Downsizing the Books

From volumes of commentaries to irreplaceable classics to the wisdom of fellow theologians through the ages, books are vital tools for pastors. Each one in their personal libraries is a useful friend, and every one precious—even those previously un-read. Those wait on shelves like candy in the freezer—reminders that there’s still more to learn, deeper insights to gain—proponents of the myth that says, “One day, there’ll be time. “

Five years ago, disability brought a premature end to the Preacher’s thirty-year career as a full-time pastor. His thousand-plus books got packed into cardboard boxes. We schlepped them around for years. With the help of kind and strong-backed friends, his library migrated from his former church office to our basement to a storage space to a garage, and then a different basement.

Our life has turned an irreversible corner. God has turned disability into opportunity. Most of the Preacher’s ‘tool collection’ is no longer necessary to him. The library, as it is, has made its final move. Half or more of those volumes must go. He knows that.

But knowing something in your head doesn’t automatically propel it down into your heart and shove it into your feet. Anyone who’s ever downsized—a library, a life, a home or business—knows how hard it is—though having done it several times recently, I wish I’d been far firmer with myself.

“Hon, why not open a box a day, and decide which books you want to keep, and which ones you can get rid of?” I’ve suggested often over the last few years. He reacted like I’d heated a pair of pliers and demanded he use them to peel off his fingernails. Gave me a look that said perhaps he ought to downsize me first.

Over the last month or so, we’ve transformed one of our bedrooms into a library small and bright. We’ve added a desk to the middle and lined three walls with shelves. Our plan is to own no more books than will fit on those shelves.

The pliers is hot, the peeling has begun. The Preacher is in the library as I type, surrounded by cardboard cartons. I’m trying to bite my tongue, and not doing a good job. But in my heart I know—this is surely a bittersweet task, this re-uniting. After being parted with his library for years, he must now say hello—but then, farewell—to many of the volumes God has used to enrich his life. The friends that have helped him prepare solid spiritual food for three decades of congregrants.

I think the apostle Paul would understand. Waiting for death in his final prison cell, he sent this iconic request to his protégée, Timothy. “Bring my books.”

Are you downsizing too? Pruning a life, a home, a business? May God supply the strength to let go of the old, and the faith to embrace the new.

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