My friend Melissa has a way of being kind that also makes me think.
We were out for coffee, talking about books. Specifically: about my anxiety about wanting to read more. By most measures, I read a lot, but with the advent of smart phones and parenthood, I read less then I used to. Recently, I’ve been trying to change that balance, with some success.
“I’m trying to be okay with it when I just want to read murder mysteries,” I said. “I mean, who cares if I read trashy books?”
Her eyes widened. “But they’re not trashy,” she said. “They’re light.”
I nodded, and the conversation turned to other topics. But later, considering her words, something clicked.
‘Trashy’ is kind of a mean word, isn’t it?
Melissa didn’t let me get away with using that word because it’s unkind. Why did I speak so harshly about something that brings me joy? (Because OH MY GOSH I LOVE MURDER MYSTERIES).
Would it surprise you to learn I’m an English major? English majors spend years reading Great Literature. We maybe feel slightly superior because we a) got all the way through The Sound and the Fury, b) understood it, and c) the clincher! LIKED IT.
To paraphrase Kate Moss, nothing tastes better than hard work feels.
Except does it? Really?
I don’t just equate joy with hard work when it comes to books. If something is difficult or unpleasant, I assume it counts more. I do it in my prayer life, I do it with my kids, I do it with cooking, I do it with cleaning (why wash the car when you can detail it?)
I even do it with vacation: once I scheduled a trip to Boston for my husband and I. To save (a small amount of) money, I literally had us take planes, trains, and automobiles when an easier route existed. I just assumed that spending twice the time, 8 times the effort, and 100 dollars less was worth it.
When we arrived, completely exhausted, my husband asked, very nicely, that I never do that again.
I felt surprised. It didn’t give him a frisson of pleasure to know he had worked hard?
Then I realized we were on vacation.
(Now I check with him before I book red-eyes. I need to be reminded that needless effort does not win me gold stars.)
In homeschooling circles, ‘bad’ books are called twaddle (I’m looking at you, Rainbow Fairies). And yes, a lot of twaddle (for adults and kids) is poorly written, tedious, and not exactly helping us to engage with the deep questions of our time.
Still though: when I wince after my kids ask for Twaddle Part Deux, Trois, and Quatre, I see the hurt on their faces.
Then I wonder: How much am I helping them love reading when I harshly judge what they most enjoy?
How much do I help myself?
The hurt of perfectionism is the story we tell ourselves about our limits. Rather than being kind, assuming the best of ourselves, or allowing our souls some quirks, we say words like lazy or unmotivated or dumb.
What I love about Melissa’s comment is that it hinted I can change my story. I can look for light books (not ‘trashy’ ones), or say I read less because I relax in different ways these days (not because I’m “lazy”). I can stop using page counts to measure my self-worth.
If I’ve learned anything from books, it’s that words matter. They pack as much weight as a punch. They can be used to build up or tear down. They shape our minds and habits.
And the right word, the kind word, can shift our hearts.
I’m practicing ease one word at a time, one book at a time, one meal, chore, or life choice at a time. I’m learning to speak to myself how I would speak to a beloved, still-maturing child.
I’m learning that as much as hard work serves me, it’s enjoyment that brings me life.