The Value of a Habit
I posted a short message on Instagram a couple of weeks ago about how it was ironic that 10 months ago I started implementing a habit that would be central to getting me through the craziest 8 months many of us have ever experienced. I asked in that post if this timing was ironic or Divine, and I wanted to share why I 100% believe it was Divine.
I started 2020 with the intention to
1) read the Bible cover to cover (no timeframe on how long it would take), and
2) be more intentional about expressing gratitude.
I guess you could say these were new year's resolutions, but I’m not a huge fan of making sweeping statements like that so I put as few parameters around it as possible in order to not be overwhelmed by it.
Note 1: I am super ashamed to admit that despite being a Christian my entire life AND attending Bible College I have never read the entire Bible. I have tried a few times but my motivation usually fizzled out after about 5 or 6 books in. Because let's be real here...some of those books are...dull. I’ve also read many of the books of the Bible on their own, outside of their ordered position, but I definitely haven’t read all of them. This has always bothered me because I do not want to be an illiterate Christian. I want to know the Truth of God’s Word as deeply and intimately as I know myself. And that’s what I wanted to fix with my 1st intention.
Note 2: As a person who lives with anxiety and who is constantly thinking (aka: worrying) about the future, the reason for my 2nd intention was to become more present in what was happening now, and to take stock of the many blessings I had surrounding me. The worry pathways in my brain are pretty well-worn in but my gratitude pathways need some work.
BACK TO THE POINT: Without any parameters in place, these intentions went OK for about a month or so, but I realized that I needed a simple but tangible way to track what I was reading and to record what I was grateful for. So during Lent (February) I committed to writing these things in a blank notebook, which I’ve since simply referred to as my gratitude journal.
It’s been nine months since I started this gratitude journal and I am compelled to share how integral this has become to my relationship with God, my daily routine, my mental well being, and my coping mechanism during the wildest 8 months of my existence.
Note 3: I feel fairly confident that my above confession about reading the entire Bible is something a few of us could own up to (don’t worry, I’m not asking for a show of hands). In the same token, I have also struggled with following devotional guides and often wind up feeling discouraged when I get behind, as though some “all-seeing devotion moderator” could see that I was failing to keep up. So my most recent tactical response to this had been to simply not even try doing them.
Avoid the problem and it goes away, right?!
Sorry Amber, nope - not when it comes to something as integral as your Faith and Biblical Literacy.
Don’t get me wrong - I think that devotionals and prayer journals are wonderful tools but I think they are often developed with only a specific person in mind - someone who not only likes structure but can actually accomplish it. For a busy working parent who barely gets time to use the washroom alone, these tools have never felt practical to me (even when I didn’t have little humans relying on me!). I know many busy people who are really good at carving out me-time for things like this but I have definitely never been one of them.
BACK TO THE POINT: When I started implementing this new habit I knew that the devotional/checklist/workbook route wouldn’t be realistic for me. Instead I chose to simply approach Scripture on my own, with no time frame or checklist, and no assumption of what I would take away from it (though knowing that there were going to be things that would require further study and contextual research at some point - but for this moment, that's not what I wanted to do).
So I picked up that spare notebook I had laying around and I simply started like this, in bullet form:
- current date
- passage(s) read
- today I’m grateful:
- rain - my kids - getting through a long day
That’s it. I didn’t feel pressured to elaborate on the passage I read, I didn’t feel like I had to read a certain amount each day and my only rule was that I had to write a minimum of 3 things I was grateful for that day.
After about 4 weeks of doing this in the evenings (when I could, not necessarily daily), COVID-19 hit. I marked the start of the “COVID craziness” in this journal and I found myself starting to write more things that I was grateful for. I also started to make minor notes every now and then when I had a question about the passage I read or if it was simply a passage I really liked. I also started to need the time more than I had in February because it was becoming a grounding tool to reflect on the day and remind myself that the world was not going to explode, despite the intense feelings that it was going to any second.
