being the mother, cooking – it’s a valuable thing my mum created.”

The interview is published in the magazine’s May issue. As May is also the month most of the world celebrates Mother’s Day, these sweet comments about the choices her own mother made seem altogether fitting and appropriate.

But Dunst didn’t leave it at that. “Sometimes,” she continued, “you need your knight in shining armour. I’m sorry. You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman. That’s why relationships work.”

That’s the part that really got feminists’ dander up. The most militant of this movement want us to believe that men and women are not only equal, but are also identical — or, at least, they would be if society didn’t keep imposing gender-based expectations upon them.

Anyone who dares suggest that sex-based differences do exist (and to our benefit, even) is ridiculed.

Despite all the so-called progress that has been made toward masking such differences, women have lost far more than they’ve gained in the sexual revolution. In attempting to style ourselves as men, we’ve squandered the power we have as women.

The more women behave like men, the less inclined men are to stick around (or to exhibit the more virtuous of masculine qualities when they do). Instead of being cherished and protected, girls are being used then dumped, in the wake of which they grow lonely, depressed, bitter, and/or angry.

Dunst may not realize it, but her comments underscore some important scientific findings. Cutting edge research has demonstrated that — lo and behold — men and women actually are different. They are different in the way their bodies are built (a fact that seems obvious to any two-year-old, but eludes elitist academicians), in the way their brains process information, and in the way they respond to stress, to name just a few.

Furthermore, relationships do work better, last longer, and provide greater satisfaction when traditional gender roles are embraced. The studies that support such notions are numerous, rigorous, and well-documented. You can read more about them in the following excellent books, all of which I highly recommend.

Four (More) Must-Read Books for Women Who Think:

TAKING SEX DIFFERENCES SERIOUSLYIf you’d like a better appreciation of just how different men and women really are, TAKING SEX DIFFERENCES SERIOUSLY provides a great starting place.

To be totally honest, I didn’t care much for Chapter 3 (in the section aptly named “Men Don’t Get Headaches”). It’s not that I questioned the validity of what is there written; it’s just that I felt a little uncomfortable with so graphic a glimpse at the way (many) men think. The rest of the book, however, is riveting, and the chapters on Fatherless Families, the Sexual Revolution, Day Care, and Title IX Sports are particularly enlightening.

EXCERPT: “There is a certain unworldly quality to the suggestions that a just world would be one in which men and women do all things equally. This understanding would require that parents who are trying to tease out their children’s natural abilities should instead do their part to help achieve a society in which a higher percentage of people do things they are not interested in and not very good at…. In the real world, any society will and should want to encourage people to do worthwhile things that they enjoy and do well. This means that natural inclinations will have policy and normative relevance, although they will not always be conclusive.”


Adam and Eve after the PillMary Eberstadt’s ADAM AND EVE AFTER THE PILL is a tightly written treatise which examines many of the devastating if not unanticipated consequences of the sexual revolution, including the erosion of the nuclear family, the rise in production and consumption of pornography, the disturbing social trends on college campuses across the continent, and society’s shifting ideologies concerning both food and sex.

As bleak as the subject matter may sound, Eberstadt ends every chapter on a hopeful note by presenting evidence, however scant it may be, that the tide is slowly beginning to turn.

EXCERPT: “In the postrevolutionary world, sex is easier had than ever before; but the opposite appears true for romance. This is perhaps the central enigma that modern men and women are up against: romantic want in a time of sexual plenty. Perhaps some of the modern misery of which so many women today so authentically speak is springing not from a sexual desert, but from a sexual flood — a torrent of poisonous imagery, beginning now for many in childhood, that has engulfed women and men, only to beach them eventually somewhere alone and apart, far from the reach of one another.”


The Female BrainLouann Brizendine tackles the topic of THE FEMALE BRAIN with a no-stone-unturned thoroughness one would rightly expect from a medical doctor such as herself. Almost a third of the book’s 279 pages are devoted to endnotes and reference citations. She tackles the topics of love, trust, sex, hormones, mothering, depression, and aging, all from a neurological standpoint that is both scientifically accurate and simultaneously easy to read and understand.

