She sits across from me as the kids play in the other room. She slumped down in the chair a few minutes ago and over coffee we've been catching up on the latest of a string of frustrating circumstances in her life. Money is tight, the car needs another pricey repair, the youngest has another ear infection and her husband hasn't been the gentle or supportive help she's been hoping for. I can sympathize in some ways, I can offer some advice based on my experiences, but mostly I can just listen. I feel helpless on most fronts to help her out of some of the dilemmas that threaten to overwhelm her.
In these circumstances we should be careful not to allow or suggest the sin-driven tendencies of self pity, discontent or gossip. These are opportunities to help our friend grow, and seek to grow along with them. Transforming ourselves together to be more like Christ. Though it might not immediately solve any of the struggles my friend is going through, I can offer to read a good book together that can shape our thinking, realign our affections or shift our focus. This is the type of help that will not just encourage her in this trial, but conform us both more into the image of Christ and better prepare us for the next season of difficulty.
I want to choose books that don't just distract from the problems, but ones that shed Christ centered perspective on our challenges. The right books can remind us of who God is and what he has done, and keep our eyes on the eternal prize that has been laid up for us. Our goal should be as Paul says to "be strengthened with all power according to His might for all endurance with patience and joy" and "to proclaim him, teaching with all wisdom".
None Like Him by Jen Wilkin fills these requirements as she studies of the character of God. Jen starts with "When we fear God rightly, we recognize Him for who He is: a God of no limits, and therefore, utterly unlike anyone or anything we know. This is the start of becoming wise." When we get dragged down by the daily-ness of life, its frustrations and its challenges, it's easy to lose focus of the majesty and glory of our Creator and Sustainer. And through a solid reminder of who He is, and why it's a wonderful thing that he is who he is and we're not, we can gain the wisdom we need to endure with patience and joy. None Like Him has great discussion starter questions at the end of the chapters, to help you lead conversation around the book.
Glimpses of Grace by Gloria Furman also meets the challenge of pointing us to the gospel in our day to day lives. It is an excellent choice especially for wives and mothers with children at home. In a very engaging, easy to read way, she directs our eyes heavenward as we experience the mundane, messy, glorious days of raising children. She teaches her readers "about how we live in the already but not yet time in God's redemptive history." What goes on in our day to day life can so easily distract our focus to only that which we see- especially when those things we see seem like insurmountable challenges. She helps us "glimpse" and share the gospel in our daily tasks, joys and sorrows. She says in the introduction:
We live in God's world, we're made in God's image, and we interact with other people who have eternal souls. That makes theology vastly important and immensely life changing in our everyday mundane.
There are many tangible, hands-on ways to help a friend who is going through a difficult time. Those ways can ease burdens and bring encouragement. But offering to come alongside and read a book that directs your thoughts to Christ, that changes your perspective on our challenging lives this side of heaven, not only can help in the moment, but is an investment that will shape lives for years to come.