(Stock photo by Drew Murphy/Unsplash)
(Stock photo by Drew Murphy/Unsplash)

Topics: Spirituality | Opinion

I stopped reading my Bible to get closer to God

The writer shares why scripture became a source of stress and shame

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My Bible was sitting on my bedside table, collecting a thin film of dust, for many months. I finally picked up my once-favourite book and put it in a safe place, tucked away where I wasn’t constantly eyeing its worn pages — and feeling guilty about not sitting down to read it.

The truth is, I’m taking a break from reading the Bible to draw closer to God. It may seem a little strange, but after years of feeling guilty every time I didn’t get regular time reading God’s word, I knew it was time for some space.

It all started in 2016, when I went through severe depression while pregnant with my third daughter. My zeal for my faith waned, and I started to question what I believed about God and the church. As a former conservative evangelical, I’d spent most of my life allowing others to interpret scripture for me, to the point where I had no role or say in my own faith journey. But depression forced me into apathy: there wasn’t much I could care about, not even God. It was during this time that I gave myself the space to step away from the old messages I’d once believed, and really consider the narrow-mindedness of my past doctrine. I struggled to read my Bible, and was constantly reminded of an old phrase that a pastor had once said in a sermon. He’d talked about Bible reading being a cycle of three Ds: deed, duty and delight. Despite my shifting ideology, I continued to hold onto that thought, pushing myself to keep reading until I would finally reach the point of delight. 

A few months ago, on a rare kid-free afternoon, I decided to sit quietly and crack open “The Good Book.” My husband, a pastor at a non-denominational church, was a few feet away, reading his, and I really wanted to join him. As I sat there, my eyes glazed over. A library book sat beside me, calling me, but I pushed forward. Finally, I became so frustrated that I tossed my Bible across the room, tears stinging my eyes. My husband saw me struggling to make sense of my disinterest in God’s word. “Why do you feel so guilty about not reading your Bible?” he asked.

More on Broadview: Is the Bible true?

I know that my guilt is man-made. I was raised in a church that believed that daily quiet time studying scripture was the mark of a devoted Christian. In my early 20s, I attended a weekly small group where we discussed exactly how many days that week we’d read our Bibles. I remember feeling so ashamed if my number was on the lower end that particular week, and pride and accomplishment if I’d ploughed through and read every single day. 

I didn’t realize the toxicity of those interactions, and ultimately how detrimental they would become to my enjoyment of the Bible. When I constantly viewed reading it as a task, I stripped it of the pleasure and joy that came from picking it up because I wanted to. When I forced myself to read books like Leviticus and Numbers, because I had been taught that the entire Bible should be studied, I denied myself the joy and pleasure of reading and re-reading the books that I love — like Esther, Ruth and 1 and 2 Samuel.

These last few months, my Bible has been tucked away on a bookshelf. Instead, I explore my faith in new and exciting ways. Every Tuesday, I listen to my favourite podcast, The Next Right Thing, hosted by Emily P. Freeman, and I look forward to the 10 minutes or so where I listen to the host, who I believe shares words from God from her own lips. I’ve also been reading books and blog posts by the late and beloved Rachel Held Evans, who talks about her own break from scripture in her book Inspired. I visit with God on nature walks, where I hear his voice in the crunch of the leaves, as I walk through winding trails and enjoy creation. I hear God’s whispers in so many ways, whether in the tiny voice of my daughter saying a heartfelt prayer, or a friend speaking truth over my life. 

I’m learning to live guilt-free in a world where I’m not required to do anything but love. And one day, maybe not next week, or next month, but soon enough, I’ll pick my Bible up again with fresh eyes and new desire. And from then on, my time in God’s word will be a delight, and a desire — and never a duty.

 

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  • says:

    The problem with "taking a break" from God, is that it becomes very difficult to return.
    How can you get to know God better, when you ignore His written Word given to you?
    "As a former conservative evangelical, I’d spent most of my life allowing others to interpret scripture for me" Is the author then implying she became a liberal because she can't interpret God's Word on her own? (This is also what Rachel Evans did as well - so no surprise on the reference)
    If you are "pushing" yourself to read your Bible, I would also question your motive. I agree, reading the Bible to prove something isn't what God intended. A chapter a day with a good commentary will go a long way. this really helped me get through books like Leviticus and Numbers where it compares the Sermon on the Mount and Christ's passion. (This is also why I despise "read the Bible in a year" programs - if you're like me, I don't enjoy reading - being left brained, give me a good Sudoku puzzle book)
    Finally, I'm glad you don't state "I didn't have time." That needs to be the lamest excuse ever, just may as well state: "I don't want to waste my time."