EXCERPT: Most women find biological comfort in one another’s company, and language is the glue that connects one female to another. No surprise, then, that some verbal areas of the brain are larger in women than in men and that women, on average, talk and listen a lot more than men. The numbers vary, but on average girls speak two to three times more words per day than boys. We know that young girls speak earlier and by the age of twenty months have double or triple the number of words in their vocabularies than do boys. Boys eventually catch up in their vocabulary but not in speed. Girls speak faster on average — 250 words per minute versus 125 for typical males…. Even among our primate cousins, there’s a big difference in the vocal communication of males and females. Female rhesus monkeys, for instance, learn to vocalize much earlier than do males and use every one of the seventeen vocal tones of their species all day long, every day, to communicate with one another. Male rhesus monkeys, by contrast, learn only three to six tones, and once they’re adults, they’ll go for days or even weeks without vocalizing at all. Sound familiar?”


The Male BrainDr. Brizendine’s THE MALE BRAIN is a fast and enjoyable read. This book is significantly shorter than its counterpart, THE FEMALE BRAIN — despite the use of a larger font and wider line spacing, it is only 132 pages (excluding appendices and footnotes) as opposed to 187. However, given the fact that a man’s brain apparently remains fixated on one consuming thought from puberty to the golden years and beyond, perhaps the book’s brevity should come as no surprise. Still, Brizendine draws upon numerous scientific studies to paint a fascinating picture of how a boy’s brain develops and changes, beginning in utero and continuing through every stage of his life. She includes chapters on The Boy Brain, The Teen Brain, The Mating Brain, The Daddy Brain, and the Mature Male Brain, with several others interspersed between. It would be a helpful read to anybody who must deal with boys or men on a regular basis.

EXCERPT: “By age five, according to researchers in Germany, boys are using different brain areas than girls to visually rotate an object in their mind’s eyes. The boys mentally rotated the pictures of the objects by using both sides of their brain’s spatial-movement area in the parietal lobe. Girls used only one side to do the task. While that in itself is revealing, what I found most intriguing is that this spatial-movement area in the male brain is locked in the ‘on’ position. That means it’s always working in the background on autopilot. But in the female brain, this parietal area is ‘off,’ waiting in standby mode, and not turned on until it’s needed.

“Curious to find out how this applies practically in the classroom setting, researchers studied students in a grade-school math class to see how girls and boys solved conceptual math problems and how long it took them. The boys solved the problems faster than the girls. But what was most surprising to the researchers was that most of the boys, when asked to explain how they got the answer, gave an explanation without using any words. Instead, they squirmed, twisted, turned, and gestured with their hands and arms to explain how they got the answer. The boys’ body movements WERE their explanations. Words, in this instance, were a hindrance.

“What also got my attention about this study was what the researchers did next with the girls. In the following six weeks of the experiment, they taught the girls to explain their answers with the same muscle movements the boys had made without using words. At the end of the six weeks, once the girls stopped talking and started twisting and turning, they solved the problems as quickly as the boys. The male and female brains have access to the same circuits but, without intervention, use them differently.”


If you think these titles look interesting, you’d probably enjoy the ones recommended in this post, as well: 5 Must-Read Books for Women Who Think

Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl {Giveaway}

"What do you believe is your ticket to love?" | book review and giveawayA few weeks ago, I was contacted by Paula Hendricks, the writing and editorial manager at Revive Our Hearts ministries. She wanted to discuss the possibility of turning my book 25 Ways to Communicate Respect into a 30-Day online challenge, to which I enthusiastically agreed.

During the course of our communication, Paula mentioned that she had recently published a book herself: Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl. Would I like a few signed copies to give away on my blog?

I told her sure, send them on. That would be great.

Although I had not heard of her book at the time, my daughters had — were they ever excited when Paula’s package arrived on our doorstep just a few days later! – and they were visibly disappointed when I told them they’d have to wait to read the book until after I had finished it.

Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl by Paula Hendricks As it happened, they didn’t need to wait long, as I devoured the book (my 12-year-old did, too, once she got her hands on it). Paula has such a transparent and engaging writing style, I felt like I was sitting right across the table from her. I could readily relate to many of the personal anecdotes she shared.

