Booksickness by Gina Dalfonzo

Gina Dalfonzo

“This is a sickness.”

That’s what I often tell my friends when I take and post pictures of the books overflowing from my bedside table down onto the floor. Or when I vow to read fifteen of the not-yet-read books on my shelves before letting myself buy another new book. Or that time my suitcase opened itself just enough to leak paperbacks all down the airport escalator. (I know, I know, I need a Kindle, but I haven’t got there yet.)

This is a sickness.

I look around sometimes at the stacks and piles, and find myself daunted. Exactly how long is it going to take me to read all this? Will I be able to do it in my lifetime? Just how healthy will I have to keep myself in order to live that long?

Goodness knows I’m trying hard enough to get through them all—I’ve generally got at least eight or ten books going at a time, but all that means is that it takes me longer to finish any given one of them. Should I start taking vacation days to devote to catching up with the books? Maybe I should cool it at the library and the bookstore for a while. But then there was that tantalizing new book review in yesterday’s newspaper . . .

I worry, sometimes, that my booksickness is just a manifestation of some of the worst sins that we Christians are warned against: greed, materialism, even gluttony of a sort. Any other possession piled up in the bedroom and the home office and the basement would surely signal some grave spiritual weakness, or, at the very least, the need to call the “Hoarders” people and turn myself in. It’s the same with books . . . isn’t it?

I dare to hope that it isn’t, despite the guilt I feel when the desire for just one more book tempts me past the limits of my book budget again, or when I find myself faced with yet more overdue fees at the library. Because to borrow or to buy a book is to obtain something that transcends a mere physical object (despite my love for books with beautiful covers). To read a book is to come in contact with another mind, to step outside myself, to learn and absorb and grow. Even an introvert like myself, when surrounded by books, may be in the midst of a crowd and be truly happy in it.

As usual, C.S. Lewis put it superbly. In An Experiment in Criticism, he wrote:

“Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realize it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others.”

If to be unliterary is to be suffocated, then to buy or borrow another book is to obtain more air to breathe. Perhaps, after all, booksickness is a sign of true health. So when I rummage for storage space for just one more, I’m learning to quash the guilt and simply give thanks for the wisdom of this particular mind and heart that I’ve been close to for a little while. And when my oldest goddaughter, nearly twelve, writes me to gush about the latest book she’s read, and ask what I’m reading, I know a joy like no other. There are some sicknesses where contagion is the greatest thing that could possibly happen.

 

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

Gina Dalfonzo is author of One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church. She is also associate features editor at Christianity Today, and a columnist at Christ and Pop Culture. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Christianity Today, First Things, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and elsewhere.

 

God Of Little Things by Gina Dalfonzo

Gina Dalfonzo

It’s late at night and I’m reading in bed—Charles Dickens’s The Uncommercial Traveller, which is so good that I’ve been staving off sleep much longer than I should have. I come to a particular passage—nothing wonderful or magnificent, just a couple of sentences in a silly little story he’s telling about sailing from England to France. But it’s so funny, in that nonchalantly over-the-top Dickens way, that I laugh out loud.

And the thought strikes me, out of nowhere, that I can’t imagine being any happier than I am right this minute.

It’s a rogue thought. Even a rebellious thought. According to many Christians I know, you see, my life as a single person is far from complete. I’m not supposed to be able to imagine perfect happiness in my present state, let alone experience it.

Except I do.

My life is full of moments like these: little moments that give me unspeakable joy and satisfaction. It’s also full of hard moments—days when baby after baby after adorable baby scrolls by in my Facebook feed; nights when I ask God why my prayers for marriage were never answered.

But it doesn’t do, I’ve found, to dwell too long on how much greener the grass looks in that yard over there. When married acquaintances envy me my freedom or my opportunities, I’m tempted to remind them of all they have that I have good reason to envy. We could go on playing that game for hours (my freedom can be accompanied by loneliness, their joy in their family can be tempered by exhaustion, and on and on and on). I have to find ways to circumvent it. And if I try, they’re easier to find than I would have expected.

I didn’t choose the life I now lead. And yet, I still find so many joys in it. One of the biggest surprises has been how many little things bring me true joy—and how often those little joys help make up for the lack of bigger things. I can’t explain that. It doesn’t make sense if I think too hard about it. All I know is, God’s economy is not like ours.

There are, of course, any number of people who think that it should be. I run into them all the time. For example, I know Christians who rail against single people having pets because pets, they say, should not take the place of families. What these single people are supposed to do if all their efforts at having a family have failed, these Christians never say. Sit home alone and lambast themselves endlessly for their failure, I suppose.

It’s troubling, this idea that one should be cut off from joys of all kinds if one hasn’t achieved the joy of having a family. It suggests both a lack of trust in God to have every person’s best interests at heart, and a lack of the imagination to comprehend all the different kinds of joys God offers us.

I think of Dorothy L. Sayers, another favorite writer of mine, who found her joy not in her difficult family life, but in the life of the intellect. When she discovered Dante in middle age, her whole life was transformed. Her letters spill over with the sheer joy of reading him, translating him, thinking about his work night and day.