  • says:

    Brianna, thank you for your wonderful story. A faith journey is often a difficult undertaking. In congregations I've served it often seems like people are stuck in their childhood "warm and fuzzy" Bible stories and haven't seemed to grow very much. You are growing. From my perspective, the concept of God is bigger than any Bible or any scriptural writings from any culture. God is the creator of all that is: the good, the bad, the up the down, the black the white and all the in-betweens.
    Folks who wrote what has come to be known as scripture, didn't know they were writing scripture. They were writing their own feelings and thoughts that seemed appropriate to them in their culture and time. The stories of Jesus are stories generated many years after he is said to have lived. I agree with you that I experience God in everyday life. When I awake in the morning I am grateful for a wonderful loving partner beside me. I am grateful that I have a home and food and clothing in a world where so many have so little. I experience God working in my life every day. I live in a place where there is a lake and birds of all kinds and occasionally a moose will wander through. I have a photo in front of me that I took of a moose in my back yard nibbling a tree and it is so beautiful I wonder how anyone could ever kill such a majestic animal. God is the creator. God is in all things... and God is in YOU. Experiencing God, to me, is much better than reading about God or going through a particular ritual. I would encourage you to read, however, but read some great books by theologians like Bart Ehrman, Marcus Borg, Gretta Vosper, Tom Harpur, John Shelby Spong and more, and broaden your knowledge. You're on the path to spiritual wholeness......it's not without pitfalls and pain but it gets better and better when you can speak, sing, shout, love, and even get angry at God in your own words. Keep moving ahead. It's a wonderful journey and by that I do mean "a journey filled with wonder." God is with you.

  • says:

    How do you know what God's love is if you don't read the history of it revealed in the library of the Bible and in the life of Christ. How do you know how to love others without Chrisy or that you are loved by God?

    Replies

    • says:

      Some people read the Bible and see God's love, and some people read the Bible and see butchery, betrayal and a god that created the world to be both good and evil and everything in between. No matter how much a person loves God, bad things still happen to them. No matter how much a person hates God, good things happen to them. Love comes from within. God is within. God gives us the ability and the power to choose that which is good or bad. How many Christians have gone off to war to kill others for none other than political reasons? How many religions claim their way is the right way and eschew all other ways? The books of the Bible were written by people...people like you and me who lived in a different culture, a different time, and a different social and political situation. There are modern people today who are able to write about what God is doing for them in their lives. I prefer to experience God through the love of my friends and family rather than read archaic tomes that have little to do with my life today. God is real. But not what many people think.

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      • says:

        You view of the Bible is askew. The Bible not only reveals who God is, but ultimately reveals who Christ is.
        John 16:13 "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come." This is experiencing God, not some warm fuzzy feeling, because most of us experience God better through pain and suffering. There are many times I can relate to the problems of Job (which you call archaic tomes).

      • says:

        So as a christisn minister you don't teach that God is also independently revealing Gods self regardless of what the humand being may feel inside?
        Why do you stress personal feeling to the extent you do. Is not God working in the world whether you feel God inside or not. Do you teach those hungry for God that God can be found in Christ, Scripture, discernment of God in personal experience, and in the community of faith? What would you counsel a person who is experiencing a dark night of the soul as John of the Cross teaches? Your griss oversimplification of the Christian and war is not helpful to readers who would take the topic seriously.
        How would you judge Dietrich Bonhoeffers decision to actively involve himself in the plot to kill Hitler? Was that a just decision given he was prior to the war a christian pacifist?
        Have you been a military Chaplain anywhere and councelled soldiers about duty, sacrifice, and killing? I don't see anything in what you have said that would help someone who wants to know God not as something we create in the image of our feelings but as the ground if reality itself. None of what I said is outside mainstream Christian teaching. Do you have any training in Christian spiritual direction?

  • says:

    Reading the works of John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg and Robert Funke liberated me from literalism and gave me a new appreciation of the Bible. Instead of believing in the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, for instance, one can see that story as one about the importance of sharing. It is important to put the Bible in historical perspective.

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    • says:

      If you want to be liberated from these authors than read some of NT Wrights work. And especially Prof Craig T. Evans Book -Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. Rigorous mainline scholarship which represents the best of contemporary thinking about the gospels.