Although it’s been a few years, I was once the same boy-crazy girl she describes: stealing sidelong glances at myself in the mirror, going to desperate lengths to attract a guy’s attention, wondering distractedly whether any of my male classmates might be “the one” (a tendency exacerbated by the fact that I was frequently the only female student in many of the classes I was taking, beginning with wood and metal shop in junior high, right on up through differential equations, abstract algebra, hermeneutics, and New Testament Greek in college).

I might easily have penned Paula’s relationship-in-my-head chapter myself!

Human rejection can be God's divine protection.Paula uses her old journal entries as a starting place, which allows readers a candid but beautiful glimpse of how God has matured the thoughts and desires of her heart through the years as He has taken her “on her journey from neediness to freedom.” She weaves in lots of poignant Scriptures and personal insights to support her points.

The book was written with teen and tween girls girls in mind, but it is packed with wisdom that some twenty-somethings (and their moms!) may have missed… which is why I sent a copy to my twenty-something daughter in dental school and so enjoyed reading it myself.

Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl would be a great book for any mom to read and discuss with her daughters, as it touches on so many concepts that are vital to our contentment and maturity in Christ. Paula makes it easy to dig deeper by providing questions to ponder (and/or journal about) at the end of every chapter.

And thanks to Paula’s generosity, I have three signed copies of Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl to give away this week. (I’m keeping the copy I read and marked up for my own library.) Follow the rafflecopter link below and enter for your chance to win one:

Great Advice for Busy Wives

Great Advice for Busy Wives | a book review and giveaway from Loving Life at HomeI’ve been seeing advertisements for Heidi St. John’s book, The Busy Homeschool Mom’s Guide to Romance, for years now.

From the first time I spotted that adorable picture of Heidi on the cover, I knew it was a book I would enjoy. But being the busy homeschool mom that I am, I didn’t get around to ordering a copy until a couple of weeks ago.

Once it arrived, I blazed through it quickly. It’s a fast read, but chock full of godly wisdom and practical advice for busy wives at every age and stage of life (whether they’re homeschooling moms or not).

In it, I found such jewels as this:

“…the best mothering is borne out of an overflow of a strong, committed marriage. Loving your husband is a choice. Seeing him as God’s gift to you is a powerful thing. Every day that you share with the husband of your youth is a day that you can choose to love him with the kind of passion that God meant for you to enjoy.”

And this (which is applicable not only to homeschooling, but to any other job or extra-curricular involvement, as well):

“Remember, your calendar will reflect your priorities. Most busy homeschool moms don’t choose curriculum with their husbands in mind. But I’m here to tell you that if your curriculum leaves you cold and exhausted at the end of the day, it’s time to find a curriculum that is more suited to helping you put the priority on your marriage.”

And also this:

“To ignore the sexual needs of your husband or to reject his advances is to tear at the fabric of who you are as a couple. Don’t be fooled into thinking sex doesn’t matter. It does. Neglect this part of your marriage and you will suffer devastating results.”

At the same time, Heidi offers hope, even for marriages that seem irreparably lost. I love the analogy she uses of Jesus speaking life back into the dead body of Jarius’s 12-year-old daughter (Matthew 9:18-26). Just as Christ quickened that beloved child and restored her to health, He can breathe life and warmth and beauty back into a desperate, dead, or dying marriage.

Busy Homeschool Mom's Guide to Romance 25 Ways to Communicate Respect to Your HusbandI am so convinced you will be blessed by this book that I’ve decided to give a copy away for Valentine’s Day. And because romance goes hand-in-hand with respect, I’m also including a copy of my new book (25 Ways to Communicate Respect to Your Husband) in the giveaway. Enter here for your chance to win:


DISCLOSURE: This is NOT a sponsored post. Although it does contain affiliate links, it was written without Heidi St. John’s knowledge or consent, and the books offered in this giveaway were not donated for that purpose, but have been bought and paid for by me.

Happy Thanksgiving {Book Giveaway}

Since my new book was released last week, I decided to make a printable coupon collection to go along with it. I thought it might be something wives might enjoy slipping into their husband’s Christmas stocking — and something their husbands would be happy to receive.

A free printable collection of coupons for a wife to present to her husband | from http://lovinglifeathome.com

My own husband got a sneak peek at the coupon book I was assembling for him last night, however, and insisted I post it today. “It will be a great little Thanksgiving gift for your readers,” he told me, “and it will put their husbands in a really thankful mood, too.

