Why reading fiction​ is good​ for my faith (and could be for yours too)

When the kids were really little, I stopped reading fiction.

My time was limited, and so in any spare nano-seconds, I prioritised reading Christian books over the seeming “luxury” of reading fiction.

Now the kids are a bit older, I still don’t have any more time on my hands. I’ve replaced changing nappies with writing emails and moved from managing toddler tantrums to dealing with pre-teen hormones.

Cicumstances change but pressures remain.

Time is always a precious commodity, and we always make time for the things we value.  Reading is something I value, so I’ve been trying to read more fiction over the last few months and have rediscovered the joy of being immersed in another culture, another person’s life, another story.

It’s dawned on me that reading stories helps me to reflect on God and on my life as much as many Christians books do. Sometimes more. Reading fiction is, in fact, good for my faith.

Take the book I’m reading at the moment, for example, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.

a fine balance

It’s an intriguing story of how four people’s lives weave together in 1970s India. I’ve become absorbed in the life of the characters: I’ve wept at their plight, I’ve laughed at their unexpected moments of joy, and I’ve been surprised by their generosity. But most of all I’ve reflected on how little choice many of them have.  Om, one of the central characters, a lower-caste Indian, endures a compulsory vasectomy as part of the government’s birth control programme.  He then undergoes forced castration as a revenge from a more powerful, influential enemy. All this happens just days before he is to meet a prospective wife.

Wealth buys choice. And when I reflect on Om’s life in comparison to mine, I’m reminded just how much choice and privilege I have.

Now, I’m not oblivious to the fact that a choiceless life is the reality for many. I lived in India for a year. I’ve read countless articles or blog posts from organisations working amongst the poorest of the poor. And many such charities are engaging in the power of real-life story to communicate their message.

But this book has stirred my heart and mind in unexpected and unanticipated ways. It has grown in me a thankfulness for what I have, caused a deeper compassion for those who don’t have as much choice, and a renewed sense of responsibility to use my time, money and effort in the best possible way. I might have expected some of those outcomes from reading a moving article from Tearfund, but maybe not from a novel.

Fiction can either be an escape from reality or a doorway into it. It all depends on how we engage with it.

I want God to be able to break into any and every sphere of life, whether reading the Bible or watching a film, whether strolling on the beach or striding through the city. All of me, all of life. It’s all his.

But I guess in order for that to happen, it takes a little intentionality on our part. It means we can’t just passively consume whatever comes our way. It takes a little thought.

Perhaps, for those of us who are Christians and want to think about how stories and fiction can positively help shape our minds, attitudes and responses, we can ask ourselves the following questions.

  • God, what do you want to say to me through these characters, through these stories, through this culture?
  • How do you want to change my heart and my actions through what I’ve read?
  • What does it tell me about my own culture?
  • What does it tell me about the world?
  • What does it tell me about other people’s worldview?

I prefer to think about these things when I’m not actually reading the book. I think it’s more powerful to fully engage with the story and then to reflect on it at another point, when I’m not quite so immersed in the story itself.

And maybe, when we’ve experienced for ourselves the power story has to change our hearts and minds, we can think about how we share our own story more effectively. What’s the story of our lives? What has God woven into our lives that is unique to us? And what’s the most powerful way to share that?

Fiction can either be an escape from reality or a doorway into it.

It all depends on how we engage with it.

Nine little words


My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.

Yet not as I will, but as you will.

My God spoke those words, just before he knew he was to be betrayed and subsequently crucified on the cross.

His name is Jesus. He was praying to his Father in heaven, asking if it was possible that the suffering he was about to endure might be removed.

Three times he prayed in Gethsemane for his cup of suffering to pass from him.

Three times he prayed those nine words, ‘Yet not as I will, but as you will.’

Three times.

I’m pretty sure that night wasn’t the first time he’d prayed that prayer.

Because when I look at the life of Jesus, I see a man who lived out, ‘Yet not as I will, but as you will.’

I see a man whose battle cry, from his first breath to his last gasp was, ‘Yet not as I will, but as you will.’

I see a man who chose to surrender his own life to the will of his Father, all for the sake of me. And you.

I see one man who faithfully and obediently lived out those nine words.

And in his obedience and victory, I can receive forgiveness, know peace, and experience joy.

