Did you just say you (gasp!) quit reading the Bible for a while? Yes, I did just say that. Growing up, reading the Bible was one of the basic indicators in your walk with Jesus – the more you read your Bible, the more you loved Jesus. Of course, the inverse was also true – the less you read, the less you loved Jesus. And “getting into the Word” every day was how all of that was mostly measured. (Never mind living out what we read. Well, actually that may or may not have been mostly down to a science.)
For years, I would try to read DAILY (because God only gives us bread for today, not for tomorrow) so I could check it off my mental (and sometimes for real) to-do list. One of the key words here is “try”. Because more often than not, it was a total fail. I’d start out so good, especially at the beginning of the year when those New Year resolutions were all bright and shiny and gave me warm fuzzy feelings, but by the time February 3rd rolled around and the days were dark and the snow was deep and the covers were so nice and toasty while the air on the other side of those covers was icy cold and dark in the morning, it was sheer drudgery. And I wasn’t feeling very much in love with Jesus.
But one way you fall in love with Jesus is by reading His Word, right? Well, I don’t doubt that could possibly be true. But I also know that when you perceive God to be watching every move you make and ready to judge you for not reading today, it doesn’t necessarily give us a picture of gentle, loving Father with whom we desire deep relationship, does it?
I think one of the bigger issues for me was that as I came to Scripture, I did not come with an open mind, an inquisitive heart or with ears to hear. I came with my preconceived ideas, my biases, my colored glasses, a sense of my-church-has-this-all-figured-out-and-I’m-just-here-to-verify-that. Not only that, questions were not okay, because if there were questions, there was obviously doubt, and doubt has no place in the life of a good religious person. So it wasn’t even safe for me to approach the Bible with questions and doubts. Furthermore, all of the problematic parts had full and mind-bending explanations, and we had to believe those in faith, because there are some things that just are not going to make sense this side of heaven. So even the parts that I might have questioned were already fully explained. It is very difficult (impossible?) to come to Scripture with an open heart and open mind when I have to believe certain things about certain parts (or the entirety) of the Bible.
I just remember how crazy-making it all felt when we would hear that we were to weigh everything against Scripture, while at the same time we were told exactly WHAT we were supposed to believe about every part of Scripture. I still don’t get it, I guess.
Far beyond all that – I truly believe all of this kept me from learning to know the voice of the Shepherd. There was just no way to even hear Him, for starters, because there was no room for His voice personally in my life. And if I would have somehow heard His voice, God forbid that I would have heard something different from what I was told I should believe. If it was different, then surely that was not God’s voice I was hearing. It couldn’t be. I’m not entirely sure why God’s voice was so important, because obviously, if it’s all figured out, there is not much need for the voice.
So you see the dilemma. Being the rule-following religious good girl that I was, I was on a fast track to spiritual death, a dead man walking in religious mumbo-jumbo, glib and pat answers abounding. I was supposed to know and follow the voice of God, while at the same time it was exceedingly dangerous for me to do so. How do you even begin to KNOW the voice, when it’s dangerous to HEAR the voice? Because you certainly can’t trust what you hear.
Long, LONG story short – I quit reading for a while (don’t even ask how long). And I read a ton of other stuff. Different views on different things, things that resonated with my heart on deep levels. New-to-me ideas that rebutted some of things I was “supposed to” believe (that would be like a dagger twisting in my heart every time I heard them). Views that encapsulated the over-arching themes of God and Scripture. And somehow in the middle of all that, I began to hear what I thought might be the Voice of the Shepherd. And somehow I learned to Trust that Voice. Somehow over time God helped me trust and believe that it was His Voice. It’s been a long journey and all I can say is God is Faithful. He taught me that while Scripture is His Word, Jesus Christ is also His Word revealed in the flesh, and there is now, today, in this moment, the Living Word, the Holy Spirit who speaks to us through our spirit. I think that last part was the most scary for me and where I needed to learn the most trust, and I’m still learning. Anyone with me?
And now, I’m reading again. With fresh eyes, with an open heart, with a mind hungry to soak up the richness of the written word. I’ve fallen in love with the Shepherd and I love His Voice. The voice I used to think was His, well it wasn’t. He doesn’t speak condemnation and you-are-not-enough and you-should-be-doing-more. He speaks Life and Truth and Grace. And that’s just for starters.
Do you have a similar experience or story? I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to share here in the comments (or shoot me an email if leaving your story here feels scary).