“Tell me, David, who are five authors you’re reading right now that are really shaping your thinking?”
I don’t remember his name, but I remember his smug face and perfectly positioned, gel-infused hair that matched the hints of yellow in his plaid shirt. Let’s call him Ted.
“The bible,” I said through an uncomfortable chuckle. “I read the work of those authors almost every day.”
Ted looked back at me with an annoying mixture of disappointment and arrogant gotcha-ness. He pressed further, and it was obvious that I didn’t have an answer. Ted was a second year student at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and I was a thirty-year-old pastor that had just planted a new church in my living room in the Uptown Charlotte community.
The question was fair, and to be totally honest, Ted had no clue how uncomfortable I was having this conversation. He couldn’t have known that he was poking at one of my biggest insecurities: I don’t read good.
Fast forward four more years.
Same location, come to think of it: Central Coffee in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood one mile east of Uptown Charlotte. “Bro, you know I love you, but you really need to read more.”
I had a real problem on my hands this time. Joseph is anything but smug. He’s one of my best friends and he had moved to Charlotte to help Dara and I plant the aforementioned church in our living room. Furthermore, he doesn’t even own hair gel. I couldn’t make a snarky comment and wiggle out of this one again.
“You have such a sharp mind, but you’re just regurgitating your own thoughts. You need to be challenged by people that have gone before you and dig deeper into your own ideas and beliefs.”
I remember getting really quiet this time. No defensive humor dismissing this challenge from my friend that I absolutely knew loved me and wanted the best for me.
“Joseph,” I said nervously, “I don’t read good.”
I was ashamed. Embarrassed. Even writing this right now makes me feel like I just went skinny dipping in the waters of the internet. I don’t like admitting my weaknesses to anyone, let alone the one location in the universe that trolls run rampant with no accountability.
We walked out of the coffee shop and my armor was cracking. I was cracking. I told him that I had struggled with reading since I was a kid. To be abundantly clear, I can read, but I just have a really hard time focusing for long periods of time. The world around me has always been infinitely more interesting than inanimate words on a page or screen.
Fast forward six more years: I still don’t read good.
I got this idea for this blog post when I was doing my devotions this morning. I woke up, had my first cup of coffee, and cracked open a devotional I’m reading with the dumbest title on earth that’s loaded with amazing truths: Sparkling Gems from the Greek by Rick Renner.
As I was learning about the role of the Holy Spirit’s role in convicting us of sin (elegcho means to expose, convict, or cross-examine for the purpose of conviction), I started thinking of something else. Let’s be real, I thought of a lot of something-elses. The email I wanted to send to Jon and Garrett. The next project in my yard that I want to do for the kids to have more room to play. The second-to-last message I’m preaching tomorrow at Center City Church (that’s weird to type).
This rapid-fire collection of thoughts somehow led to a self-deprecating thought of how I can’t stay focused long enough to… “WOW!!! I bet other people deal with this too… I should write a blog post about how distracted I get while trying to read.”
The sparkling gems were going to have to wait. I did what I always do with my random thoughts: find the closest device or my leather journal (that I bring everywhere) to write down these fleeting thoughts. My phone was (of course) right next to me, so I did what normal humans do and shot a series of random text messages to myself.
Rewind to April 26, 2019: The day I became a doctor.
I have thought about those conversations with Ted and Joseph over and over again the past several weeks after receiving my doctor of ministry degree from Southeastern University. I ended up doing my masters degree and doctoral degree back-to-back over the course of five grueling years. That’s tens of thousands of pages of reading and thousands of pages of writing for a guy that legitimately can struggle to finish one page of a sparkling gems devotional.
I realized that I love learning but I hated to read.
I hated to read because I am easily distracted. Instead of choosing to dismiss Ted and Joseph and everyone else that was encouraging me to push myself to learn and grow, and I had to learn how to learn.
Turns out that I’m not the only one that has a hard time reading. There’s a bunch of us. If you’re one of us, please know that you are not alone. You don’t have to feel embarrassed or ashamed. You have a greater capacity to learn than anyone may have ever told you. I know this because I am one of us.
Here’s some tips that I picked up along the way that were absolutely game-changers for me academically. They have also helped me to stay focused on my sparkling gems.
First, I learned that I can consume a massive amount of information if I listen to a book while ALSO reading it at the same time. Please note: this is different than simply listening to an audio book. I need to hear it AND read it in order to really capture and process the information.
If I wasn’t very interested in an assigned topic, I would generally listen to a book at 1.5x speed or 2x speed (Joseph calls me an alien because of this), write a review and be done with the assignment. However, if I was really captivated by a topic, I would buy the Kindle version or a physical copy and make highlights as the author read to me at a blistering pace.
PRO TIP: If an audio book is not available, here’s how you can make your iPhone read a Kindle book to you (link) .
Second, and I’m declaring this the no-judgment zone for all the Teds of the world that don’t understand us… I have had to learn that sometimes I’m just going to have to buckle down and read the old fashioned way (with a very not-old-fashioned twist). In order to stay focused, I had to learn how to block out the noise around me.
In order to accomplish this, a good pair of headphones and my SimplyRain app have magically (I assume it’s magic, at least) helped me to focus when I have to read or write for long periods of time. I’m wearing my headphones right now listening to fake rain while I’m writing this because it just so happens my home is full of eight children wandering around blissfully being children (and loud).
PRO TIP: Turn thunder OFF on the rain app because you can really ruin a good reading or writing flow when you hear the thunder crackle and then you start thinking about that time you were a kid and the thunder made you get out of the pool on a perfectly sunny day in Florida. I’m not exactly sure why it thunders in Florida when it’s perfectly sunny overhead, but I can only assume it’s to ruin pool days for children.
I know what you’re thinking: “How on earth did this guy become a doctor?”
Well, Ted, all of us don’t learn the same way and it turns out I’ve got a huge list of authors that are really shaping my thinking now. I just needed a friend that would look past my insecurities and help me to see that I had more in me than I realized.
NC State survey to find your learning style: https://www.engr.ncsu.edu/ils/
NC State’s academic paper explaining learning styles: https://www.engr.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/drive/1WPAfj3j5o5OuJMiHorJ-lv6fON1C8kCN/styles.pdf
Purchase audio books here: https://www.audible.com/
How to enable text-to-speech on your phone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h953gJCjzpQ
Sparkling Gems from the Greek (Rick Renner): https://www.amazon.com/s?k=sparkling+gems+from+the+greek&gclid=EAIaIQobChMItbPftYHs4gIVkY2zCh0-CgCwEAAYASAAEgJo1fD_BwE&hvadid=345602647373&hvdev=c&hvlocphy=9009973&hvnetw=g&hvpos=1t1&hvqmt=e&hvrand=12576021319772245335&hvtargid=kwd-950829155&hydadcr=8269_10375144&tag=googhydr-20&ref=pd_sl_8wgj60t8hf_e
Joseph calling me an alien for listening to his podcast at 2x speed while interviewing me about vocational change: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/david-docusen/id1453948233?i=1000439381017