reading-bible

Confessions of a Daily Devotions Dropout

Can I be honest with you? Like really honest? I don’t do daily devotions. I’m not even sure when I last read my Bible for more than 2 consecutive days.

Whew.

Except for revealing my super secret crush, that’s the biggest confession I have in me (and good luck trying to get that one out of me).

I don’t do daily devotions. I don’t carve out my 15-20 minutes daily to read my Bible and pray. I don’t start each morning with Our Daily Bread or end each evening with a Sweet Hour of Prayer. And, according to the evangelical culture I was raised in, that’s a pretty big transgression.

Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this: a daily quiet time with God is the single most important way to stay connected to God, It keeps us close to him, it keeps us in God’s Word, reminds us of his love and grace and promises, points out the sin in our life. When we spend time daily with God, it creates a habit of turning to him rather than our own strength. You remember that object lesson from youth group with the sponge? Whatever we fill our lives with will come out when we get squeezed. None of this is new to me. I’ve heard about the vital importance of daily devotions all my life. In my family we even had daily family devotions. Daily Bible reading and prayer are important to spiritual life. If you want to be a light, you have to be connected to the power source, right?

So why haven’t I been doing my daily devotions? There could be a few answers to that. I could say I’ve been kept busy with my 2 jobs, but that’s really a cop out. I know I could carve out time (right after that daily gym time I also seem to be skipping out on). I could say I’m angry with God, and that may have some truth to it, but it’s not the reason. I’ve often found anger with God in the past has pushed me deeper into my daily quiet time. I could say my daily devotions just lost their appeal and have fallen by the wayside of life. Again, there is some truth to that, but it’s not the reason. There is such a vast variety of devotional books, journals, and apps, that I could easily find something that peaks my interest.

The truth is, I’ve been burned out on daily devotions. It’s such a “requirement” for the Christian, and when I resigned from my position as pastor, I also resigned from being the “professional Christian.” When I laid down that mantle, when the eyes of a congregation were no longer on me, I took a deep breath, stopped trying to do what makes a good Christian and took time to just be. I sat in the pew at church, instead of standing behind the pulpit. I listened to the sermon instead of delivering it. I sang the worship songs instead of planning them. And I picked up my Bible when I wanted to, not when I had to.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love my Bible. Some of my greatest seasons of spiritual growth have been during a season of regular Bible reading. And I’ve had my share of daily devotions. I’ve followed devotional books, everything from My Utmost For His Highest to Jesus Freaks. I’ve read the Bible in 90 days (incidentally, I’ve never been able to do the One Year Bible reading), I’ve done an inductive Bible study where I gleaned some gems from in-depth study, I’ve even done Bible reading and devotional plans through the Bible app on my phone.

It’s not that I didn’t like doing my daily devotions. Staying consistent with those devotions has always been a struggle for me. I can start a new plan and do well for a week, a month, even several months. But inevitably, I forget to do it one day, don’t have time the next, don’t feel like it the next, and before you know it I’m choosing between grumbling as I open my Bible or just leaving it on the shelf and trying to squelch that gnawing guilt.

When I laid down my Bible and devotional books at my resignation, I finally laid down the legalistic guilt that had plagued me for so long.

How can something meant to be life giving be so draining?

While I said earlier that some of my greatest times of spiritual growth have been during seasons of Bible reading, I can also say some of my greatest times of spiritual growth have been during seasons where I have not read my Bible or prayed regularly–not the least of which is the past year of post-pastoring. I know there’s a huge value in daily devotions, but is it possible we as the church have overstated that value? Can God connect with us without this daily quiet time?

So, it has been a year since I was a consistent daily devotee. I don’t feel guilty about that. But I have come to a point of desiring more intimacy with God. I feel like I’m closer to God than ever before, yet at the same time, I can’t quite touch him. I can hear him speaking, but I can’t quite make out the words.

All my life, this craving for intimacy has been directly connected with daily devotions. You want to be close to God? Have daily devotions. You want to hear the voice of God? Read your Bible every day. You want to develop a more intimate prayer life? Have a daily quiet time.

