Tag Archives: Bible

Books for When You’re Struggling to Read the Bible

for when you don't feel like reading your bible

In the circles that I rolled in back in my on fire days, there was a method to a good “quiet time” or “devotional time” or — wait for it — “date with Jesus” (I wish I were making that last one up. I’m not).

If you were going to spend time with God, it involved “getting into the Word” or, if you were extra serious, “digging into the Word.” It involved reading through the Bible in a year or at least reading a little bit every day. And it involved coming away from that reading with some new flash of insight that you could apply in your daily life and wax ad nauseum about during student-led Bible study.

A good “quiet time” involved an uninterrupted half hour or hour and prayers that were structured around acronyms. (A.C.T.S., for example, so your remembered to get all the ingredients in: adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication.) And always The Bible. That instruction manual, that love letter from God, that holy, mysterious book.

Here is a thing that I actually used to say back then.

Yeah…I’ve been spending too much time reading books about the Bible, and not enough time reading the Bible itself. I really need to get back on track.

What??

Like, really — what?!?!

My husband, Andrew, loves reading the Bible. Loves it. His favorite studies are the kind where they go through some book of the Bible verse by verse and talk through the history, the cultural context, and the theology of it.

He likes to figure out the wiring of the thing — the ways that this miracle that Jesus did over here connects to that prophecy there and that verse there. He opens the whole thing up like a surgeon, and he looks at the guts of it all working together, and he gets a rush. A high. He comes away from those times feeling full to the brim with God.

It’s taken me about a decade to admit it, but here it is: I’m not wired like that.

I love the Bible. I do. But the truth is that most of the time, I feel overwhelmed and unmoored when I’m dropped smack-dab in the middle of that big book.

I told you last week that I’ve been reading Emily Freeman’s upcoming book, Simply Tuesday over the past couple of weeks. I’ve been reading it slowly, one chapter at a time, first thing in the morning when I should be “getting into the Word,” having my “quiet time,” et cetera, et cetera.

And that’s okay.

I’m realizing that, more often than not, I need a gentle voice to guide my meditation. I someone to speak the liturgy out loud so that I can repeat it. The metaphors and insights into the Bible that other writers offer in their books make me feel less alone. And by ushering me down the roads of their own faith journeys, they give me the courage to keep moving toward God.

This past couple of weeks, Emily Freeman has been that for me. She offers her insights about God so sincerely and gently that I’m put off guard immediately. (And that’s not an easy thing to do for this long-time cynic.)  And it’s not less spiritual because I’m not opening my old, black leather Bible itself. It’s manna. It’s daily bread, offered in a way I can take it.

books for when you can't read the bible

Here are a few books I’ve been keeping on the end table in my office for when I struggle to read my Bible. A couple of other voices that have ushered me over the hump of my own baggage. I hope you find a few friends here too.

Dave Harrity’s Making ManifestI’ve written about this book before, but it’s such a valuable tool to me that I have to mention it again. This 28-study does a better job of anything I’ve ever seen at combining spiritual depth with the creative practices. Each day has a short (but poetic and poignant) meditation that invites you to respond, not by filling in blanks, but rather by free writing responses. I’m on my second read-through of this book, and I find something new in it every time I open it.

Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine HoursI love liturgy, but as a lifelong evangelical, the regular Book of Common Prayer still feels difficult for me. But Phyllis Tickle offers a contemporary version in three parts (Springtime, Summertime, and Autumn and Wintertime) I love it. It’s mostly really big swaths of text from the Bible, but it’s easier for me to read the verses when I know where and what to read and am guided through it day by day.

Denise Levertov The Stream and the SapphireI discovered Denise Levertov’s poetry a few years ago and absolutely love it. This little book is a compilation of her “pomes on religious theme.” It’s gorgeous.

Kathleen Norris’ Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith: This book is a more intense, wise, beautiful version of this blog, back when it was “How to Talk Evangelical” and I focused almost entirely on redefining religious language. Because it’s organized by terms instead of by chapters, it’s easy to dip in and read on just one. This book played a defining role in my own faith changes, and hers continues to be a voice that helps me to disentangle the culture behind faith language with the true beauty of it.

Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s Praying Upside DownThis is a new book, just out this year, but I love the creative way that Kelly approaches prayer. This isn’t a “dip-in” kind of book, but you can definitely read one chapter at a time…and each one has unique, beautiful exercises to get you approaching prayer in different ways. As someone who has always struggled mightily with prayer, the playful, creative, faith-filled way that Kelly writes about it is inspiring.

Frederick Buechner’s Listening to Your Life: Frederick Buechner is one of my all-time favorite spiritual writers. (His Telling Secrets is one of the books that pushed me toward memoir writing.) This is a compilation of his work, broken into bite-sized bits — one for each day of the year. I’ll be honest, the excerpts of his novels that appear along the way don’t resonate with me like the essays and memoirs…but that could be because I’ve never read them. Still, he has been a faithful guide to me through the years, and his voice is one that I trust to lead me toward God.

Heather Caliri’s Unquiet Time (not pictured above): This is a quirky little book is almost like a little homemade art journal. The questions Heather asks are insightful and get beyond the typical churchy questions, and the format of the book invites doodling, free writing, and figuring out.

Seeds of Hope: A Henri Nouwen Reader (not pictured above): I love everything that Henri Nouwen writes, but this little reader features little bite-sized bits of his letters and writings that are perfect for reading over a cup of coffee. His stuff on community, silence, and vocation have been game-changers for me.

What about you? What voices bring you closer to God?

The Truest Thing About Me

pain is not the truest thing

The depression came back a few weeks ago. It was sudden and sharp, and it knocked me off my feet.

It wasn’t totally unexpected — I’d started a new medication and I knew that it was possible that it might throw off my fragile emotional balance. But when it happened, when I found myself flat on my back at the bottom of that dark place, unable to move — AGAIN — it surprised me anyway.

I’m tired of being a person who struggles with depression.

I’m tired of these fallbacks and setbacks. Of the mornings that come with a bleak sense of dread. I’m tired of the wary, watchful way I have to approach my sad days, waiting to see if it’s just sadness or if it’s something more sinister and dangerous. I’m tired of the way that these normal, negative emotions don’t pass for me…but rather pool into a sort of sludge that I find myself stuck in time after time after time.

I’m not trying to be overdramatic here. There are plenty of times when things are fine, when everything feels tentatively okay. Mostly, the medicine helps. Mostly, things are manageable.

But a couple of weeks ago, the depression came back, and lately, it feels like it might be the truest thing about me.

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I’m reading an advanced copy of Emily Freeman’s beautiful upcoming new book, Simply Tuesday. When the depression comes back, it feels almost impossible to open my Bible, so I open books like this one — the kind that can take my by the hand and gently lead me toward Jesus. And right now, in this hard, dark space, Emily’s words have been exactly what I needed.

There is a part in the book when Emily describes an interaction between her friend Fil Anderson and theologian Brennan Manning at a conference. During the conference the two men met, and Emily tells a beautiful story about their interaction. During the meeting, Brennan gives Fil some Bible verses to read — the ones about coming weary.

After he read these verses,” Emily writes, “Brennan offered Fil this simple instruction: ‘Sit with these words until they become the truest thing about you.’”

The truest thing.

What is it about pain and struggle that makes it so defining? You lose someone you love. You get the diagnosis. You can’t get the job or crawl out of debt or find that person to spend your life with….and this pain, whatever it is, is ever-present and sharp and dominating. It feels like the truest thing about you.

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I got up at three in the morning the other night and went into my office. I’d been lying awake for half an hour, listening to the voice of self-loathing whispering in my ear, reminding me all of the ways that I am failing. And then finally I couldn’t take it anymore, so I got up and sat on the daybed and looked at the Bible on the end table next to me.

And I’m not sure if it’s the depression, or if it’s all of my Bible baggage, but it’s so hard to reach across that infinite gap between the bed and the end table to pick up my Bible.

But that night, I managed it somehow. I reached across that heavy gap, and I picked up that concrete-heavy book, and I managed to open it to Psalm 40.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.

And here in the slimy depression, the sinking mud feels like the truest thing about me.

But, of course, it’s not.

