I have a towering stack beside my bed of “important” books I should read. On top of the stack right now is a biography of Heloise and Abelard. Let’s be honest: it’s been there for some time. I have read the first chapter or so of the book and I am sure I would enjoy the rest if I could motivate myself to pick it up and get back into it. No doubt I would learn a lot about monasticism, history, and God too.
Yet what did I just read? Austenland. (It was pretty good.)
I am constantly disappointed in my dwindling appetite for the “serious” and the “important.” It’s not that I completely ignore the news or only watch reality TV; it’s just that, in my reading in particular, I find myself longing for the light and escapist.
This tendency has grown especially pronounced since I became a mom. I think I have so many large and real concerns related to parenting and to my children that I can’t handle the heavy stuff in my literature any more.
So I find myself turning to things that are either about as far from my own experience as possible, i.e., British crime dramas, or light-hearted sendups of my own worries and concerns, i.e., mommy lit. When it comes to literature, I am going for the cupcake rather than the green vegetable.
Where does this all leave me with the Bible? Not a lot of cupcake there. Let’s face it: the Bible is a difficult book. It’s not even one book, really: it’s a collection of many, many different genres, written in different time periods by many different authors.
And my goodness, it’s big. Sometimes I feel paralyzed by its sheer immensity. Should I read an epistle, a gospel, the book of Esther? Or go for something really challenging, a minor prophet or everyone’s favorite, Leviticus?
Despite the fact that I believe the Bible is God’s word, a tremendous life-giving gift, the story of how God has always been with us, his people, despite the fact that I wholeheartedly believe 2 Timothy 3:16, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” I still hesitate sometimes to crack the cover.
There’s one thing that saves me when it comes to Bible study: I don’t have to do it alone. If it were just me trying to go it alone, my Bible would probably be as dusty as that biography on my nightstand.
I do so much better with my Bible in community, when I have a goal and a specific book to study, when I have others to offer differing opinions and ask questions that never would have occurred to me, to not only help me comprehend but to stretch and grow my understanding. After all, there were good reasons why Bible study has historically been a communal rather than an individual practice—a group setting helps not only to encourage but to keep misunderstandings and wrong interpretations in check.
I’ve been part of many Bible study groups over the years—from highly organized groups that required daily homework and had highly trained leaders to more casual groups where we all took turns leading. All of them have given me so much: fellowship, encouragement, support, a reason to get myself and my children dressed and out of the house in the morning, but most of all, they have given me the gift of regular dousing in God’s word.
The best thing about group Bible study? The more I read and understand, the more I want to read. The more I want to open my Bible on my own. Because of course we never really read the Bible alone. The Holy Spirit comes alongside us, revealing truth and imparting understanding (John 14:26, 1 Corinthians 2:6-13).
Who knows? The Holy Spirit may even inspire me to crack that Heloise and Abelard book someday.
How about you? Does a Bible study group help inspire and encourage you?