Anyone else feel they are skim-reading their way through life, with barely a moment to catch breath, let alone catch up on the long to do list? A large part of the problem is that I simply don’t have enough time to consume all the content I’m trying to take in. I read recently that one Sunday Times Newspaper contains more content than the average 18th Century gentleman consumed in his entire life. That’s purely anecdotal, but undoubtedly there’s some truth in it. I certainly don’t have time to read the Sunday Times because of all the emails, text messages, social media feeds, websites, blogs, podcasts, magazines, audiobooks and ebooks vying for my attention. That’s before I even think about the things I would choose to consume—my 3 chapters a day Bible-in-one-year, the Netflix binge to relax, the pile of books gathering dust on the bedside table, and all the reading for my Masters in Theology at Union!
Think in proportion to your reading
I found some wisdom about how to consume content in a most unexpected place recently. A chapter written by the 19th Century gentleman, C.H. Spurgeon, for “workers with slender apparatus.” In it he writes: “Think as well as read, and keep the thinking always in proportion to the reading, and your small library will not be a great misfortune.” Considering we have the exact opposite problem, too many words/voices in our life rather than too few, it was remarkably insightful! I was deeply impacted by the phrase “thinking always in proportion to the reading.”
His words catapulted me back to a conversation I had with Marni Thurm when I started at Union. Marni is the Campus Librarian. A title which, I’d like to boldly assert, is a massive understatement, considering the noun librarian simply means “someone who works in a library.” Marni is trained for this job to degree level, is a fount of knowledge, expertly defending her turf from the chaos that ensues when a bunch of panicked students up against the essay deadline wreak havoc in the tranquil book-lined walls of the South-West Wing of the College. She’s also lovely! This wise, lover of books, highly skilled learner once said to me over the photocopier: “too many students leave their essay writing to the last minute. When you read you have to leave yourself time to think. Time to mull over what you’ve learned so you can begin to make sense of it.”
Give it a go
Well, if Spurgeon said it and Marni confirmed it, I thought I’d give it a go. But wasn’t quite sure where to start. Enter Spurgeon with his wise words again:
“Give us the one dear book … noted on the fly-leaf and scrawled on the margin, It is by this one book … that more real cultivation has been imparted than by all the myriads which bear down the mile-long, bulging, bending shelves of the Bodleian.”
We tend to think best pen-in-hand. Scrawling over what’s already been written. Though I’m pretty sure Marni would have something to say about that, so let’s maybe not do it with library books!
With Marni’s words ringing in my ears, I managed to finish the first draft of my next essay with a week to go, giving myself time to think about it, making connections between different parts of the argument, and chewing over it with friends. It was actually a joy to have time to think! I learned so much more about the subject, and significantly improved my essay. I’m not sure I had any original thoughts, but I certainly added in a number of points that were genuinely mine, that weren’t copied and pasted, unattributed with a few words changed from someone else’s essay from 2017.
Curate what you consume
Flushed with the success of having made a bit of space in my studies to think, I began to reflect on the rest of my, rather chaotic, life. Rather than being “workers with slender apparatus” we are better described as “workers with far too much apparatus.” In his book, The Common Rule, Justin Whitmel Earley likens our minds to an art gallery and uses the phrase “curating” to describe how we decide what will and won’t go in there. 
Have you ever thought about “curating” the content you consume? The world plies us with words everywhere we go. Our ever-present mobiles offer a stream of content to fill our commute. And as Christians there’s that pile of books, purchased on sale at the conference bookstall (only me?!) that we’ve started but not finished. They cry out to us every time we fall exhausted into bed, “you should have read me by now …” “and me …” “and me.” “And don’t forget us …” echoes an entire bookshelf from the other room. Perhaps many of us would give anything to simply have that poor man’s library? Indeed, Spurgeon makes the point that, “if your people are not numerous enough to supply you with a library … in having time for meditation, you will be even better off than your brethren with many books and little space for quiet contemplation.”
No more skim-reading?
This is not to say we should never skim-read. The whole point of a curator in a gallery is that they glance over lots of stuff to see what’s out there, before selecting a short list of works, then carefully considering which ones are really going to be worth investing time in. Skim-reading is a must in order to curate carefully. The problem comes when we find we are skim-reading everything and digesting nothing.
What should make the cut?
The things we care deeply about are the things we should choose to digest. If you want to be a writer, that might mean carefully selecting really good authors and poets to read (top tip for UK readers—check out the Borrow Box app from your local library for a wealth of current titles for free). If you are studying, it will mean taking time to select the best books, to research the most helpful authors, to skim read, and then scan and print the relevant chapter so you have time to scrawl all over it—before the deadline! If, like my son you love animals, it might be the big, fat Encyclopedia of Animal Life (totally impractical for holiday reading by the way). Bottom line, there’s a whole lot of stuff we need to cut out if we want to make space to think about the really important things.
Above all, let’s make space for God’s word. “Oh, how I love your law!” Cries the Psalmist in Psalm 119:97. Why, we might ask? Because “I meditate on it all day long.” As the Psalmist meditates, God’s word becomes more than something he knows, it awakens his heart to love God. To respond in worship, “I love your law!” Meditating vivifies us, so we see the glory of God everywhere we look. Rather than putting the airpods in as we walk, allowing notifications on our phone, and cramming more and more stuff in, let’s choose instead to curate carefully what we consume and give ourselves time to reflect. So that we are not just filling our heads with information but awakening our heart to worship our Creator.
 Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Basingstone: Marshall Pickering, 1986), 178.
 Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 178.
 Justin Whitmel Earley, The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019), 111–23.
 Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 182.