The truest thing is that there is a rock — a firm place to stand. The truest thing is that new song that God is weaving into the empty dark of my life, even when I can barely hear it.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls, Psalm 42 says, and this is the truest thing — not the thin stagnant water of my pain, but these breakers, these waves, this sea-song of love, love, love sweeping over me.

And in the end, I suppose, the truest thing about me isn’t about me at all.

It’s Jesus.

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I’m in the middle of switching medications again. I’m off that one that sent me sinking back in despair. I’m about to start a new one, and I’m nervous and wary and this is not something I’m going to minimize to make a neat point. I struggle with clinical depression. It is a hard, defining, true thing about me.

But it’s not the truest.

Sit with these words until they become the truest thing about you, Brennan Manning said, and so I am sitting here.

If I close my eyes and stay very still, I can almost hear the waves crashing, true and clear and constant, like love, love, love, love.

Some Posts in Some Places

I got back from my whirlwind trip to speak at Taylor University last night. It was a great time, and I’m going to tell you more about it tomorrow.

For now, all I can say is that after two nights of uninterrupted sleep and two quiet mornings of writing, the transition back to life as a Mom-Writer has been a little brutal. I spent half the night in Liam’s bed, another hour in Dane’s, and the whole lot of us were up by 5:30, fighting over what to show watch.

Currently they are pillaging my junk drawer for coins and fighting over who has more. I can’t take the glamor.

Because of the crazy travel schedule, I didn’t really get to highlight my interview over at Heather Caliri’s blogA Little Yes: Baby Steps to Big Adventures in Faith, Art and Life. A couple of weeks ago, Heather and I had the loveliest phone conversation about what it looks like to raise kids from a place of broken faith. She then she transcribed it into an interview, and now I self-consciously feel like I sound like the dumbest person alive. It’s a little bit like hearing your voice on a voicemail or recorded on a tape, and thinking, Oh man. Do  I really truly sound like that?!

So anyway, all this to say, if you’re interested in my baggage with the word “intentional” and my slightly incoherent thoughts on raising my babies to love Jesus, you can click here. But be kind.

In the meantime, I have to go put out a skirmish over nickels. LUCKY!

35 Ideas for Cultivating Spiritual Mindfulness at Christmas [+ Giveaway!]

35 Ideas and Resources for Spiritual Mindfulness at Christmas

This morning, our church sanctuary was filled with stark winter tree branches covered in shining white lights. We sang our first Christmas carol, and my son came bounding out of his Sunday school class with a manger made out of a cut paper bag.

I cut and hung the rest of our Advent envelopes while Liam was napping and Dane was playing with his truck, and I felt proud of myself for getting all the pieces finished in time. The ornaments to hang. The chocolate to eat. The numbers counting the days until Joy to the world…the Lord is come!

We had to prop our Christmas tree up with a couple of my husband’s dumbbells because it kept trying to fall over (and succeeded once, nearly ruining our entire day). But it’s up now, decorated. The house is clean and bright and the whole place smells like evergreen and hope, and I don’t want to miss it.

I feel like I’m always missing it.

advent envelopes

I have to be very careful at Christmastime. This season, more than any other hooks my perfectionistic tendencies, and I find myself scrambling here to be everything, to do it all, to cram as much Christmas fun and meaning into these days as is humanly possible.

Every year, I have to relearn the beauty of imperfection, the grace of letting go, the fact that it’s not up to me to haul Christ back into Christmas.

It’s a balancing act between making space for mindfulness…and becoming obsessed with how I think Christmas should look for me or for my family.

And that’s part of why I started this Christmas Mindfulness Community Project.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked for your practices of mindfulness related to Christmas…and you responded with so many great ideas.

I created this series mostly for myself – as a reminder that there are so many beautiful ways to be aware of God and of one another. But also, I did it for us all – to open to doors to new ideas and practices and to inspire us toward love.

Today, I’m offering a list of resources to help cultivate spiritual mindfulness at Christmas. As the week goes on, I’ll be posting about Christmas Mindfulness as it relates to friends and family, traditions and magic, strangers and acquaintances and the gifts we give. I hope you’ll join us for this series (and if you have great ideas about any of these areas – send them to me now! It’s not too late!)

