A few years ago, in a couple of different conversations, my friend Lisa told me about a book she was reading.
The title? Dying Well.
Lisa had stage IV breast cancer. Her doctor had told her the average patient with her disease survives 10 years and she’d been fighting for six. She’d also been told that she’d live as long as she kept responding to treatment, but that when she stopped responding, the end would come quickly.
Statistically, Lisa knew the odds weren’t in her favor. She must’ve had a sense that she didn’t have much time left, because although her treatment regimen was still working, she was getting ready to go. And reading Dying Well was critical to that process.
While I don’t recall much from our conversations about the book, I do remember thinking I should find a copy and read it. But I didn’t.
A few months later, right around Christmas, Lisa got sick. The end did come quickly, just as her doctor predicted. She died in February, two months before Easter.
Some time after that, I requested Dying Well from the library. I skimmed the table of contents and flipped through the pages. I could see why it had been helpful to Lisa, but I just couldn’t get into it. So I sent it back and forgot about it.
Looking back, I wish I’d read Dying Well when Lisa was still alive. Nobody’s criticizing me because I didn’t, but what if I had? How might that have encouraged Lisa as she neared the end of her life?
I can’t answer that question for her, but I can for myself. When someone reads a book that touches me, simply because it has touched me, it shows me that they care, that they want to know me better, that they want to understand me.
So for me, reading with those who read is real-life application of the Golden Rule, spelled out by Jesus in Luke 16:31: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Most people find comfort in the pages of a book from time to time, but what would happen if we started thinking of reading as a way to comfort someone else?
I don’t know anyone who enjoys reading about death, abuse, cancer, depression, divorce or fill-in-the-blank. If these things don’t affect us, we’d rather pretend they don’t exist. But reading a book that has helped someone deal with a struggle we’ve not experienced can be extremely eye-opening.
When a friend mentions a meaningful book, we don’t have to proclaim that we’re going to get the book and read it. We can just do it, and bring it up later.
“I got that book you mentioned, you know, the one about …,” we can say. “I read it, and I couldn’t stop crying.” Or, “I read it, but I’m confused. Please tell me what it means to you.”
Every person wants to be known. This is tough enough in normal life, but it’s exponentially more complicated when someone is trudging through the valley of the shadow. If we haven’t been there, it’s hard to understand.
But while empathy is a true gift, comfort does come in other shapes and sizes.
For some, it looks a lot like spaghetti casserole, free childcare, or a two-hour phone conversation. For others, like me and perhaps you, comfort is rectangular, with an eye-catching cover and a couple hundred pages.
I missed my chance with Lisa. She doesn’t need to read books about dying anymore; she’s alive in the presence of the eternal Word.
But I’m still here. I still have conversations with hurting friends. From time to time, they mention books that are hitting right at the point of their need.
And that’s my cue.
Instead of smiling and wishing I had something profound to say, I will find those books, and I will read with those who read.
Suzy Taylor Oakley says
Lois, this is eye opening. What a thought! I’m usually the one recommending books that people “don’t have time” to read, and I know how disappointing it is, especially when the book has touched my core. But not always – sometimes I’m the one taking a pass on a great opportunity to feel and learn with a friend. Books are such a great way to connect. Thanks for the nudge.
Lois Flowers says
Suzy, I understand your disappointment because I’ve felt it too. But you’re right–books provide a great way to connect with and comfort another person, even when we are in need of some comfort ourselves!
Kim J says
What wonderful words you have written. I love how you speak of reading what someone is going through is an encouragement to them. I have several chronic illnesses, and it always encourages me when others care enough to say ” I know that must be hard” ect. Just knowing that someone cares and sees your struggle can make all the difference in the world, because as you said every person wants to be known and know that they are not on this journey alone.
Lois Flowers says
Thank you, Kim. I appreciate “I know that must be hard” too, because it shows the person wants to understand and is not trying to fix anything for me!
How is wish my former husband could have read this 25 years ago when I was going thru depression and anxiety, and all that goes with it. Your words went right to my heart thinking how this is exactly what I asked him to do several times. One book in particular on the subject was so well written and was helping me to understand I wasn’t alone, that many others suffered from this debilitating disease. I gave him the book and asked him to please read it, maybe it would help him to understand a little better. He never even looked at it. That to me spoke volumes. He didn’t want to know, to understand – think about something else he would say as he went off to work not looking back, leaving me to deal with my problem. I eventually was admitted to a sanitarium. We’ve been divorced now for twenty years. I am writing my memoir hoping my story will help others. Bless you for your caring heart.
Lois Flowers says
Bobbie, I wish your former husband would have read that book, too. Yours is a powerful example of how something so simple could have had such a huge impact. I’m glad that you are at a point in your life where you are using your story to help others. Thank you for sharing a bit of it here.
Susan Gruener says
Thanks for this Lois. This is something I hadn’t heard of or even thought of doing. I love to read, read, read… so I will be paying attention…
May you be blessed as you bless others!
Lois Flowers says
And may YOU be blessed, Susan, as you read with new eyes!
I love this post! I never really thought about this before, altho…now that I think about it, it does make me feel good when someone tells me that they are reading a book that I have talked about. Thank you for this great idea…I will for sure be paying more attention to what others are saying, because it’s such an easy way to show someone that their thoughts and feelings are important to me.
Amy Young says
Lois I love this! I’m a words of affirmation person and sure enough, if I recommend a book to someone and they read it, it means the world to me! I try to read books others recommend and your post has been a gentle nudge to make enough more effort and not merely have good intentions 🙂
Mary McCully says
LOis, your insight, gifting from The Lord, has been inspiring for many women. Good word. I, too, like to read recommended books but do not always let the friend know. I download to my Nook so that I can have immediate access so that I do not forget! Thanks for your thoughts which come as a recommendation to many of us!
Beth Williams says
I’m not much on reading. I am on the side of sending cards & notes. Readily making food for someone is my first choice. I want them to know that even though I can’t understand I care and am praying for you daily!
Great reminder to think of others first!