“Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
For the help of His presence.
O my God, my soul is in despair within me;
Therefore I remember You…” -Psalm 42: 5, 6
Ever since I was a kid, I associated the Bible with discipline and boredom. When I was disobedient, I was condemned to read my Bible and presumably in doing so, be made contrite. In church, I was left nonplussed by Scripture readings. I knew that they should stir my heart and convict me, but it didn’t. I didn’t understand why, and frankly, I wasn’t that worried about it. As an adult, my husband led me into a church where the sermons are difficult to ignore. Our pastor doesn’t seem so concerned with our entertainment so much as he is working for the peace and joy of his flock. “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:11) Week after week, we have truth thrown at us and sometimes it makes contact and it hurts. However, conviction brought in loving truth enables healing and true comfort. Truth can sting, but God’s truth always offers confidence and peace when you humble yourself and accept it with a tender heart. When we have hearts that are ripe for understanding, the pain of conviction is short-lived and soon grace and peace wash over us like sunlight shining upon pale and tired skin. It was while I was sitting in church, amidst the low murmur of listening adults and color crayons scratching on paper by a hundred children quietly amusing themselves, that God made me uncomfortable with my disinterest in His Word. After spending a good deal of time trying to ignore the tugging of my conscience and trying to justify myself, I came to realize that this annoyance would only beget more severe discomfort if I did not attend to the problem.
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” -Hebrews 4:12
I’ve gone to church my whole life. I’ve heard all the answers. Church. God. Love. I know Hebrews 4:12 even though I’d never felt it. But, what could it hurt to give it a try? Turns out it does hurt. A lot. I had become lazy. I didn’t read anymore. The discipline had long since been abandoned somewhere between becoming chronically ill and the Trenches of Toddlerdom. I didn’t even remember the last book I read which did not contain brightly colored illustrations and cardboard pages. While reading to my kids is a good thing to be doing, it didn’t exactly cultivate useful reading habits. My attention span had atrophied along with any time management and prioritizing skills I may have had. So, I started with baby steps. Not only was I in need of finding the time to read (at least somewhat) uninterrupted, when I did happen to find two minutes to rub together, I found I drifted off, fell asleep or was easily side tracked. I once heard a sermon where the pastor stopped in the middle and told us all to quit wondering if we had left the stove on at home and to listen up — I had drifted off and this abrupt exhortation certainly got my attention. This time there was nobody to zap me awake. I was frustrated, unfulfilled and confused. I forgot who I was, or more directly, Who made me. Who did I belong to? Where am I and where am I going (and why am I in a hand-basket)? “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5) I prayed for help. I don’t even know how to pray. The words tumbled through my head in complete disarray. But I worship a gracious God. He gave us His Spirit who intercedes on our behalf. I knew God had answered my prayer when I realized I needed to break down this trouble and tackle the different hurdles individually instead of trying to leap over them all at once.
FINDING THE TIME
First off, I needed to create some time. I’m a fairly busy person. My husband is back in school to attain his masters degree. We have 4 kids under the age of 8 and two of them are still in diapers. I have a home I am responsible for maintaining. Friends with relationships that need cultivation. A community that offers endless opportunities for helping others. These are all great things, but because I wasn’t prioritizing, I was drowning. I went to bed late, exhausted, and woke up late feeling like I hadn’t slept at all. God is merciful and implemented change for me: my kids started waking up earlier. There was no sleeping in until 8 or 9. I didn’t have much of a choice but to start getting up earlier, which meant that I needed to start going to bed earlier. It was awful! I was so exhausted. It seemed unsustainable for about 3 weeks, but God blessed me. He gave me resources, like a husband who doesn’t mind putting aside his work for a couple of hours on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon so I can sneak in a catch-up nap. God gave us coffee and used responsibly, it is incredible! It can jolt you awake in a matter of minutes. He revealed to me some chemical imbalances in my body that were making me sluggish and unable to focus and then practically handed me the affordable solution via Amazon.com. Baby steps. I go to sleep around 11 and get up around 6:30 most mornings now. My husband is amazing! He is often still reading when I fall asleep at night and is usually already in the shower with the coffee brewing when I awake. It isn’t uncommon for me to wake up and see that he has prepared my cup the way I like it and has placed it on my bedside table. I’m one lucky lady! My kids often don’t awake until 7 or 7:30. This routine enabled me to read before they woke up. Of course there are days when this doesn’t go as planned, but over the last couple months, I’ve also find ways to get my time with God when they are awake. There is no reason they can’t play in their rooms for 15 minutes a day. And if that doesn’t work, I’ve never heard of a better use for the television. Put on a movie or tv show they like for 30 minutes. 30 minutes of tv time for them is well worth 30 minutes of time with God for you. Hurdle no. 1 was thus overcome.