Keep in mind that these are resources. Not a recipe for perfection or for meaning or for putting Christ back in Christmas. They’re simply different windows through which we might peer into this Great and Beautiful Story – different ways in which we might find Light.

And really, couldn’t we all use a little more light?

Advent Books and Guides (Reader Recommendations)

For the one experiencing pain and loss this Advent season:

  • Abby Norman at Accidental Devotional is re-running the series she wrote last year after her grandfather died at the beginning of Advent. For anyone who finds themselves in the darkness, struggling to cling to the light.
  • Creating an Advent Calendar for Prayer: “Last Christmas, I was pregnant with our second child, and every time I read stories about justice issues surrounding children, there were lots of tears. The DRC situation was exploding around that time with the rebels accused of all kinds of atrocities toward children, and my husband and my hearts broken. So we created an Advent “calendar” with a country and a photo of a kid from that country for each day I glued the photos on the squares and attached a little Advent calendar clip on each one, strung it on some twine and then put it on our mantle. And for 24 days we prayed for each child and the children of the nation represented on the card – it helped keep my mind on the nature of Jesus’ birth, a time of trauma, darkness and sadness in the world he lived in even though beautiful because Jesus is beautiful and the light of the world.. but still, he was just a baby at the time surrounded by all of this pain. ~ Devi Abraham (For more information on this project, read Devi’s blog post here.)country advent 3

For the Creatively Inclined

  • Rethink Church does an Advent Photo-a-Day project. Each day, they give a prompt, which you’re encouraged to use to inspire a photo every day during Advent. Tag #rethinkchristmas on Twitter to join the conversation.
    photo a day
  • Christmas words: Last year, Mandy Steward at Messy Canvas released an Advent Ebook which included a year a day gives you a word a day and several inspirational quotes. You could cut all the words out, put them in a bowl, and draw one every morning to inspire you toward thoughtfulness, creativity and mindfulness. I did this last year and loved it…but for whatever reason, I’m having trouble finding it again this year. Still, you could create your own advent window project like this by writing a list of 24 words having to do with Christmas, cutting them up, and choosing one each day to serve as a writing prompt.
  • “I Will Find a Way” – song by Jason Gray & Andy Gullahorn. (One reader said, “This is a song I’ve been listening to a lot that speaks of Advent to me and could be useful for those who are spoken to best through music.”

Resources for Kids

  • The Jesse Tree One reader recommended this book as a great starting place: The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to Prepare for the Coming of the Christ Child at Christmas, Dean Lambert Smith. Another suggested hanging Jesse Tree ornaments on a garland strung up across the opening between two rooms in our house
  • The Jesus Storybook Bible – my favorite kids’ Bible ever – has 21 stories in the Old Testament…each of which ends with a tie-in to the coming of the Christ Child. And then three stories in the New Testament surrounding the birth of Jesus. Which is 24 – one per day in December leading up to Christmas Eve. (Adriel Booker offers a free reading guide download so that you can easily see which parts to read on which days.)
  • Combine the Jesus Storybook Bible reading plan it with the Jesse Tree idea. (This is what we’re doing at our house this year.) We’re using the Jesse tree outline adapted for The Jesus Storybook Bible here. I also downloaded the cute ornaments she features, and that’s what’s in our Advent envelopes…along with a couple of pieces of candy for the kids.jesus storybook bible and jesse tree
  • The Truth in the Tinsel: An Advent Experience for Little Hands
  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson (a fun, touching fictional story. I haven’t read it in years, but I remember loving it as a kid and can’t wait for my boys to get a little older so that I can read it to them!)
  • Reasons for the Season by Kathy Hutto – FREE PDF! – recommended by a reader who’s doing it with her  6 and 3 year old daughters.
  • “One of my favorite childhood Christmas memories is sitting around the kitchen table listening to my dad read from Jotham’s Journey, the Advent storybook. My sister and I were absolutely spellbound. The simply act of reading together as a family, especially when everyone is fully present and fully enjoying it, is beautiful.
” ~ Lizzie Goldsmith