And that’s what I’m burned out on.

I crave intimacy with God, but I cringe at the idea of picking up that legalistic guilt. I know what will happen–I’ll read for a week, feel wonderful, get behind, feel guilty, stop altogether, feel guiltier. It’s time for a new approach to Bible reading, prayer, and time with God. So, I have approached none other than my internet tribe with this question: How do you cultivate intimacy with God?

My friends were generous with their answers: out in nature, with family, exercising, reading. They were also gracious with my struggle, noting that I am not the only one who suffers from daily devotion burnout.

A few of my friends directed me to the book Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas. In it he outlines 9 pathways to intimacy with God because not everyone finds intimacy in the same way.

I have purchased the book and when it arrives (I know, why don’t I have a Kindle so I can just download these things? I’m just old fashioned I guess) I will go through the pathways one at a time and blog about my experiences. I know this will be a very personal journey of God-discovery and self discovery, but I want to invite you to follow along with me as I make this journey. Feel free to read the book along with me.

What do you think? Have you ever struggled with daily devotions? How do you connect with God?

 

Superman

Biblical Studies Degree: The Academic Aspect

This is part two written about my journey with my Biblical Studies Degree.  Click here to read part one: The Spiritual Aspect.

My story starts with my former bosses/pastors encouraging me to go back to school.  Although, I love to learn and the idea of school, the actual act of school was terrifying.  School and I have always been strong enemies.  As a kid homework, tests, and school felt impossible; especially math!  No matter how hard I tried in the majority of school subjects, I couldn’t even get a 3.0 to make honor roll.  After years of wondering if I had a learning disability (LD), I decided to finally get tested.  I was diagnosed, at the age of 30, with working memory problems.

I waited 30 years to hear someone finally acknowledge my struggles with school and inabilities to do math, and not ride it off as a motivation problem.  It was such a relief, that I started sharing my story on FB, and the more I shared my story, the more I heard other peoples’ stories.  I found myself in others’ people’s pain.  I was not alone.  And more importantly, I was not stupid.

I went through classes to learn how my learning disability works, how to cope with it, and how to heighten my other cognitive skills.  I came out of that class feeling like I was Supergirl or Superman who had finally conquered Kryptonite.

Superman painting

This is the picture I painted for my teacher/trainer who helped me in my LD class.

 

Now, it was time for the rubber to hit the road… was I really going to sign up for classes?  Could this really be possible?  Fears settled in and I went back and forth about actually going back to college… but I eventually took the plunge and decided to trust God and just do it.

To my surprise, my first few classes went well.  It was ridiculously difficult to find someone who was considered a qualified person who was willing to do the paperwork so I could get accommodations, but I finally found someone to do it.  Things were going well…

Then, Advance Inductive Bible Study Class happened.  I was so frustrated because I just couldn’t figure it out!  After contacting a patient professor who was doing what he could to help; I was still not understanding the information which left me feeling hopeless and helpless.

I recall one particular week where I had three frustration fits and had become a hot mess because I was tired of not understanding the information!  I felt like I was back at square one.  How silly I felt that I had even attempted to go back to school.  I knew better than to do this!  What was I thinking?

In desperation, I called a pastor-mentor of mine and asked if she would meet me and she agreed to do so.  The next week we went out to eat.  My pastor-mentor asked the reason for the meeting.  I explained my frustration with class, then I said, “I’m seriously thinking of quitting school, and I need you to talk me out of it.”

After a few moments, my pastor-mentor responded with something along the lines of, “You can’t quit, you’ve come too far.  You got diagnosed with a LD, you went through classes to learn how to deal with it, you’ve overcome a major fear, and you’ve made it through your first few classes.  Do you realize how many students just transfer credits and that’s it?  They haven’t done half the work that you had to do.  You’ve worked too hard to quit.”

She made a valid point.