So, here it is. Click on the image above to download. After printing, you’ll just need to cut the coupons apart, put them in numerical order, and staple the stack together on the edge.

As an added bonus, I am also sponsoring a Rafflecopter giveaway. (Click on the link to enter.) The winner will receive eight copies of 25 Ways to Communicate Respect.

A book to discuss with your married friends -- enter to win 8 copies, and you can easily do just that!

Why eight copies to one winner? Because the book lends itself so well to discussion. The post that inspired the book received over 1000 comments in sixteen weeks. That tells me that communicating respect is a topic women care about. (It’s certainly a topic men care about!)

I would have happily gone on discussing it, too, but my husband asked me to close the comments last December, so I did. But I still had more to say on the topic, which is how that original short post morphed into a full-length book–a book that I hope many wives will read and take to heart.

Offering multiple copies in this giveaway is my way of encouraging the winner to share it with her friends, so that they can discuss what they learn and hold one another accountable in applying it to their lives and marriages.

5 Must-Read Books for Women Who Think

5-must-read-books-for-women-who-thinkOne of my readers recently criticized me for promoting what she considers oppressive and archaic beliefs regarding marriage and motherhood.

“Read something – anything
– on feminism,”
she pleaded. “Learn to respect yourself, then you can respect others.”

Of course, this is a cleaned-up version of what she actually wrote. Her original comment was so riddled with expletives and venomous slurs that it made me wonder what, exactly, her notion of “respecting others” entailed.

But that is beside the point.

As it happens, I had already read half a dozen books on feminism, but her suggestion sent me searching Amazon for new titles of interest. That’s where I found the book I just finished reading: The Flipside of Feminism, by Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly.

This book — like the other four listed alongside it — is too good not to share. The authors examine feminism in light of common sense and expose it for the failed social experiment it is.

No intellectually honest person can look at the aftermath of the sexual revolution — rampant venereal disease and abortion, escalating rates of single motherhood and the abject poverty that it fosters, and coin-toss marriage survival rates — and not recognize that something is amiss.

That something is our godless worldview, of which feminism is a major component.

In my mind, buying into feminism is a lot like smoking cigarettes. While I understand why someone who has smoked two packs a day for the past 50 years might have a hard time kicking the habit, I am dumbfounded that anyone not already addicted to nicotine would ever take their first drag in this day and age, knowing what we now know about tobacco’s causal link to lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and a host of other devastating illnesses.

In the same way, I find it incredulous that anybody who has witnessed firsthand the destruction and despair that follow in the wake of feminism would continue to cling to such a bankrupt ideology.

Yet cling they do, and with dogged persistence.

If these women could leave off chanting their antiquated rhetoric long enough, they would hear the cries and whimpers of the modern class of victims their manifesto has created — victims that include their own children, everyone on the planet with a Y-chromosome, and ultimately the feminists themselves.

To be sure, some espouse feminist ideals because they patently believe in them, but I suspect much of our society cooperates solely for the sake of remaining politically correct. They can see as well as the next person the mess this radical movement has made of things, yet they keep their thoughts to themselves and watch on in silence.

But perhaps that is about to change.

The whispers are beginning to circulate, and the crowd is starting to stir. The status quo has been boldly challenged by books such as these — books that say what we already know in our hearts to be true: “Feminism is a bust. The emperor has no clothes.”

For a fresh look at feminism, don’t miss these five favorites:

flipside-of-feminismTHE FLIPSIDE OF FEMINISM:
What Conservative Women Know — and Men Can’t Say

by Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly

Excerpt: “Most important, we must begin by telling… the truth about what feminism has done. After all, no society can thrive — or survive — when half its members believe they’re oppressed and the other half are told there’s no reason for them to exist…. It’s time to end the war between the sexes. Men are not the enemy…. Americans aren’t used to hearing [but deserve to know] that women are the fortunate sex, or that ‘hooking up’ is wrong (and foolish), or that happy lifetime marriages are attainable, or that staying home to care for one’s children is a noble and worthwhile endeavor, or that men in America are the real second-class citizens.”


what-our-mothers-didnWHAT OUR MOTHERS DIDN’T TELL US:
Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman

