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.
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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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