“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”
“A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors.”
I stopped reading the Bible.
It’s been about five years since that morning in my kitchen. I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing at the time. In fact, I’m not sure I even knew the full implications of my decision.
But placing my Bible on the shelf was a choice I don’t regret.
Steeped in Christian culture, I grew up knowing about the importance of a “daily quiet time.” Usually, this referred to carving out 20 minutes to an hour (or more if you were a high-achieving Christian like I wanted to be) upon waking to read and study the Bible, The Word.
I stuck to this routine for most of my life. It made me feel spiritually healthy and mature, a little bit holier-than-thou if I’m honest. It was one of the biggest indicators I used to measure my closeness to God. Devoting time to reading God’s words in Scripture gave me confidence in hearing from God and being led by His Spirit instead of veering off onto my own self-made path.
If for some reason I had to miss a day here or there, I felt the pangs of guilt and remorse immediately and carried them with me throughout the day. You can imagine I never made a habit of skipping morning devotions because the impending disconnection between God and me was almost too much to handle.
The day I decided to put my Bible on the shelf was the day I decided to stop caring about offending God. I closed the pages and finally admitted I was bored out of my mind.
Bible college, Bible studies, reading books about the Bible, various versions of the Bible, lectio divina, Bible reading plans, Bible apps, Bible memorization, I had tried a number of ways and practices to get in my daily dose throughout my life.
But after 20 plus years of declaring the Bible to be the most important piece of literature in my life, I decided to take it off the pedestal.
It was a subtle, yet subversive act to slide the Bible off to the side, but at that moment I think I dethroned it from my heart. From there, the Bible slowly slipped into the background, it no longer was the sole authority on life, the only way to hear God, the flawless and perfect text designed to give me direct access to the Creator.
The Bible simply became another book, or rather a collection of books as Rob Bell explains it,
“The Bible is a library of books reflecting how human beings have understood the divine. People at that time believed the gods were with them when they went to war and killed everyone in the village. What you’re reading is someone’s perspective that reflects the time and the place they lived in. It’s not God’s perspective— it’s theirs. And when they say it’s God’s perspective, what they’re telling you is their perspective on God’s perspective. Don’t confuse the two.”
It wasn’t easy to replace the picture in my head of a god shaking his finger at me in disapproval of my drifting and downright rejection of the once divinely inspired Scriptures. I tiptoed into other interesting topics in my morning hours, I checked out forbidden books from the library and hid them in my bag. I started reading books from other perspectives, written by people from different faith traditions.
How was it that my heart was becoming soft and malleable while immersed within the pages of books once deemed secular or heretical? I found it to be a strange phenomenon that I was becoming more open, compassionate, and empathetic towards my fellow humans when I was sneaking away into the stories of people who were not like me.
Yet, it’s been shown over and over again: “Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.”
Carefully, respectfully, I buried the Bible on my bookshelf. I didn’t know when or if I’d pick it back up again. It was a difficult parting. I reached for it a time or two through the next couple of years, but eventually, it began to gather dust, and eventually, I wasn’t sad or stricken with shame about it.
My Bible found a new home beside poetry anthologies, gripping fiction tales, and travel guides. It sat alongside books by Glennon Doyle, Rob Bell, Mary Oliver, Ross Gay, Sue Monk Kidd, Anne Lamott, and Valerie Kaur. It fit better between my homeschool books, Runner’s World magazines, Thich Nhat Hahn prose, and the legendary, loving Dalai Lama.
Much of where I find myself today can be traced back to this quiet, unintentional decision I made so many years ago to stop reading the Bible and treating it like it was a magical text dropped from heaven.
Over the course of the next few months, I’ll be exploring the books I had space for once the Bible was no longer Supreme. I’ll discuss the books I purposefully chose and the ones that seemed to find their way into my hands at just the right time.
I believe books play a major role in our transformation and evolution as human beings, as do the people we meet and the experiences we have along the way.
But what I love most about the power of books is their accessibility.
We don’t have to travel the world or be lucky enough to cross paths with an incredible individual. Through books, we are transported down rabbit holes, across continents, and through generations. Within minutes, we are plopped into messy living rooms and complex hearts and complicated conversations.
All we have to do is pick up the book, start turning its pages, and enter into the story ready to explore!
In the words of Joyce Carol Oates,“Read widely, and without apology. Read what you want to read, not what someone tells you you should read.”
*Be sure to also read this post from the archives about what happened when I told a group of friends I hadn’t read my Bible in a year.