I finished that blasted class with an “A”, but I realized there was a huge difference this time than in the past.  When I worked hard at school before, it made little to no difference.  However this time, all the hard work paid off.  It made all the difference knowing what my LD was and how to work with it. For example, I always knew the moment I got lost, but I didn’t know why, or what to do about it.  Now, I knew the moment I got lost, it was because I had forgotten what was just said, and a quick reference got me back on track.  I learned to depend more on my logic and less on my memory.  My notes went from written word, to drawn pictures which was more effective.

Although, I knew how to cope now, it doesn’t mean everything was easy.  My greatest struggle was simply being able to sit down and focus on a task.  I used things such as music and movies to purposely be distraction so I would have to work harder to focus.  I realized my focus is highest mid-morning so that’s when I worked the hardest on my homework.  The night before a big assignment I would pray God would give me focus to get it done the next day.  The prayer seemed pathetic, but I needed it, and it worked.

SQUIRREL!

I struggled to remember what I read.  I was married to my highlighter for two years.  At one point IWU announced they were going to electronic books.  I tried to keep an open mind, but in the end it proved to be more frustrating because it was harder to look things up. Luckily, it only lasted for one or two classes.  THANK YOU, JESUS!  I was grateful that with the exception of three classes, there were no quizzes or tests!  WHEW! The less I had to depend on my memory for things, the better off I was.

Finally, school and I made peace with each another and became friends.

As I was nearing the end of my schooling, I was thrown a curveball.  My math credit from my previous college did not transfer because it was too low of a grade.  NOOOOOO!!!!  Everything was going so well!  I had two more classes to go.  Why did math have to come and mess everything up for me?

I tried to advocate my way out of it, but it didn’t work.  I tried to get additional accommodations, but that didn’t work either.  I found myself in high anxiety over the class, but I had to finish school!  I did a bunch of praying, royally freaked out, made a cry for help on Facebook, and moved forward.  I remembered the words of my pastor-mentor, “You’ve come too far to quit.”

The first two weeks of math class was surprisingly simple!  As long as I had a gist of what I was supposed to do, I could manipulate the computer program easily.  Plus, our professor gave us access to the “show me how to do this” button… OH that button and I were married for six weeks!

Then the third week hit.  Polynomials.  In case you don’t know what these are, all you need to know is that they are what nightmares are made of.  I tried watching the video three times, but that didn’t work.  I contacted the professor, who was willing to help, but still I couldn’t do it.  Another frustration fit sank in.  I contacted one of my friends who had offered to help me from my plea on Facebook, and for three and a half hours she worked with me on FaceTime.  (I feel I owe her my life now.  True story!)  And I got through that week!  HALLELUJIAH!  After two more blasted weeks of useless numbers, I passed!  I passed with an “A-“… only because of a computer program I could manipulate, but that’s beside the point… It’s the only dumb “A” I ever got in math, and I’m flippin taking it!  And all I have to say is, “Bite me, math!”

On Sunday, March 20th, I turned in my last paper.   IT.  IS.  FINISHED.

A few weeks later, I was notified that I wouldn’t receive honors, because they combined my previous college experience and IWU together, making my GPA 0.17 under the lowest honors category.  However, if they had only used my IWU experience, I would have graduated with a 3.74.  That number brings tears to my eyes.  There was a day I couldn’t even get a 3.0 no matter how hard I tried.  And there it was on the page—just 0.26 under a 4.0.  Unbelievable.

My graduation was set for April 30th in Marion, IN, and I decided to make a trip there to walk across the platform to graduate.  My best friend, Ruth, came along on the near 8 hour trip to support me on my big day.

The approach of my graduation reminded me of so many stories I had heard these past three and a half years of people who have been affected by some sort of LD in some sort of a way.  In the wee hours of the morning of my graduation, I couldn’t sleep out of excitement, so I wrote this poem:

“Today, I Walk
(A Poem Because I Can’t Sleep)”
By Deb T.

