It took years for me to find what worked, to develop spiritual disciplines that I could “stick with” and that felt grace-filled instead of burdensome or rote. I tried the “read-through-Bible-in-a-year” programs, only to get stuck somewhere in Leviticus. I bought a Bible that had daily readings from the Old and New Testaments along with a Psalm and Proverb for each day but it was too confusing…like reading four different Novels at the same time and trying to keep the stories straight. Most everything I did caused me to read passages out of context or rush through or simply fall asleep in the middle and have no idea what I had read the next day.
I was practicing religion, not relationship.
After twenty years of being a Christian I simply did not know the Bible like I knew I should. I wasn’t “in love” with the Word, only treating it like a habit to be kept or a box to be checked.
I sure would hate for my husband to treat me like that.
By the grace of God, I went to a retreat a couple of years ago that changed the way I interact with the Bible forever. I signed up for a breakout session on “Bible Journaling,” which was all the rage and I thought looked kind of stupid, to be honest. Drawing in your Bible? Mmmmkay. But the girl was teaching hand-lettering techniques and ideas for easy sketches and drawings, which appealed to me, so I went.
I’ll never forget her holding up her colorful, stickered Bible and saying with great emotion, “I love this book.”
She had my attention.
In that session I learned to take it slow. Read heading-to-heading. Stop. Ask God to show me what He wants to teach me. Let the words sink in. Look them up in different translations to get a broader picture (like The Message or The Passion Translation) and then write, doodle, draw, paint…whatever I want to do but allow the act of slowly and creatively writing what God is showing me to be a tool of meditation, to let the Holy Words take root in my hurried heart.
That means I probably won’t (and haven’t) make it through the Bible in a year. And that is OK. I had a friend say recently, “Read until He stops you.” Yes. God may have one beautiful sentence he wants me to mull over all day. It may be an entire chapter. But the key is to be in communication with the Holy Spirit as I read, not just to “get through it,” but to truly commune with the Lover of My Soul. Sometimes I write in the margins. Sometimes I get really creative. But always, always I walk away knowing I have not been alone. That is relationship. That fosters my passion for Jesus and fills my cup so that I can live and love and parent more effectively, out of His strength and not my own.
Now, I do have a few personal boundaries I set for Bible journaling in order to keep it about Him and not about me. First of all, I never ever write over the text of the Bible. I believe every last word is Holy Spirit inspired and I also know that countless people have given their lives to own and protect one sacred page of scripture. I determine that every word should still be easily readable after I am done. So, out of reverence, I just don’t. My Bible has plenty of room to write in the margins.
It’s not an art project.
I also don’t post my creations online. I have allowed a couple of friends to see them but, really, I’m not that good of an artist and it is also not about getting likes or any other kinds of accolades for my “skills.” What I create is between me and Jesus. That keeps it real and it prevents me from “performing” as I journal.
I wake up early every morning, before any of my kids are stirring, and head upstairs to my desk. I light a candle, I pray the day’s reading from “Common Prayer, A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals” (or any of various books of prayer I have around my house), always taking time to lift up the ones I love who need prayer, then open my Bible and read slowly and purposefully…until He stops me. This discipline has changed my life, my perspective, and taught me things I would have otherwise missed in my previous rush to “get through it.” I look forward to this time with God, knowing He will faithfully meet with me and fill me with the knowledge of His presence and peace. It is a beautiful, blessedly quiet way to begin each day.