By Danielle Crittenden

Excerpt: “It may be true that 30 years ago shockingly discriminatory attitudes towards women in the workplace prevailed, and we are all thankful to be rid of them. But in their place have risen some shockingly discriminatory attitudes towards women who wish to have children without neglecting them (as exemplified by Hillary Clinton’s remark, ‘I suppose I could’ve stayed home and baked cookies’). And it is these attitudes that have made it difficult for a woman today to occupy either sphere of work or home completely happily, without feeling guilty and exhausted in one or insecure and underappreciated in the other.”


return-to-modestyA RETURN TO MODESTY:
Discovering the Lost Virtue

by Wendy Shalit

Excerpt: “Modesty acknowledged [a woman's] special vulnerability, and protected it. It made women equal to men as women. Encouraged to act immodestly, a woman exposes her vulnerability and she then becomes, in fact, the weaker sex. A woman can argue that she is exactly the same as a man, she may deny having any special vulnerability, and act accordingly, but I cannot help noticing that she usually ends up exhibiting her feminine nature anyway, only this time in victimhood, not in strength.”

Note: Shalit’s follow-up book, Girls Gone Mild, is also a very enlightening read.


case-for-marriageTHE CASE FOR MARRIAGE:
Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially

by Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher

Excerpt: “[A]t the heart of the unacknowledged war on marriage is the attampt to demote marriage from a unique public commitment — supported by law, society, and custom — to a private relationship, terminable at will, which is nobody else’s business. This demolition is done in the name of choice, but as we shall see… reimagining marriage as a purely private relation doesn’t expand anyones’s choices. For what it ultimately takes away from individuals is marriage itself, the choice to enter that uniquely powerful and life-enhancing bond that is larger and more durable than the immediate, shifting feelings of two individuals.”


prudePRUDE:
How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls (and America, Too!)

by Carol Platt Liebau

Excerpt: “When a girl’s attention is directed primarily to her appearance, there’s less time for her to pursue other interests and develop other skills that can serve as sources of self-esteem. When she’s learned to garner male attention simply by displaying her body, it’s less likely that she’ll develop the other common qualities that are conducive to strong relationships and lasting happiness; indeed, a lifetime of focusing primarily on her own appearance in body — and automatically expecting men to do so as well — can make it difficult to form deep, lasting bonds with any man.”


If you think these titles look interesting, you’d probably enjoy the ones mentioned in this post, as well: Kirsten Dunst – She’s Simply Stating the Obvious

Lesson #3: You’ll Learn a Lot Reading Fiction

Life Lesson #3: You Can Learn a Lot by Reading FictionFor as long as I can remember, I have preferred reading non-fiction to fiction.

When frequenting libraries and bookstores in bygone years, I’d push my way past anything with a plot and head straight for the how-to section. There, I was certain to find a book on some topic that piqued my interest: art or apologetics; bread baking or bricklaying; cross-stitch or computer programing; music or manners or mathematics.

Why would anybody want to read something pretend, I wondered, when they could read something practical, instead?

Non-fiction, to my youthful mind, meant education: exercising your brain and learning something new.

Fiction meant entertainment: vegging out and being amused.

Non-fiction was worthwhile. Fiction was a waste of time.

Or so I thought.

It was not until I met and married my husband that I began to realize what a wealth of knowledge this mindset was causing me to miss, for much wisdom can be gleaned in the pages of those novels, short stories, and literary classics I had hitherto been avoiding.

There simply are some lessons in life that can be communicated more effectively through storytelling than by any other means.

Perhaps that is why Jesus taught in parables — so that his tales and the truths hidden therein would be remembered and pondered for generations to come. He understood that a well-told narrative has the power to influence others in a way simple admonition or instruction could never accomplish.

This potential — this ability to impact a reader’s life and change it for the better — is something all good fiction shares in common.

And so, thanks to my husband’s encouragement and his hearty endorsements, our entire family has chosen to incorporate a little fiction into our daily reading diet for many, many years now. And the benefits we reap from this practice are myriad:

  1. We Gain Positive Role Models

    Who can read about the unfailing loyalty of Samwise Gamgee, the steadfast integrity of Atticus Finch, or the selfless compassion of Peeta Mellark, and not be moved? Fiction allows noble character qualities to be showcased in a way that inspires readers to cultivate the same virtues.

