For fifteen years, I read the Bible every day. I craved it in the morning like my empty stomach craved breakfast. Then slowly, the cravings stopped. My relationship with the Bible got complicated. Questions arose that I didn’t have the answers for, and the Bible became a source of confusion rather than of comfort. Maybe you, too, miss the fervor of your youthful devotion. Maybe you, too, struggle to approach Scripture in a way that makes sense for you today. Here’s my story—from fervent teenager to studious youth leader to lapsed Bible reader. And here are some ways that I’ve found to engage with Scripture even in seasons when I am not drawn to daily study. Here is a little grace for people like us.
A chapter a day
My daily reading began when I was fourteen. I was inspired by a community of peers who were reading our Bibles together. We gathered on Monday nights in a junior lacrosse player’s basement. Together, we read the Bible in a way that personified God and showed how Scripture was relevant to our teenaged lives. Motivated by God’s love for me, and emulating Jesus, I looked for ways to serve my peers, to shun gossip and meanness, and to comfort others. Our youth leader encouraged us to read our Bibles at home, a chapter a day. I read before school and took notes on what each chapter taught me about God and the Christian life. I brought my Bible on vacation. I brought it to sleepovers and snuck in a chapter while my friends were still sleeping. I was getting to know God like a friend, and I didn’t want to miss out on time together.
This habit continued through college and early adulthood, when I worked as a youth minister. My Bible reading was enriched by the responsibility of teaching others, and because it was my job to prepare lessons, I could spend more time reading the Bible than I had before. During these years, the stories of Scripture became as familiar as my own family’s folklore—how my parents met at a business meeting, how my grandfather wrote songs for his children—and Jesus seemed as near to me as a brother. Reading the Bible was a routine that comforted me and made me generous. It was a habit I didn’t ever expect to quit.
A slow fade
There are many reasons a person might stop reading the Bible—busyness, boredom, bewilderment. Your schedule is packed, your children are clamoring, you were up in the night tending to an aging parent, and an extra hour’s sleep—not Scripture—will be the thing that gets you through the day. Or you’ve read the Gospels countless times, and though you love the stories, you find you’re tired of reading them. Or you’ve experienced some change—the loss of a loved one, or a theological shift—that renders the way you used to interpret Scripture insufficient. The very words that comforted you now confound you, and you haven’t yet found an interpretive lens through which to see Scripture anew.
My own disengagement came about slowly over a couple of years, due especially to bewilderment. The bewilderment was partly intellectual: The more I learned about the Bible, the more I discovered there was to learn. It’s a complex text, made up of many genres. There is poetry, there are letters, there is apocalyptic literature—it can take energy and careful study when I want to be sure I’m interpreting each passage well. My bewilderment was also emotional: two of my family members died within a two-year timeframe. In the exhaustion of bereavement, the invitation to explore this complex text was not invigorating but intimidating. I didn’t have the energy to discover a new way through. So I stopped reading almost entirely.
A way forward
God does not leave us when we cease to read the Bible daily. The God who became a friend through the rigorous reading of our youth is a friend to us now. In fact, God finds ways to speak to us even when we are not regularly reading his Word. But if, like me, you still love the Bible—if, like me, you miss its poetry and instruction and the companionship of its characters, and if, like me, you miss knowing God through the pages in which he has revealed himself—then perhaps you are longing for new ways to engage with the Bible. Here are some practices that are helping me through the transitional state in which I find myself:
- Return to a favorite passage again and again. Rather than progressing through the books of the Bible one chapter a day, stay in one place. If there is a passage of Scripture that remains meaningful to you, read it every time you feel like opening the Bible. The chapter I return to is 1 Corinthians 15. It’s full of rich imagery and abundant hope. It doesn’t trouble me or bore me. It’s mysterious, but not in a way that confuses me. The mystery encourages me and moves me to awe. For a year, it was about all I read, and that was exactly what I needed.
- Find habits of worship that are rooted in biblical language. Churches that practice a formal liturgy draw their orders of worship directly from the biblical text. If a liturgical church isn’t for you, consider finding an historic prayer based on biblical language. Print this prayer and put it on your bedside table or on your coffee maker, and make a habit of praying these words. See how the words of Scripture can form you when you read them as a prayer (or song) rather than as the subject of study.
- Read Scripture with a diverse group of friends. When our interest in Scripture wanes, we can lean on our friends to approach God’s Word for us. Get together with people who are different from you—those at the very beginning of their journey of faith and those who’ve been reading the Bible for sixty years; those who have no formal biblical training and those who are seminary-educated; those who come from different Christian traditions; those who come from different cultures and different regions of the world. Don’t speak—just listen. How is Scripture illuminated for you when you hear it read from your friends’ perspectives?
I know, even when I don’t feel it, that there is still more for me to discover in the Bible’s pages. As familiar as Scripture sometimes seems, there is always something fresh to uncover. As confounding as it sometimes seems, there is always a word of comfort to be found. There are many ways to interact with the text, and as we move through life’s various stages, God continues to speak and to seek us through these ancient words.
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