Our home library is a carefully tended collection of kids books, fiction, biographies, history, and Christian books of all kinds that I’ve accumulated over my years at Bible College. I love that our kids love to read, and I’m looking forward to sharing the journey with them as they read through our library in the coming years. Personally, I know that my relationship with God is richer thanks to many authors who have teased out how to practically apply the teaching of the Bible for myself and my family. I’m grateful for the resources that help me understand hard doctrines or difficult parts of scripture. Recently however, I’ve come to realise that there’s also a hidden risk of pride, greed, or worse that could take root as a result of our ever-growing library, and there’s a number of reasons why I’ve decided that there’s value in taking steps to ensure books remain the slave and not the master.
We Have Limited Space
I love books. Books that have to be posted, arrive in the mail, and be held, smelled, and flipped through… books that take up space. Don’t get me wrong, I’m increasingly investing in e-books these days; but my love for the physical remains undiminished. Although, having purchased yet another bookshelf for our home recently (and with the threat of moving house looming on the horizon) I’m becoming more reticent when it comes to choosing print over pixels. The truth is I really don’t need hundreds of books, and quantity doesn’t always equal quality.
Books are Made to be Read
A book that sits on my shelf after being read once or twice isn’t doing anyone any good. Sure there are reference books that hold ongoing value for research, sermon prep, that kind of thing. But on the whole, I tend to read a book once (I’m a big fan of reading highlighter-in-hand, I read every footnote and appendix, and sometimes I write a review), then I shelve it. I’m not precious about my library though; I love being able to loan books to people when I know it would speak into their situation with more eloquence than I could (which is always). For the most part however, my books are enjoyed once or twice by me, then sit on the shelf.
My Library Changes with Me
Just like I no longer read The Very Hungry Caterpillar (at least, not by myself), there are plenty of books on my shelf that I read five years ago that I simply wouldn’t pick up again. That’s not to say they’re not great, but there are numerous reasons why I won’t return to them; I was interested in a particular subject that has now been replaced by a new interest, changes to lifestyle (i.e. becoming a parent) has shifted my focus, or as I’ve (hopefully) grown spiritually I’m simply seeking books that are addressing things from a different perspective. But even though I may have changed, somewhere there is a person for whom these books will be the perfect fit.
The Risk of Idolatry
What I’ve come to realise lately is that there’s a degree of selfishness – even greed – in holding on to these books that could be detrimental if left unchecked. It’s not sinful to give away books, but it may be sinful to hold on to them. Along similar lines, if I’m sharing with people what this or that author says on a certain topic rather than drawing on what the Bible has to say then I’m at risk of giving books too much worth. The reality is that these bits of paper can’t come with me to heaven, and when I’m more interested in having an impressive stack of bedside reading than I am in picking up my Bible, that’s idolatry. And that’s a problem.
Where to From Here?
So how do I keep my love of books in check? I’ve decided to adopt an ‘Add-a-Book, Remove-a-Book’ policy. My library is now at the point where everything I have is high-quality, so I can confidently give away a book that I know will benefit someone else every time a new book is added to my shelf.
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