  2. We Are Exposed to Negative Examples

    Conversely, fiction can exaggerate loathsome qualities in a manner that makes us want to distance ourselves from even the slightest hint of such behavior. Think of the treacherous duplicity of Fernand Mondego, the all-consuming avarice of Ebenezer Scrooge, the savage brutality of Jack Merridew. Within the pages of literary classics like The Count of Monte Cristo, A Christmas Carol, and Lord of the Flies, we can learn from characters’ shortcomings and witness the far-reaching effects of their vices, without compromising our personal safety or morals in the process.

  3. We Learn Valuable Life Lessons

    Mothers the world over warn their children against running with scissors or other sharp objects, but reading what happens when Rubin Pritchard tries to hightail it to the river with an axe in hand will drive the lesson home like no amount of scolding could ever do. Good fiction provides a wonderful opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others and to see the laws of sowing and reaping in action.

  4. We Enjoy Shared Experiences

    As Katherine Mansfield has observed, “The pleasure of reading is doubled when one lives with another who shares the same books.” Our family has certainly found this to be true, which is why my husband and I both continue to read aloud to our children long after they grow too big for our laps. Sharing such stories in the quiet of an evening with a fire in the hearth is a bonding experience unrivaled by television or movies. We usually spend 30-45 minutes listening to Dad read each evening, but when the book is particularly riveting or suspenseful, the kids will beg for “just one more chapter” — then another and another. Our read-aloud record is five solid hours, from 7PM until midnight, with the children bringing water to their father between chapters so that he wouldn’t lose his voice.

  5. We Expand our Vocabulary

    Reading has always been an effective way to augment an impoverished vocabulary, and fiction reading — with its rich language and varied descriptions — is particularly well-suited for this. With the advent of electronic readers, smart phones, and online dictionaries, it is easier than ever to look up unknown words. When reading aloud to children, it is a simple matter of pausing long enough to clarify words or phrases which may be unfamiliar. Our receptive vocabulary (the words we understand when listening or reading) is normally much larger than our productive vocabulary (the words we use in speaking and writing), but with repeated exposure, we are able to grow both lists. Reading good fiction makes the process almost effortless.

  6. We Brush Up on our History

    I got my first taste of historical fiction reading Bodie Thoene. I (vaguely) remember studying World War II in junior high and high school, but those classes couldn’t begin to cement in my mind the names and dates and events involved like Thoene’s Zion Covenant series did. Similarly, GA Henty has really helped history come alive for our kids. Well-written historical fiction provides a wonderful way to view past events from a fresh perspective.

  7. We Improve Reading Comprehension

    The skill required to follow the plot of a novel from beginning to end is exactly the skill needed to perform well on the verbal portion of the SAT, ACT, GRE, etc. With rare exception, the more fiction a person reads, the easier comprehension becomes, and the better he’ll do on standardized tests. Practice, as they say, makes perfect. One of our children shared my penchant for reading non-fiction, but when at age 15, he missed passing an English Composition CLEP test by two points, his father suggested he read two chapters a day of fiction (any fiction) for six months, then retake the exam. He did, and without any other study or preparation, he passed it easily, increasing his score by a whopping 25%. His dad knew that what he needed was to get so drawn into a story that he couldn’t put it down — something not likely to happen with the technical books he’d been reading.

  8. We Expand our Horizons

    Stories from or about other parts of the world can do much to broaden our outlook on life. The multi-cultural literature offered by Sonlight Curriculum has been great for helping our family see beyond our own backyard. We highly recommend the titles they carry, many of which I am convinced we would never have found on our own.

  9. We are Spurred to Action

    I remember first reading Charlotte’s Web in second grade, then swearing off bacon for years afterward. Fiction has the power to not only influence public thought and opinion, but to challenge and change our practices, as well. Consider, for instance, the public’s response to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Legend has it that when Abraham Lincoln first met Harriet Beecher Stowe, he greeted her by saying, “So you’re the little woman who started this big war!”

As you can see, time spent reading good, engaging fiction is far from wasted. Have you experienced any of these benefits from your own reading — or discovered other blessings not mentioned? Please leave a comment below and let me know. And if you know of a novel that is particularly worthwhile, I’d love to hear about that, as well!

Go To >>Life Lesson #4