STRENGTHENING MY ATTENTION SPAN
I’d be lying if I said I was a good listener. I’m not. My brain fights to pay attention when anything is going on. Even while watching TV (which, admittedly, isn’t doing me any favors with this problem) I’ll drift off — during a 20 minute show! I’m not kidding. I’ve been seeking out ways to fix this. I try to look at a person’s face while they are speaking and train my eyes not to be distracted. When I’m listening to lectures, I try to focus on the outline (taking notes doesn’t work for me, because I find even that distracting). Because I am not an adept reader, reading inclined me to get lost and frustrated with my untrained abilities, so I was paying attention more to the word I was trying to read than hearing the sentence. I switched to audio books. I started with fiction. Something that grabbed me. It was easy to listen to. When I listen while the kids are up, I just leave one ear bud in. I can hear when someone needs my attention, but I can also use the time when I am just working with my hands to fill my mind. Sometimes I’ll drift off even while listening to a story, so I have to rewind and listen to that part over again. This is muscle training. There is no need to get discouraged. Just keep working at it. There are a lot of places online and on your smart phone that offer free readings of the Bible. Pick your translation and plug-in. 144 days ago, I started listening to Genesis. It didn’t take long before I was able to listen to several chapters of the Bible at a time and really hear it. It was fantastic! I worked through the whole Old Testament this way. By the time I finished Malachi, I was strong enough to start really sitting down and reading.
When the time came to start the New Testament, I sat down and figured out how many pages I’d need to read a day to finish the whole Bible before my 30th birthday — the answer was 25 pages. At first it was a daunting goal. 25 pages takes me about an hour to read with normal interruptions. Yet, I was yearning for more and that hunger pang was a force to be reckoned with. Turns out bath time for my toddlers was an un-tapped resource. Get some new bath toys and stick them in a bubble bath. The bathers are happy for at least 30 minutes. All you have to do is sit in the bathroom to make sure nobody drowns. Then there is nap time. My boys tag team nap, so one of them is always awake, but one toddler who has some fun toys really doesn’t require all my attention. I can sit on the sofa, in a child proofed living room, and read while Tiny plays. Some days I only managed 10 pages, but other days I found myself reading 50 − 100 pages and it all evened out.
Five days ago, on October 5th, I finished reading through the Bible from cover to cover. This is a full 14 days before my birthday. Thanks be to God! I’m now finishing up an excellent Lenten devotional that delves into passages pertaining to the coming Glory and the Glory that is already here in addition to reading a very convicting book about anxiety and worry. After I am done with those, I am eagerly anticipating starting an A.W Tozer book I’ve been eyeing and am currently on the hunt for an in-depth study guide for the books of John. Mind you, none of these are audio-books. They are sit down and interpret letters to put meaning in my head books. I still do listen to audio-books and sermons, but much less often than I am sitting down to read. The inept reader has become an avid reader — God works in funny ways!
I’m not sharing this to brag; I’m not doing this by myself. I’m not sharing this to make you feel guilty; I am a well seasoned failure and I continue to find new things I’m terrible at on a daily basis, not to mention that I have no authority over you. I’m not sharing this as a paint-by-numbers solution; there are too many variables in our lives to apply one method to all. I am sharing this because I don’t think I’m the only person who slinks into church feeling like a hypocrite. I’m not extraordinary. Many of us know what we should be doing, but we often don’t (for whatever reason). We know we should be thirsting for God, but that desire is nowhere to be found. We feel that gaping hole in our lives and nothing we try to fill it with satiates for long. It is because that gaping hole you feel is God shaped. He is the only one who can fill you up and keep you satisfied.
I’ve only been actively pursing this goal in my life for a little over 4 months and already I’ve relapsed several times into old habits. At the most, it has taken a couple of days for me to start feeling anemic. Then I remember my failure to get into the Word and realize that I cannot allow myself to slip back into that complacency. Not unlike sexual appetite, the best way to cultivate a thirst is to just put aside our selfishness, and start doing it. Tasting begets hunger, especially when you are praying that God gives it to you. It might feel fake. It might even sting a bit, but God’s Word is alive and He keeps His promises. For the very first time in my life, I am excited about the Bible. I’ve owned this book since I was 4, but I never loved it so much as I do now. It is still work for me. I still pray for God to be gracious by keeping my hunger for Him present and He does. “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:30) This seemingly small accomplishment in my life feels as though I’ve climbed to the top of a towering mountain. I am so thankful to be at this point and so humbled by my struggle to maintain, but I have never felt more loved. “I love them that love me; And those that seek me diligently shall find me.” (Proverbs 8:17)