This year for religious studies, my 13-year-old son and I are reading Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ. We are taking the book in a leisurely manner, covering 4 of the short chapters per week. We read Monday through Thursday and discuss Tuesday through Friday. While reading, we highlight anything that makes an impression on us, then we review those sections during our discussions.
One of the beautiful characteristics of this book is its counter-cultural quality. It calls the reader TO Christ and away from the world. Reading this book during the teen years can help to set the young follower of Christ firmly on the Narrow Way. Though written during the early 15th century, the wisdom contained within its pages has a timeless quality. The reader is invited to seek true happiness, a happiness found not in the pursuit of worldly goals or goods but in focusing one’s life on Christ.
My son and I often laugh as we read, as we see ourselves and each other in the words and admonitions. We have both learned what appeals to the other and can often predict what the other has highlighted in the text. Within the context of the readings, we discuss our good and bad qualities openly. In doing so, we grow in humility and trust. He learns that the spiritual path is best traversed with another, that he needs spiritual friends and spiritual mentors. He learns that it is not the fault itself but the failure to get up and continue moving forward that keeps us from holiness.
We have grown even closer this year and I attribute part of that growth to reading The Imitation together. I don’t think that the act of reading this book will suddenly create a bond between parent and child that didn’t exist previously, but I do think it can open conversations and improve an already good connection. Indeed, this might be a good book for husband and wife to read and discuss together. It would require vulnerability and openness, but I think the effort could reap enormous benefits. It is easy for spouses to find themselves living separate lives and requires effort for them to remain united. Choosing to read a book which has a goal of leading souls to Christ will strengthen the marital relationship, for the closer each is to Christ the closer the couple can be to each other. The closer they are to Christ, the closer they can grow with each other. This can reap only good things in a marriage.
Are you looking for something to read for Lent? I suggest picking up a copy of The Imitation of Christ, perhaps even if you have read it before. If there are others in your life who might benefit from the encouragement this book offers, invite them to read with you. Growing together toward Christ will strengthen friendships and bring families closer together, for the more we love Christ the more love we have for each other.