When it comes to my faith, and the habits/ rituals of my faith, there are a few things I consider myself to be decently good at.
I love service, helping others. I like praying for people and encouraging them (praying/encouraging myself, another story for another blog). I love to engage in worship, whether through music or other creative channels.
There is one area of faith, however, where I sorely lack.
I struggle with reading and knowing scripture.
I know names of people and basic story lines. I know the Gospel and the story/timeline of Jesus well enough, and could name some important parables. I know most themes of the Psalms like the back of my hand (anxiety and Psalms pair pretty well together). But it’s just bits and pieces, not the whole story.
I struggle to get through reading scripture. I’ve never read the Bible through all the way, understanding the different stories and how they’re connected. I didn’t grow up in church, so I wasn’t spoon-fed the stories in Sunday School or VBS; I didn’t learn the silly songs or poems to remember stories, or grow up watching Veggie Tales (though I love the show now, as a 23 year old. Don’t judge). I had no idea what an AWANA program was and sat through Bible classes in college as a new-ish follower– those classes were the first time I truly ever had to read scripture.
When I started going to church at 13, most people my age knew the stories. They knew how to pronounce the names and could catch references to other scriptures that went unnoticed to me. They had good recall of specific stories without having to read the scripture directly.
10 years after first being introduced to Jesus, I still can’t do that.
This is something that’s been burning in my mind and heart for about a year now. I noticed it strongly when I’d read devotionals or faith-related blogs; I’d read through the scripture that the devo/ blog was based on to get straight to the actual post. When reading the She Reads Truth devos on my phone, I’d barely glance at the actual scripture, electing to skim it because I wanted to get to the devotional for the good stuff.
I loved learning and reading ABOUT scripture. I could get people’s explanations of verses and stories quite well; someone else’s words relating to or talking about scripture really resonated with me. Even writing about scripture myself, putting it in my own words was something I easily can grasp. But understanding and reading the actual scripture itself? Forget it.
I soon decided to take a break from SRT and similar devotionals. They were keeping me from actually reading and studying the scripture themselves. And yet, I’m still struggling.
I struggle to get through passages when I try. When being the operative word.
I cherry pick the verses I choose to read, instead of trying to read a whole chapter or book so I can get the scope/context. I’m not diligent about reading daily for a set amount of time, or reading a specific book or chapter at a time.
I use scripture as if it’s prescriptive; if something’s wrong, I/someone needs encouragement, I grab a verse or two and stick it on the wound. I use it to make me feel better about life. It’s a pep talk to pump me up, or a healing aid to get me from one ailment to the next; I read scripture to see what it can do for me, not what I can do with it.
But I don’t think scripture’s supposed to be a bandaid. It’s not supposed to be an inspirational speech to merely stick on a canvas or a plaque, is it?
Yet that’s how I’ve treated it. I’ve used scripture to make for an inspirational instagram post or reduced it to 140 characters on twitter when I needed comfort. I lump verses without context or understanding with quotes from books, song lyrics, or facts and statistics: it’s something I just grab a line that invokes a feeling or encouragement, instead of studying and learning from it.
I don’t use it to know Him. To understand His story from beginning to end. To learn about who He is, and how to become more like him.
I want to know more. I’m hungry for knowledge, for details. I have access to a lot of it. But instead, I pull verses to memorize and instead of comprehend and emulate.
I want to know Jesus. And I want to know where He and his story came from. I want to understand stories as a whole, not just bits and pieces and verses I choose. I want to not be confused by verses in the Old Testament, to understand the stories and the connections between the OT and the NT.
I don’t just want to say what I believe. I don’t want to use scripture as a grab bag of go-to pick-me-ups. I want to understand the backstory, where my beliefs came from. I want to read it as a whole– and I want to understand it. So many times have I started reading a chapter in the Bible and have quit because I got confused. Or I’ll read a story and have to re-read it multiple times, only to still not understand.
It’s times like that that I wish I had a solid foundation in scripture. But I don’t.
Boredom is another big thing for me, too. I read the names and the narration between dialogue and I space out. I have no attention span and little discipline, a cruel combination when trying to read and understand something difficult like scripture. I hate admitting that, truthfully. I want to be captivated by it, but instead I either get bored and lose my place or read for a few minutes and stop altogether.
If I get bored, or don’t understand a scripture, I quit reading or skip to the next verse or book. When I don’t understand something, or struggle with a phrase or concept in the bible, I just turn the page. I treat it like a homework assignment or a check on my to-do list, not as an opportunity to learn and know more about the God I claim to follow.
I don’t want to pick and choose scripture to just use in my life to get a certain feeling or comfort; I want to know the words and apply it to my life. There’s a difference in applying certain verses to my life and life situations, and knowing the scripture and applying them in my life.
One of my goals for this year has been to read scripture more– truly read it, not just glance through it looking for nuggets of wisdom. I got a really great Bible study journal, and at first I was using it with gusto, going through the book of Romans. But then I got discouraged. I’d skip a night or not understand a chapter and just throw in the towel. The journal has sat unused for months.
Then I started Bible journaling, which has been awesome for me. I’ve always used art/craft as an outlet and extension of what I’m learning in my faith, so when I saw the Bible journaling ‘trend’ pick up, I joined in. At first i used it while trying to read through the book of John. I’d read, then find a story or verse to journal on, in hopes to memorize and learn the story. Then i got bored. Or school got too busy for me to break out the art supplies. So I quit, and instead only journaled verses when I wanted/needed comfort or support, instead of journaling to memorize and meditate on scripture.
A wonderful friend gave me a Sacred Ordinary Days planner, which I LOVE. It has the lectionary in it, so it goes through the entire Bible in sections (with OT and NT passages daily). It has probably helped me the most in terms of being disciplined about reading scripture daily. Since I’ve been home from school I haven’t picked it up (really not in need of a planner to sit at home all summer haha); when I do use it, though, it does help me become disciplined in the reading– but not so much in the understanding/grasping what I’m reading
It’s a cruel cycle: I read, I don’t understand/get confused, and I quit. I don’t want to be like that, but when I don’t understand something it doesn’t make much sense for me to keep reading.
I want to do better. I want to be better at this oh-so important facet of my faith– it’s supposed to be the foundation of my faith, after all!
So, I’m asking for help: what is the best way for me to read and learn the Bible? As someone who didn’t grow up in it, how do I begin to truly read it and understand it?
Is there a study I should try, a Bible I should use, should I try to read with someone (or someones)? This is something I really have been giving a lot of thought to in my life. I just don’t know where to start. And I need help sticking to it when it gets tough– I need to learn how to be more disciplined in this area of my life, instead of quitting when I struggle (perhaps this is where actually asking for help can come in, hmm?). I want a firm foundation not in words of my own or others, but in scripture itself.
I want to read the Bible without getting bored or frustrated. I want to know the stories that shape my faith. But, I need help figuring out how to get there. I need my community to help me grow in this part of my life– because I have no idea how to start.