Today, I walk across a stage,
Given a piece of paper and a handshake
The tassel on my hat goes right to left
Today, I walk

I do not walk for myself
Lord knows I’m a turtle in a shell
No, I do this to make a statement
To be a voice
Today, I walk

I walk for every student who wonders, “Why does everyone get this but me?”
I walk for every student who can’t do what everyone else takes for granted
I walk for every student who thinks the best word that describes them is “stupid”
Today, I walk

I walk for the parent who wishes they could remove their child’s struggle
I walk for the parent who is tired of fighting and advocating but stays committed
I walk for the parent who secretly wonders if their child’s potential is flipping burgers
Today, I walk

I walk for every teacher who helps students before and after class
I walk for every teacher who will do anything so we “get it”
I walk for every teacher who unconditionally believes in their students
Today, I walk

I walk for a misinformed public who thinks we just need to “try harder”
I walk for a misinformed public who thinks accommodations is cheating
I walk for a misinformed public who thinks we just need to be spanked harder
Today, I walk

I walk to remind us, to convince us, to convict our very souls on the darkest and most frustrating days:
Our learning disabilities do not own us,
But we own our learning disabilities

Today
I
Walk

The day of graduation was finally here!  It was a rainy day that required us, graduates, to wear trash bags as we walked from one building to the other where commencement was held.  I laughed.  Here we were: smart alumni wearing garbage bags over our graduation garb.  Oh, the irony of looking intelligent.

I had the opportunity to meet one of my classmates and one of my professors from my classes, which was nice to put a face with the name and get to meet them face to face.

As we walked into the auditorium and heard everyone cheer was overwhelming!  I looked around the area and saw the crowd go wild and it took my breath away!  Just three years ago, I didn’t think I would make it to this day, but here I was—I had made it!  We had a speaker give a challenge to us to be people who fight injustice.  One of my classmates in Biblical Studies Degree represented the rest of our class of 2016 with a great speech!  Then, it was time to walk.  It was amazing to shake our president’s hand and get my diploma.

But the moment that meant the most to me, was the moving of the tassels.  I had to take deep breathes to keep from crying as the audience gave a roar or applause.  The tassel change is such a simple and small movement, but oh the work that is symbolized in that movement makes it one of the best moments in my life.  It may have taken more work, more support from friends, more questions asked to the professors, and it may have taken more time to finish my assignments than the rest of my classmates; but I made it!

My Kryptonite has no power over me!

super graduate

IMG_0510

Biblical Studies Degree: The Spiritual Aspect

I recently received my Bachelors of Science Degree in Biblical Studies from IWU, and this is part one of two blogs about the experience.  This one will be on Spiritual reflections of my degree, and the next one will be a reflection on the academic side.

I was challenged to consider going back to school by my former bosses/pastors of mine (more on this in my next blog).  I’ve entertained the idea of a Master’s of Divinity or Theology on and off for some time.  I thought a good place to start would be to have a solid understanding and way of studying of The Bible.  Below are some concepts and ideas that I have learned over the last two years that have changed the way I read Scripture.

 + Genesis 1-2

There were several creation stories told in various religions of Egypt, Canaan, Mesopotamian, etc.. as well as Israel.  These creation stories were intended to introduce the reader to their gods/goddesses, to teach how the deity/deities came to being, how humanity came to being, their purpose on earth, and how the gods/goddesses interacted with humanity within their respective religions.

I used to read this story thinking it was about the beginning of time, but now I read it as though Moses is introducing me to God by saying, “Hey Deb, let me tell you all about Yahweh.  First, Yahweh is One, there is no other deity.  Yahweh is all-powerful.   Yahweh can take something that is empty and void and turn it into something which is functional, useful, and beautiful.  Yahweh puts perfect order and organization to things.  Yahweh interacts with His people by means of relationship.  Yahweh entrusts His creation to humanity.  Yahweh rules over His creation.”  I will never read the creation story the same again.

