In college, I read the Bible every day. I prayed every day, writing out my prayers longhand in journals I decorated for the purpose. I did inductive Bible studies too, sometimes from a devotional guide, sometimes using the Observation, Interpretation, Life Application method.
It sounds lovely, doesn’t it? So spiritual.
Except I hated it. Nearly every day I confessed to God that I’d put off reading, skipped, that I wasn’t excited to be there. Please forgive me, I’d write.
I thought I had to read. I thought my lack of desire was sin.
Last month, reading through a few of the journals, my eyes hurt. On one college lined journal, I had fit two lines of my writing for every line on the page.
There was no white space, anywhere. No breaks on the page. Just a solid block of tiny letters.
That cramped, obsessive cursive was just one symptom of a larger problem. I thought reading the Bible would save me. And worse: I thought every time the Bible was talking about an evildoer, enemy, harlot, it was probably addressing me.
Every day I opened my heart to be condemned by the Bible and wondered—wondered! why I didn’t want to read it.
I thought all this was normal.
I hadn’t opened those journals in a long time. I had thought it was because they seemed boring—I didn’t write juicy details about my life, just long-winded prayers to God. But no, reading them, I realized that the reason I hadn’t opened them was because they hurt to read. Because I remembered how writing in them had broken my spirit.
Let me be clear: I read the Bible regularly now. I still sometimes write out prayers longhand. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with those practices. I don’t think the Bible is a book meant to condemn me.
Instead, that my attitude, practice, and approach towards the Bible study was deeply unhealthy. Unfortunately, I know I’m not alone in having this experience with the Bible.
Lisa Lopez Smith sent me this quote from Inner Bonding’s free e-course:
“…reading the Bible can be a way to help you open your heart and move into your lovingness and your desire to learn, or it can be used as an anesthetic, an addiction, a way to avoid yourself and your fear. When the Bible is used this way, it often becomes a tool to control others and God, to make God love us more or reward us.”
Oh, exactly, I breathed, when I read Lisa’s email.
Perhaps none of you will be surprised that I became depressed after college? Perhaps, actually, I had been depressed for years, with a very large smile pasted on my face.
When I saw a counselor after college she suggested, gently, that maybe I should put the Bible aside for a while.
I remember recoiling from her in the office. Could I let this woman counsel me if she were such a reprobate?
But later, when I looked at my Bible, I realized that I had to take her advice. The way I read the Bible was killing me. Thinking about opening that book again was like telling myself to put my hand flat on a stove burner. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it now that someone had given me permission to stop.
Not long after I stopped reading the Bible—when I was well and truly at the bottom of a pit, I felt God gently calling to me, telling me that I didn’t have to do anything—anything—for him to love me. I could ignore him, and he would not leave me.
That was the moment things started getting better. That was the moment that saved me and my faith.
But you know what? That was fifteen years ago. And though everything got better–my depression retreated, I got my life back, I rejoiced in my faith and in Jesus—how to approach the Bible is still a work in progress. Changing those patterns of self-condemnation and legalism is too.
If you struggle with the Bible, I want you to know that you’re not alone. That the struggle isn’t some sideshow that distracts you from Jesus, but a real honest-to-God work of art the Lord is working out in your life. It’s not a mistake, it’s not a failing, it’s a wilderness where you can be transformed. And it isn’t by working harder that transformation will happen.
It’s by the the incredible, slow, inexorable work of the One to whom you keep crying out for help.