As the child of a single parent who was bowed down by the pressures of life, I was mainly raised by books. In story, I was presented with meaningful conflict that progressed the plot and brought about character development. I was exposed to ideals of honor, courage, and beauty and aspired to emulate these in my own life. The direct contradiction that I saw in real life from the ideals of the novel helped me see the God-sized hole that St. Augustine so correctly identifies.
For all my gratefulness to story in helping lead me to Christ, I cannot ignore some of the negative elements that have impacted me. For one, I indiscriminately allowed authors to speak into me. Every book I read was a new idea, a new value, and I took them all in without evaluating them. Young as I was, I didn’t know how to determine the purpose that an author might have for writing something. I just soaked it up.
I’ve realized the older I get how many silly ideas I have held onto because I had read it in a book, forgetting books were written by ordinary people. From Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind to Stephen King’s It, every book has a message and a belief system behind that that message.
Authors Have Agendas
I now understand so much more clearly that authors have agendas. I cannot just ingest their message without thinking about the message and considering the author themselves. Do I really want them speaking into me? This ability to pick and choose who speaks into your heart and mind is one we all need to develop.
Psychologist Kelly Flanaghan makes an interesting comment in his book Loveable. He maintains that in all his years of counseling, the main problem he saw was people’s inability to say no:
We give in to the pressure of a friend, so we drink and drive and we endanger lives. We cave in constantly to a persuasive lover, so we drown in a sea of their wishes. We get taken in by a sales pitch, so we bury ourselves in oppressive debt…We let everyone else tell us what story to live, and we cease to be the author of our own life. When we silence the boundaries our soul wants to set, we silence everything–the love our soul wants to give and the dreams it want to live. (134)
If you think about it, a great deal of pain, frustration, and offense comes because people allow everything in. This is true in relationships, and this is true in ideas.
Is It Worth It?
This idea is hinted at in a short story by Doris Lessing called “Through the Tunnel.” In this story, a boy and his mother are on vacation at the beach. She is happy to recline on the shore while he is off exploring. As he walks around, he notices some boys who are older and whom, he discovers, are swimming through an underwater tunnel. Wanting to impress them, he begins training himself to do this feat, even to the point of causing himself nosebleeds. Finally, he attempts and succeeds at swimming through this tunnel, even though at one point he realizes he could actually die. After he accomplishes this task, he no longer actually cares what these older boys think. Talking about this story with my 9th and 10th graders, we identified how dangerous this mission was. He could have died for the sake of the opinions of boys he barely knew.
How many decisions in our lives have been made to please people we barely know? How much heartache have we endured because of rejection from these same mostly-anonymous people? There is no way to walk this Earth not caring what people think (nor is it healthy to attempt this). However, we do need to be selective in the voices we allow to speak into our lives.
Guard Your Heart
The Bible speaks clearly about this in Proverbs 4:23 (NIV): “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
For our own protection, we must guard our heart. Bruce Waltke, writer for Bible Study Tools.com, comments that the heart can represent many things in the Bible, but, particularly, it is the center of emotional/intellectual/moral activity. When we guard our hearts this means that we monitor what affects us emotionally, intellectually and morally.
This is one of the reasons I believe God has given us His Word. His Word truly is a lamp unto our feet. It is also the filter by which we understand truth and identify falsehoods. It is essential then that we are train ourselves to correctly understand God’s Word (1 Timothy 3).
When it comes to people, you have to look at the fruit of their lives to determine if they have the right to speak into your life. In the classroom, we call this rhetorical device ethos. The personal credibility of the person who is trying to convince you has to be considered. If you look at his or her life and don’t see the kind of fruit you would like in your own life, then they are not the person to speak into yours.
This seems quite obvious but none of us can claim to have perfected this. We all need reminders that we get to choose who and what shapes us. We will be shaped by the world around us, but we must choose to listen to the voice that is the only one worth hearing.