Other Simple Ideas for Spiritual Mindfulness

  • Advent candles: “The simple thing we do is that we light our advent candle(s) at dinner and say one thing we are thankful for when we light it and one thing we would like to see change in the world as we blow it out. It is simple, poignant and even small children understand thankfulness and that some things are right in the world. We remind them of whom we pray to and that Jesus wants to see that change too (well, most of the time they line up. I’m not totally convince Jesus wants to see my LEGO in the world!). We don’t stress if we miss it or if dinner with 2 small kids becomes what it can become (chaos). We simply return to it the next day.” ~ Jane Halton

    Photo by Kristin Huntley at CreationSwap
    Photo by Kristin Huntley at CreationSwap
  • Writing or curating blog posts, meditations, or devotions: The past two Decembers I have done an Advent series on my blog. I’m currently debating whether to do it again, because it does get a little much to manage to do daily posts during a busy time. But, I find myself drifting back to the idea because of what it cultivates in me. It keeps me reading what I should read and thinking about what I should think about when a million other things are pulling me in a million other directions.”
 ~ Stephanie Spencer at Everyday Awe (Stephanie is doing another Advent Series this year. Check it out here.)
  • Taking time for silent wonder: “I sneak out to the balcony [where I can see our Christmas tree]. I quiet my heart from all the busyness of the season as I sit and watch the lights and their reflection on the large window behind them, frosted over from the cold. I take off my glasses and squint a bit, just to see the rays of blurred light echo the stars outside.” ~ Jenna DeWitt
  • Waiting for the baby: “We do not place baby Jesus in the nativity that we set up when we decorate but rather wait until we get home from Christmas Eve service and together as a family place him in the nativity.  Throughout the season we talk about why baby Jesus isn’t in the manger yet and how we have to prepare our hearts for his birth.” ~ Martha Leader McGeehon
  • Decorating a “Jesus Tree” – (I love Kelly Stanly’s special tree of “Jesus” ornaments. I may try this next year instead of the Jesse Tree.) She writes:
    “I was having trouble translating the superficial into something meaningfuluntil I hopped online [and bought a few new ornaments for a new tree]: A Jesus Tree. A tree like this can never be complete, but as I hung the hooks on the branches, I felt the reverence I’d been longing for. With each ornament I placed, my prayers went something like this: Yes, Jesus, you are the I AM. You are love. You are the baby in the manger and Lord of All. And on and on, as I added ornaments symbolizing many of the names and faces of God. He is peace. Freedom. The light of the world. The Day Star. The lamb, and the lion. The shepherd, the carpenter, the gardener, the creator, the fisher of men. He is hope and joy. The Alpha and Omega. The king, the church. Faithful. He is my home, the vine, the gate, the door, the Word, and my daily bread. He is Christmas, but not just Christmas. He’s so much more than that. And my tree served as a reminder to really think about who He is. To view Him in broader terms than the baby in the manger. To know that he is light, and love. He is everything.”

Jesus tree

  • Serving communion: “Getting to serve communion — passing the bread to the couple or family or group of friends next in line, and then reading the passage from the Bible, looking each of them in the eyes — is the spiritual highlight of Christmas for me. It’s so humbling to be the one serving. It changes the ritual completely for me.”
 ~  Kelly Stanley
  • Listening to the radio: “What I’m really excited about this year is celebrating Advent on the radio. I host a night radio music program at a small Christian station, and I’m planning on incorporating all manner of things Advent into the words I say between the songs in the lead-up to Christmas, and all the way through Epiphany. It’s such a good way for me to be mindful myself, while also sharing this mindfulness and expectancy and joy with whoever happens to be listening in the middle of the night.” 
~ Lizzie Goldsmith

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Thanks so much to all who contributed ideas and resources. I’m so inspired by your thoughtfulness, insight and creativity.

To help us celebrate Advent, Salt of the Earth has given me one copy of their gorgeous Christian Calendar to give away to one lucky winner! To enter for a chance to win, simply leave a comment – any comment – below! (I’ll announce the winners of all giveaways this week on Sunday, December 8th.)

christian calendar 7

Did any of these ideas speak to you? What other ways do you choose spiritual mindfulness during this season? What other books, blogs or resources would you recommend?

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