Before I was married, I read the Bible nearly every morning. It was a ritual I had developed as a teenager that carried on into my adult life. I often woke looking forward to God’s company, found in the words of Scripture. I thought of God as my friend, my protector, and the lover of my soul. I spent a lot of time alone in those years, waking alone in my bed, driving alone from here to there, in yoga class alone, returning, after work and happy hours and dinner parties, to my room alone, to lay my head on my pillow alone. My relationship with God, nurtured in my reading of the Scriptures, transformed these moments from loneliness into contented solitude in God’s presence.
Contented in God’s Company
I was drawn then to passages about God’s relentless love. I reveled in the poetry of Lamentations 3: “The LORD’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise” (verse 22). I read Isaiah 55 and imagined God preparing a meal for me, attending to me like a faithful friend: “Eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare … I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David” (verses 2b–3). I read John 13 and sensed that Christ’s tireless love for the disciples was love for me, too: “He had always loved those in the world who were his own, and he loved them to the very end” (verse 1). I knew God through the language of intimacy. If there was a primary metaphor by which I understood God through the biblical narrative, it was as companion.
Some Surprises of Marriage
Then I got married. Suddenly there was a person waking beside me, someone eating oatmeal at the table where I had read, someone in tow as I drove, someone with whom, at day’s end, I laid down my head. Saturday mornings—a time I’d once set aside for long meditations—passed by in my husband’s company. We woke late, we talked about our dreams, we drank coffee, and caught up about the week that had passed. In the season of early marriage, the intimacy I had desired with God was largely satisfied, not through the reading of the Scriptures, but in the indwelling of God in the person beside me.
Despite the thrill of this newfound companionship, I felt somehow bereft when I opened my Bible. I didn’t know which book to flip to. I’d set out to study something I hadn’t studied before—the minor prophets, 2 Samuel—and my interest waned quickly.
I thought that reading the Bible with my husband might enliven the task. Maybe we’d make a morning routine. Maybe we’d sit side by side on the couch, quietly flipping the onionskin pages in our laps. Maybe we’d read aloud to each other. As it turns out, he wasn’t interested in this ritual, and to be honest, neither was I. The metaphor that had animated my Bible reading for so long was not as compelling to me as it once was. For this stage of life, I needed a different way in. I needed a new metaphor.
A New Metaphor
The Bible abounds with metaphors through which we can approach God. Some we can easily call to mind: God is Father, the Spirit is our Counselor. In Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God, Lauren F. Winner searches the Bible for other metaphors that the writers use to understand God: God is a woman in labor; God is a garment, close to our skin; God is an aroma, lilting to our noses.
As our life circumstances change, different metaphors will become meaningful to us. And while we may lament that one metaphor doesn’t move us the way it used to, we can celebrate the abundance of images by which we might know God anew. For years I knew God as a companion who drew faithfully and intimately near to me. God continues to do so, but that metaphor no longer motivates my Bible reading.
In marriage, I am moved by images that depict God holding me and my husband together: Christ is a hen gathering her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37). God’s kingdom is a tree in whose generous branches we make our nest (Mark 4:30-32). It is only in the power of God’s faithful love that two frail people can faithfully love one another. At our wedding, we prayed, “Human commitment is fragile and human love imperfect, but the promise of God is eternal and the love of God can bring our love to perfection.” Beneath the hen’s wings, perched in the shade tree, our love for one another is increasingly perfected in God’s love. With these metaphors in mind, I recognize, throughout the arc of Scripture, how God unites people in holy love. My Bible reading is animated anew for this season.
In your Bible-reading practice—whether it’s a personal daily meditation, an occasional and spontaneous read, or close listening at church—begin to make a note every time the Scripture writers use a metaphor to describe God. As you develop your list, ask yourself, “Which metaphor is God using to minister to me or challenge me at this time of my life?” Perhaps with this new metaphor in mind, reading the Bible can foster new depths of intimacy with God.
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