Our relationship with the Word. (it's not that simple)

(Story shared with permission from my daughter.)

Some of our first friends to visit her in the orphanage caught a glimpse of the music in her bones. A crowd of tiny people didn't threaten her. They watched as she belted out a song in front of the other children at the orphanage.

And she came home with us singing.

A decade later, we flew her across the country for her thirteenth birthday to see her favorite musician perform. In an "only God" stroke (and through the introduction of a generous friend), we arranged for her to meet him before he went on stage. This unforgettable night was sandwiched between our normal nights of Nate schooling her in the history of music — sharing vignettes of his favorites, imparting discernment for sound and lyric, traveling through decades of song in fifteen-minute increments in the car and after dinner. Her dad, her sherpa through the world of music.

The day after we had landed home from the concert, just before dinner, Nate said, "sweet, it's time to shut down your music for dinner." In a flurry of emotion and history that pre-dated her time in our family, she said to me: "Dad's against my music!"

As with any story, I risk your speculations about the untold months before, or the years after. You might think: "just an entitled teenager." On the contrary: this little moment told a story — one into which you might insert yourself.

My little girl carried years of understanding and experience into our home about what “dad” is and what a dad does. Before we adopted her, she'd lived within a painful narrative that didn’t change by merely having a new father, a new name, and a new address. A decade later and a dad who invests in her heart, her passions, her particular wiring (yes, he fails her still as every parent does their child) — and the old narrative still ensnared her. New whispers of tenderness, new attentiveness to this young heart, new shoulders to field her head … and yet the old understandings of "dad" still informed her perspective.

As we enter into 2021 and feel the pull of even the best of the world's words upon our attention (and yet realize we can't survive on microblogs, tweets, and even sincere quotes), I wonder … what's keeping us from reaching for the Word?

Rather than scolding you or me into better handling this source of life on page, I'd like to propose that our relationship with the Word is complicated, just like my daughter's is with her dad. There is history and narrative and hurt that informs whether I pick up that book and talk to the Man wrapped within it at a moment of stress or read another news article and scroll through my feed.

We often toggle between shame for not reading it — perhaps labeling our avoidance "grace," rather than considering why we avoid it — and a sense of false strength in a moment when we've “disciplined” ourselves into picking it up. Though you might not experience either end of these binary impulses, my point is this: there are reasons we don't read our Bibles — or receive the words as sterile and distant when we do. We have a complicated relationship with the Word and its Author, but we make it simple: I'm just tired, I don't have time, it doesn't inspire me like XYZ author's writing does. 

End of story.

Except our over-simplified reasons for not picking up this Word — that is full of life for these needy times, our parched hearts, and our lost souls — mask what might be the most important conversation of our life:

God, why do You feel so distant … why am I choosing the best of the world's inspirational words over Yours … why don't I want to scoot up next to You … why does this Word, which is You, feel sterile to me?

You might even come up with a response like my girl's ("Dad's against my music") — one that needs a little more unpacking, a lot more tender unraveling, a gentle understanding from Him. 

Instead of berating yourself into better Bible reading habits or feeling the disparate spurts of false-strength when you've “followed your plan” on your best days, might I suggest that this year you (we) face … Him. 

Face the Word that we either left dusty or approached at a theological distance, and ask questions of our heart — how did I get here, not seeing the lines around His eyes in the Word? Is there a person or part of my history from whom I received a fear or shame related to Scripture that makes this Word feel less than life to me? What happens in my interior life as I pick up this book?

Because this Man inside the Word is living. Active in our lives. Closer than my skin. Tender with our failings. Gentle. Present to lead you and me, and exactly how we need.

We just sometimes see Him as our history tells us to see Him.

Life as we knew it in 2005 and 2010, and 2019, has changed. It may never be the same again. And even the best microblog or sermon or book is not enough to give us what we need for the days ahead … not even enough to buoy us for more than a few weeks or days.

And, my girl? Our stories are never finished on this side, and I'd do you and her (and me) a disservice to give the glowing idealistic (unrealistic) “before and after”. But I will share this: after that incident, she began to see how her history informs her understanding of the reality in front of her. And because of that, she's been able to more fully receive her dad, shouldering her … holding her … leading her.

Maybe her story is a seed for us as we consider re-evaluating our relationship with the Word* and the Man it reveals.

Until next month,

Sara

*{For those of you going — yes, yes, but where do I go from there? Fodder for this conversation with God about our history with Him and His Word is … the Word itself. Perhaps consider a fresh start with the Bible, as you examine all those feelings that surface while you walk this out. A few of my recent favorites to dip your toe in the water: 

Katie Majors is taking people through a fresh walk through the Word this year

Phylicia Masonheimer has oodles of resources — e-books, a print book, podcasts — on diving into the Word

Jen Wilkin also has Bible studies I've appreciated for those wanting to do more than dip their toe in the water

This book by Christy Fitzwater gives accessible tips into studying the Word for the purpose of seeing Him more clearly

and my book ADORE is about those conversations with God through His Word that feel uncomfortable and often inconvenient … but are needed for us to grow.

And here, in this slightly smaller community, I'll be taking a deeper dive into this topic this month.