Sayers’s friend and biographer Barbara Reynolds used the Dantean phrase “the mind in love” to describe the way Sayers responded to the world around her and the God who made that world. It was an apt description. The mind can indeed be in love, just as the heart can, and can bring unspeakable joy.

The problem is, the church’s vocabulary has become impoverished. It doesn’t have the words to describe the stab of joy that comes when reading a perfect passage of Dickens; when jumping to one’s feet at the end of an inspiring play; when luxuriating in a favorite old movie that’s become as comfortable as a warm blanket and bedroom slippers; when Beethoven’s Ninth suddenly starts playing on the radio in the middle of an ordinary morning, like a king arriving on the doorstep as you’re finishing the breakfast dishes. Because it has, by and large, lost the understanding that these things are important.

Yet if they are real, and good, and come from the Father who gives every good and perfect gift, then how could they not be important?

How much easier it would be for God’s people to reach others if we would understand this. If we reached out not just with truth, but with imagination, creativity, delight in the music and art and books that mean so much to the people around us. These things cannot carry the weight of a whole life, but there are moments, now and then, when they make life worth living. They reveal something about God’s character that is more appealing and attractive than we tend to realize.

The fact that He generously gives such things to so many demonstrates that He is near to the lonely, the broken—just as near as He is to the people who seem to have it all together.  If we were willing to focus on this part of God, to talk about how He sends joy in all shapes and sizes and gloriously unexpected ways, to all kinds of people—how much better equipped we would be to help those lonely and broken ones.

Glory be to God for little things. It’s not quite Gerard Manley Hopkins, but nevertheless, it rings true for me. The small comforts and consolations that might mean nothing to the person next to us, but that pierce us to the heart with joy—thank God for them. In the beautiful and loving mind that conceived and created them and gave them to us, there is nothing little about them at all.

 

 

John 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

Gina Dalfonzo is author of One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church. She is also associate features editor at Christianity Today, and a columnist at Christ and Pop Culture. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Christianity Today, First Things, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and elsewhere.

 

Single Voices by Gina Dalfonzo

“I feel like I don’t fit at all.”

“I wish there was greater understanding that we are not ‘strange.’”

“What about us—are we valuable?”

“I sometimes feel isolated, scrutinized, and ignored.”


Gina Dalfonzo

I heard statements like this over and over again as I interviewed people for my new book. The really dispiriting thing is, these people were talking about their experiences at church.

Part of the purpose of my book, One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church, is to hold up a mirror, lovingly but unflinchingly, to today’s evangelical church. I wanted to call to its attention something that many members participate in, yet are barely aware of: a heavily family-centered culture that often pushes single people aside. The problem isn’t that the church supports families; on the contrary, that’s a good thing. Families need all the support they can get. But single people do too, and too often, our needs are being ignored. The problem is that, in always putting families first, the church creates a hierarchy that makes single people feel, as one woman put it, “second best.”

The results, while not everyone can see them, are tangible and real. Single people left out of ministries and social activities. Single people not allowed to serve as leaders or pastors. Single people told they can’t join certain small groups, even those ostensibly meant for “mixed life stages,” but must stay with their own kind (even if that means spending their whole lives in a young adult group). Single people who show up faithfully to every wedding or baby shower, gift in hand and ready to help out, but whose own milestones and special occasions are ignored. Single people who strive to live faithful lives before God but whose struggles are given little recognition or support.

Talking to these people, and reflecting on my own experiences as a single Christian woman, I felt afresh the frustration, pain, and loneliness inherent in our stories. Yet there was more than that. I said before that bringing all this to light was part of my purpose in writing the book—but it was only a part. Another part, equally significant, was to hold out hope—hope that the church might be willing to recognize and change its approach to this growing population in its midst, hope that the single experience in church can get better.

The responses to my book have strengthened this hope. People are listening to stories they’ve never listened to before. They’re telling me that they’re waking up and starting to understand that changes need to be made, and that they need to be willing to make them. They want to reach out to the single people among them, and they want to help their church leadership to reach out, too.

All of this has been enormously encouraging. But it can’t happen unless the church is willing to listen, and to continue listening, to the voices of its single people. As a group, we’re used to being treated as people whose problems and stress just don’t count as much as other people’s: “You think you’re tired, you should try having a family and see what being tired is really like!” Or as projects that need to be fixed: “Let me find you a nice man (or woman) and you’ll be all set!”

That’s not what we need. What we need, instead, is just what everyone else in the church wants and needs: relationships among the community, in which our voices can be heard and valued—where instead of being shouted down or fixed, we get to do our part to help make things better for everyone. Our voices may tell of very different kinds of lives than the church is used to hearing about, but they are an essential part of the God-created symphony that comes together to worship and honor Him.

 

John 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

Gina Dalfonzo is author of One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church. She is also editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog, and a columnist at Christ and Pop Culture. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Christianity Today, First Things, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and elsewhere.