“Mothers should cultivate their souls, that in turn they may cultivate the souls of their children.” — Billy Graham
We’ve all read and heard about “self care”. It’s a catch phrase among millennial mothers. There are many ways mothers go about “self care”. And while I’m certainly not opposed to a Moms’ Night Out or even an hour alone to sit in quiet and scroll mindlessly through social media, I would challenge us as mothers to think more deeply about this idea. To think beyond self care to how we can cultivate our souls.
I think there are multiple ways to cultivate our souls, but right now I want to focus on one specific way we can do this: reading.
We all know the value of reading to our children and our children reading for themselves. As school is now out for summer break, many students have to accomplish summer reading assignments. Libraries have summer reading programs to encourage children to read throughout this season. But what about the value of summer reading for Mom?
John Ruskin said, “Make yourselves nests of pleasant thoughts, bright fancies, faithful sayings; treasure houses of precious restful thoughts, which care cannot disturb nor poverty take away from you, houses built without hands for your souls to live in.”
One way to create a mental storehouse of value is to read good books. I know we’re all busy during this time of year. Work, summer camps, family trips, play dates, the list goes on. During busy seasons, it’s easy for reading to be put on the back burner. But we don’t need hours of time set aside to accomplish reading. Prolific readers will tell you that they are able to read so much because they read in small increments throughout their days. Are you getting your oil changed? There are a few minutes to read. Are you waiting at the dentist while your child is getting their teeth cleaned? There are a few minutes to read. Are you running errands all over town and feel like you’re in the car all day long? Or commuting back and forth to work? There’s some time to listen to an audiobook. (Yes, audiobooks count as reading!)
One way I help myself to get more reading done is to always carry a book with me. If we’re headed to the park or the splash pad, I bring a book. My hope is my children will become absorbed in play and I can spend a few minutes, or maybe even half an hour, reading. If I have a doctor’s appointment, I always bring a book. If you’re someone who enjoys e-readers, more power to you because that is typically easier than carrying a physical book. And while I admit an e-reader would be easier, I do not enjoy using them. I just carry a large purse so even if I’m reading a thicker book, I can toss it in and go.
Another way I accomplish reading is audiobooks. While I’m washing dishes or folding laundry, I’ll listen to an audiobook. While I’m driving around town, I turn on an audiobook. H. Martineau said, “A soul occupied with great ideas best performs small duties.” It really does help me to finish the task at hand when I listen to something thoughtful.
Finding time to read is possible if we make a conscious effort. It may take a couple of weeks to build the habit, but if we focus on using those small snatches of time for reading, we will see more and more opportunities throughout our days.
We know accomplishing reading is possible despite our busyness. But going back to our original question of how to cultivate our own soul using reading, which books are best?
I do not think there is an exhaustive book list, but I do believe some books are more valuable than others. Books that leave us in despair are not good books. Books can and should deal with hard life issues, but they should leave us hopeful, even if the ending isn’t always as we think it should be.
I’m going to share some books that I believe can help us cultivate our souls through reading this summer. Since it is summertime after all, I will share some lighter fiction books that will make compelling poolside reads but that are certainly not vapid. And since non-fiction is my favorite, I’ll recommend a mix of lighter and more thought-provoking books.
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
This book will especially touch mothers who have boys. Jo March Baer runs a home for boys and the way she goes about parenting and educating is inspiring!
The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton Porter
This story follows a man who discovers the beauty of life through friendship, nature, and love. Gene Stratton Porter also wrote Girl of the Limberlost which is another beautiful story that deals with family, friendship, nature, and love.
The Code of the Woosters by PG Wodehouse
Wodehouse is a true craftsman when it comes to the written word. He understands language and plays with it in unexpected ways. His characters are humorous and the situations they get themselves into are truly laughable. Any of Wodehouse’s stories featuring Jeeves will have you laughing out loud. Also, since it is fun to read a book with others, I’d highly recommend the Close Reads podcast by Circe Institute. They recently read this book and discussed it on the podcast and in the Close Reads Facebook group.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
A classic book that also falls in the realm of science fiction. It is easy to read, but deeply meaningful.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
This books follows a group of friends who bond over books during the Second World War. This book is written in the format of letters between friends and is a really unique way to tell a story.
The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini
Chiaverini writes several books set during the Civil War. This historical fiction book was an exciting read about a real woman who helped the Union Army while living in the Confederacy.
Fields and Pastures New by Dr. John McCormack
This book is by a veterinarian who practiced in rural Alabama during the 60s. He shares his stories of people and animals and the community he grew to love.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
Nature lovers will enjoy this unexpectedly compelling book. It left me wanting a pet snail of my own to observe!
A Fine Romance by Susan Branch
Branch is a delightful artist. In this book that is her travel journal she tells all about their trip to the English countryside while also sharing photos and her charming artwork. I began immediately planning a trip to England after reading this one.
Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
Admittedly, this book is not light. But it is one of the most influential books I have ever read. It discusses the importance of nature, especially in the lives of children.
For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
This is another heavier read. The book itself is not very long, but it is filled with ideas about the “why” of educating children. It is popular among homeschooling mothers but absolutely is not a book about homeschooling. It is a book about education as a whole and one I wish every parent would read, regardless of how your children are being educated.
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
An autobiography, this story follows a woman living in Holland during World War II. She ends up in the worst Nazi concentration camps and her faith and perseverance throughout the ordeal are truly inspiring.