The Empty Shelf Challenge
Updated: Apr 29, 2022
I try not to start things that I don’t intend to finish. This used to be a pattern with me – uncompleted projects were scattered throughout our house, including files of the first several chapters of different novels I tried to write and drawers filled with unfinished photo scrapbooks. After decades of beating myself up over this tendency, I decided to ditch it. I began to raise the red flag for myself whenever I uttered the words, “That would be a cool thing to do.”
So now, I carefully consider if a new idea is actually going to be a cool thing to do – whether it’s learning to sew, making a collage of my mother’s handwritten recipe cards, or painting quotes on canvas. I try to stay off Pinterest because although others may not have this weakness, I get sucked into the idea that mine is going to look like the one in the photograph. It won’t. As for writing, it took me a long time to realize that I don’t prefer to read fiction, so I probably shouldn’t try to write it. The chapters are still in my files though, because I never give up on writing.
This decision to heavily evaluate new projects also keeps me from making New Year’s resolutions. I can’t bear to get hyped on January 1, only to fail a mere 28 days later. This has happened far too many times. But, I made an exception for 2014. Hence, the Empty Shelf Challenge. Jon Acuff put this on his website and I took it on because for me, this is a no-fail project. The hardest part of was clearing off the shelf, which I did. And then I took a lousy picture so that no one on my Pinterest board would mistake it for a cutesy idea.
Actually, this little 2014 project fits me perfectly. I love to read, although I don’t make enough time for it so the empty shelf in my office will stare at me constantly with a friendly reminder to pick up that book and put down the phone and tablet. These devices push me to social media sites that are overloaded with trite phrases, campy quotes, and out-of-context Bible verses. So before my brain turns to mush, I took on the challenge to actually read things that stretch my mind.
After I took my lousy picture, I had to find a place for the books that were removed. I learned how to double shelf which looks messy as heck, but I’m not at a place in life where I can give away books. With the shelf emptied, the next task was to choose some books for the year. It was not an exhaustive list, nor will I be legalistic about it. If I choose to mark a book off the list before I read it, I have my permission to do that. The list was just a way to envision what the shelf might be filled with by the end of the year. In keeping with the spirit of my 2014 Word for the Year, I’m reading some things that I hope will widen my view of the world, God, work, culture. At least I hope so. Here my starter list of books for 2014:
Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible
Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Muhammad Cross the Road?
Kingdom Without Borders: The Untold Story of Global Christianity
A Heart for Freedom: The Remarkable Journey of a Young Dissident, Her Daring Escape, and Her Quest to Free China’s Daughters
The next task was to finish the book I had begun before Christmas. Yes, this goes on the shelf because the challenge started before January 1. I agree with Acuff who says that “waiting until January 1st to do something awesome is stupid and fake.” So there you go. ‘
The first book on my shelf is Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World. My rating: five stars out of five. So, on the shelf it went, and then I took another lousy photo.
It is now January 12, and I’m on my second book. The shelf still looks too empty for me to stomach, so I’m trying to read a little each evening. You should know that in my house, I’m doing this alone. Kyle is taking on a different challenge of writing 500 words a day. Good for him. Maybe my last read of 2014 will be his memoirs. So if you want to join me in the challenge I’d welcome the company. Just empty a shelf and start reading! And post a comment or send an email and let me know you’re with me: firstname.lastname@example.org.