And so today is the day I especially remember:


The God who became flesh and blood

Yet not as I will, but as you will

The God who emptied himself and took the form of a servant

Yet not as I will, but as you will

The God who was born amongst sheep and cows

Yet not as I will, but as you will

The God who was a refugee

Yet not as I will, but as you will

The God who was baptized by a scruffy prophet

Yet not as I will, but as you will

The God who was tempted in every way by Satan

Yet not as I will, but as you will

The God who called a bunch of fisherman and tax collectors to follow him

Yet not as I will, but as you will

The God who was labelled a ‘glutton’ and a ‘drunkard’

Yet not as I will, but as you will

The God who befriended ‘sinners’

Yet not as I will, but as you will

The God who allowed himself to be betrayed.

Yet not as I will, but as you will

The God who was nailed to a cross

Yet not as I will, but as you will


Today is the day I remember all that was given for me. Today is the day I’ll pledge my commitment to you again.

And yet, just like Peter, I’ll promise you everything and let you down three times. And a million more.

And yet still you’ll love me. Still you’ll reach out. Still you’ll never give up on me. Still you’ll offer your forgiveness.


Yet not as I will, but as you will.


What If?

Yesterday was school sports day.

After watching my kids do the spud and spoon race, throw bean bags into random containers and dribble footballs around cones, there was one final call for a race:

The parents’ race.

One of my kids had begged me to take part. One child had begged me not to.

Do you feel my dilemma?

I eyed up the competition as a few parents approached the start line. These weren’t the ordinary mums and dads. These were the pros. In a moment of reckless abandon, I threw my cardigan on the grass, slipped off my ballet pumps and ran to the start line, with my son shaking his head in disapproval and my daughter grinning with delight.

I’m really not quite sure what I was thinking.

The air horn sounded, and I was off, watching 15 pairs of legs sprint ahead of me. Yes, it turns out that although I run regularly,  sprinting is a whole different matter.

I came in second to last, with the person behind me stumbling in with a leg injury.

My kids were mortified. And so were my legs.

At dinner time, my kids still hadn’t forgotten the event.

“Seriously. It was so embarrassing, Mum. Why did you have to come SECOND to last?”

As they continued to critique, I grinned back at them, unable to resist the opportunity to talk to them about Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech.

We read it out to them, explaining the more tricky words and metaphors.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

You see, I clearly didn’t win the sport’s day race. Not even close.

But I had one thing to hold on to. One thing I want to teach my kids.

I’d given it a shot.

I wasn’t on the sidelines. I wasn’t a cold or timid soul who’d known neither victory nor defeat. I wasn’t the critic who pointed out how the strong man stumbles.

I was in the arena.

Now, before you get any illusions of me being one who continually chooses to be in the arena, daring greatly, then forget it. For every one time I get in the arena, there are a hundred times that I don’t. So please, don’t be deluded.

History is made up of people who have chosen to get in the arena. They are the ones who have realised the great truth that anyone can critique from the sidelines. But those who know both victory and defeat are the ones who have marred their faces with the dust, sweat and blood of giving it a go.

It’s easy for us to say what we’re against. To shoot off a critique in 140 characters.  To point the finger with a bowl of popcorn at our feet. It costs us nothing: we never have to put ourselves in the vulnerable position of saying what we’re ‘for’. We can tear down anything and anyone without having to nail our colours to the mast.

When we’re against something for so long, we run in danger of mirroring the thing we oppose. Our hearts harden from constantly battling against something; we become joyless, and lacking in compassion and love. If we’re not careful our identity can be formed around what we’re against.

I look at the Church, and, sadly, in many ways, we are known for, and sometimes even defined by, what we’re against.

What if we became known for being in the arena, known for what we are FOR, more that what we are against? As our nation has faced multiple tragedies over the last few weeks, I have seen the Church rise up and respond with love and compassion, providing help and support for different communities in need. The Church has demonstrated what she is FOR. May that become our resounding voice.

We are FOR Love

We are FOR Peace

We are FOR Joy

We are FOR Justice

We are FOR The Poor

We are FOR Generosity

We are FOR Forgiveness

We are FOR Kindness

We are FOR Hope

We are FOR Redemption

Those things start with me. With you. In our family units, with those who we’re closest to. In our everyday lives. In our everyday places. They start with daring greatly.

What if we modelled in our families, to our kids, to our friends, to our colleagues, what it looks like to give it a shot, to be FOR things, rather than against? In the small things and the big things. From sports day to social justice.

What If?






Today is my fortieth birthday.

Really, I’m not sure how this can have happened. Because last year it was 1996, and we were all dancing to Born Slippy at the uni bar. Right?

uni disco

But I’ve checked my birth certificate, and my mirror, and yup it’s true. I’m forty. No denying it. In fact, Continue reading