Thankfully the world has not exploded (yet) but I cannot think of a year in my life where I have ever felt so much heaviness - it isn’t just COVID-19. It’s church, it’s kids, it’s work, it’s homeownership, it’s the world, it’s the racial injustices, it’s the global tragedies, it’s conspiracy theories, the multiple elections going on around me, and so much more! There are days in this journal that I do not list things I’m grateful for but instead are petitions and lamentations about what is going on. This blank canvas notebook has become exactly what I need it to be - a place where I can be grateful and joyous AND mournful and downtrodden.
And it’s been amazing to reflect on what I’ve been reading (I am currently in the middle of Job). I will not lie - it took me forever to get through some of these books. For example, 1 & 2 Chronicles took wayyyyy more time than a book like Genesis, because a lot of it is either lists of names or repetitive stories of good kings and bad kings. But instead of giving up like I usually do, I've plowed through it and found gems in the midst of the mundane. There have been so many little stories intertwined that would just stop me in my tracks and make me SO grateful that I was persevering despite the monotony.
Note 4: I'm sure this is something that I'll write about in a blog post at another time, but it surprised me how many stories about WOMEN in these early books there are! While I do wish there were even more, I also realized that maybe I've been fooled a little into thinking how patriarchal the Bible actually is by not reading it myself...interesting stuff to consider!! Just another reason that reading Scripture for myself is so important.
BACK TO THE POINT: And most of all, this journey through Scripture has reminded me how incredibly gracious and consistent God is. Humanity has been failing Him since the beginning of time. We obviously still are. While there are of course stories of people who are considered righteous and good, it is pretty wild to read through all the stories of those who were NOT good and NOT righteous and downright evil...and yet God never abandoned His people. Perspective shift: just because the Bible contains a story about something does not mean it is condoning or praising the actions in that story (ie: raping, murdering, pillaging, etc.)
It has also been a good reminder for me to read the stories of those who were considered good (Moses and David, for example) and to see that they were very imperfect and stubborn and selfish. And it truly blows my mind how God has always been willing to accept His people back at the first sign of repentance - He doesn’t require tests to be passed or certain amounts of cattle to be sacrificed. He has always simply wanted a repentant heart - there are so many places throughout these Old Testament books where it shows God’s heart for His people, and directs us to why He ultimately went the route of having Jesus be the final sacrificial Lamb for all of us.
In a year of inconsistency and very little grace, the reassurance of God’s consistency and grace is just what I needed to muddle my way through it.
So why did I decide to share this with you?
I am sharing it because I know that I am not the only Christian who struggles to follow through with studying the Word.
I know I am not the only Christian who struggles to live with gratitude when life is throwing you 10 zillion curve balls at once.
I know I am not the only one who doesn’t do well with super structured reading plans and daily devotional books.
And I definitely know I'm not the only one struggling to keep my head above water during 2020.
But I also know that the Bible holds the answers to many of the things we worry about...yes, even in THIS year.
And I also know that if we do not read the Word of God regularly, we cannot truthfully claim to know Him.
I think it’s easy to explain away why we don’t prioritize Scripture when we have all these things that don't work in front of us. And it's even easier to to not read Scripture ourselves when there are a ton of books out there that talk about the Bible for us, written by people who have done the hard work already.
But it isn’t God who put these additional checklists or books in front of us, it was the world and an implied expectation of what a person’s life of faith should look like. And for those who thrive off of those tools - cheers to you and I encourage you to continue using them (while in the same breathe encouraging you to prioritize Scripture as your first resource)!
But for those like me - it’s OK if all we need is a blank notebook, a pen, a Bible, and a thirst for more of God. Time spent in the Word doesn't need to be flashy, fancy or accompanied by anything other than ourselves.
Throw away the half-completed devotionals and ditch the one-year guide to reading the Bible (unless, of course, you enjoy and benefit from these things). The Bible is perfect on it’s own and YOU are capable of reading it on your own too (yes, even the really boring parts).
Sure, guides and commentaries and summaries are helpful (and usually necessary at some point) but only if our first resource is God’s Word. Just as Scripture confirms from beginning to end - if you are coming before God with an open and contrite heart, you will find that He has been waiting to meet you there this whole time.