I’d never read the entire Bible, beginning to end, and I felt it was time.
So in January of 2017, I began on January 1st. Each day, I sat quietly with my Bible and my thoughts. I had spent the last few years getting in the routine of a morning spent with God. I had journaled and responded, written verses and prayers. But this time was different. This time, this Bible, was all about sitting and reading.
Each morning I read the commentary, the historical significance, and the way these passages related to the Bible as a whole. I gained new understanding, filled in holes I didn’t know I had, and was moved in profound ways.
The Bible seems to do that to you.
What was different this time was my lack of doing as I read the Bible. I didn’t know when I started in January, but I was preparing to receive more than give in 2017 and it was starting with scripture.
I don’t know if it’s the teacher in me or the way we’re taught to spend our quiet time with Jesus, but I had always been active in my devotional time: taking notes, responding to questions, writing out prayers, decorating with colorful pens, scrambling for knowledge, scribbling notes for things I would write, making scripture note cards to carry in my pocket as I went about my day.
None of those things are bad and there is value in each one of them.
But last year I felt very strongly I was just supposed to read and listen, learn and listen, understand and listen.
Mostly, I was supposed to listen.
I didn’t take many notes as I read through the Bible; occasionally I did, but mostly I just read and let it sit inside. I didn’t feel the need to write down what I was learning or the connections I was making. For someone who loves to fill notebooks and line them up on my shelves, this was hard and felt weird.
But I did it anyway.
I’d say that’s a product of the Spirit moving and less Mary Graham liking hard stuff. The more time I spent in the Word, the clearer God made Himself and His heart that I just read the Bible for a year.
*SIGH* Okay, got it. Just read and listen.
I learned a million lessons last year in the Bible. I know that seems like a dumb sentence to write, but I’ve been reading the Bible for years. It wasn’t like I just cracked it open in January and suddenly learned about Adam and Eve, King Solomon, and Paul. I got it; I knew those people already.
But something was shifting in me; I was living too many things reflected so clearly in the Bible stories I knew by heart. They suddenly became authentic, certain realities for me and everything felt different. I was reading stories I couldn’t politely distance myself from, and it was overwhelming and calming all at the same time.
Before 2017, I would have told you the New Testament was my section. Jesus, the Gospels, the parables–those are my jam. But last year changed that; last year I realized I’d been discounting the Old Testament as unrelateable and, um, old. Now I would argue with anyone who says the New Testament is where it’s at. I mean, yes, they are both amazing. But if you’re counting the OT out, I’m going to have to adamantly disagree.
I don’t have enough time, space, or energy to write about everything that changed last year for me in the midst of this Bible journey, but two life-changing things occurred and I can’t stop thinking about them.
The first one is the way generational sin broke my heart. Months before I knew my husband was an alcoholic, I was reading about the Israelites and their endless cycle of idolatry and forgetting the God who saved them. I would get so frustrated and annoyed with these people who were chosen by God, but kept living in a godless ways. I was seeing my own tendencies to learn and forget, to ask for forgiveness and then do the same thing again.
The self-reflection and self-evaluating those stories required me to do was hard and uncomfortable.
But what I thought was a hard, internal battle was suddenly made public and external when the cycle of addiction reared its ugly head again, when Chris said he was drinking and hiding it, when Chris was once again living in active addiction.
I understood generational sin, because I was living in it. I didn’t know it in the beginning. I didn’t know it for a lot of my marriage, because addicts and the people who love them hide things well. I didn’t know it, because I am always honest even if it hurts, but other people are never honest because it hurts.
Learning that changed everything.
I’ve received a lot of encouragement or compliments about my reactions to Chris’ addiction, how I handled things last fall, and what I refused to be ashamed about. I don’t take credit for those things when I hear them; there is no doubt in my mind I was given wisdom, discernment, and right steps, because I was steeped in scripture and in intimate relationship with my Creator. I did not get to avoid pain, betrayal, grief, denial, depression, or anger because of scripture and God, but I was able to handle it a little better.
It took months for truth to make its way to the surface. I often complained to my therapist it felt like it just kept getting worse, things kept being revealed and uncovered and more lies kept coming a long time after Chris was caught drunk in a very public way in May.
My therapist wisely pointed out the grace in learning horrible things slowly. She said if I had learned, all at once, what was happening, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I would not have recovered. It sounds odd to say I can feel the hand of God and His perfect timing even as I slowly learned over a five month period just how deep my husband’s alcoholism went.
But when I finally knew, when I finally realized how cyclical all of it was, I refused to let my daughters join the family legacy. Adamantly refused. And with my refusal came the lessons and instruction I had in the early months of 2017 when God dealt with the Isrealites and their own family cycle of sin.
Here’s what God did with the Israelites: correction, removal from dangerous situations, and boundaries.
Ooh, okay, God, I can do those things. Let’s get to work.
I did none of these things on my own. I did none of these things because I was born ready for this, innately knew the right answer, or felt brave. I did them because I was trusting God to give me what I needed when I needed it and not a moment sooner.
In those moments I looked at my daughters, realized how they didn’t ask for any of this, and knew it was my job to make sure it did not continue with them. I was married to a broken man who did not do get that opportunity. He was living in the direct consequences of allowing and accepting sin, enabling, and selfishness. We were living in the effects of generations before us refusing to do hard things.
I refused to do that to my daughters. I would do whatever it took to make this stop.
God had already lit the flame and when it became real life for me, there wasn’t confusion about a next right step. Sitting with my Bible and my God for months beforehand had prepared me for this moment.
I wasn’t happy about it, but I was ready.
I think it’s super cheesy and off-putting when someone refers to the Bible as a how-to manual for life. I get what they are trying to say, but I just don’t like it. I think of a manual as something you go to when there is a problem.
My DVD player is flashing a weird notification, let’s check the manual.
My car’s dashboard is lit up, get out the manual.
Sure, we can use God’s Word when we’re in the thick of a problem or crisis, but often, we need the advice and preparation before the crisis too. We need the training and the lessons that take time, silence, wrestling, and reflections, things that aren’t necessarily around in times of chaos and stress.
I think going to the Bible for answers or guidance is great, but if you’re just going there during those times, you’re treating the powerful Word of God like an eight ball when you need something. Maybe part of the resilience and healing and wisdom is found in the consistent, day-to-day showing up with God and scripture. When it’s not convenient, when it’s quiet in your world, when things seem to be going well, when you have peace, when you don’t feel shaky and lost.
We do not get to avoid pain, betrayal, grief, denial, depression, or anger because of scripture and God, but we are able to handle it a little better because of it.
I want to share another powerful lesson I learned through my time reading the Bible cover-to-cover last year; come back tomorrow for the conclusion.
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