+Old Testament and Parables

One of the things we discussed in one of my classes was how some Old Testament stories can be seen as parables (i.e. Job and Jonah and possibly Esther).  We also talked about how some stories may be elaborations and exaggerations added to the overarching story.  For example, Moses led the Israelites to freedom, but there may not have been a parting of the Red Sea.  The purpose of doing this was not to lie, but rather, to emphasize to the reader of Yahweh’s power.

This became a very serious crisis of belief for me.

All the arguments I had heard of trying to prove every story in The Bible to be 100% true had been pulled like a rug from under my feet and I felt lost.  I became conflicted on the understanding that the moral of the story was what was important versus pondering “if these stories are false, what else is false?  Where do we draw the line?”

After about four months of wrestling, I realized the purpose of The Bible was not to be a historical book or a science book, but rather, it’s a theological book.  Ironically, what I thought was tearing me apart from God, was the exact thing that was drawing me closer to Him.  As I started reading the stories differently, instead of seeing a 1-Dimensional God who was set in black and white stories, I started seeing God’s character come through as very dynamic and complex as He works through humanity’s complicated lives.  I’ve come to believe it’s more important I know WHO God is, than to know exactly what He did or didn’t do based on research or science.  A parable doesn’t disprove God any more than a true story proves God.

+Ecclesiastes

For my final class, we could pick any passage out of The Bible to study and show we knew how to use the skills we had been taught through the rest of schooling.  For some odd reason, Ecclesiastes caught my eye.

In Ecclesiastes, we see the phrase, “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.  A chase after the wind” repeated.  I came to the conclusion that I think the better translation is “Mysterious, mysterious, everything is mysterious, and trying to understand it all is like trying to control the wind.”  I like the concept of God and His works being mysterious.  I suppose it’s because it places Him back in a place of being bigger than me, where I have to trust God more, and seek after Him more fervently.

+Jesus Died for MY sins

In one of my textbooks (Kenneth Schenck’s “Jesus Is Lord” in my New Testament’s class).  The author talked about how we often say things like, “If I was the only person alive, Jesus would still die for my sins.”  Now this isn’t entirely theologically unsound, but I was challenged in the fact that often when we think of it this way, we can get lost in my sin vs. your sin controversy.  The author spoke that a better illustration is to think of sin as a grenade that has come into our camp and Jesus jumped on it before it went off, which resulted in His death, but saved everyone else.  That was a very powerful illustration to me.  It made me rethink how we communicate “Jesus defeated sin and death”, as inclusive to all people.

+Paradoxes

I have become aware of the paradoxes we find in Scripture.  I’m absolutely fascinated on statements like “the weak are strong” (II Corinthians 12:9-11), “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21), and “foolish things shame the wise” (I Corinthians 1:27).  I had never examined these phrases before because… well… It was just church lingo I grew up with.  However, now I am fascinated as I realize these are really important thoughts that show us that God’s Kingdom is not of this world.

+God’s Revelation

We can easily read God’s Word today and go from passage to passage without even realizing there are centuries and cultural changes between the two.  As a result, we may forget that God’s revelation takes place over time.  God was first revealed as Yahweh, but it wasn’t until centuries later when God was revealed as Jesus, and a few decades after that when Yahweh and Jesus are revealed as the Holy Spirit.  And even more time passes before the concept of the Trinity is brought together as a concept.

The disciples thought Jesus was sent to earth to overthrow the Roman Empire, sit on an earthly throne, and free them from oppression.  Instead, Jesus dies at the hand of the Roman Empire.  The disciples were left with a decision to either:  go with what they were always taught and find a new messiah to follow, OR they had to rearrange their faith to include a Messiah that died, resurrected, and was part of a Kingdom that had no physical evidence.

In Acts 10, Peter strays from what he’s always been taught in The Law by the testimony of Cornelius and accepts that the Gentiles can be saved as well.

The bottom line is that God is continually revealing Himself throughout history.  There are times in my life when I must rearrange what I’ve always been taught, and that doesn’t mean I lose my faith, that I believe that God changes, or that I am shaping Him into what I want Him to be.   Instead, it is God revealing Himself to us in a new way and calling us to be more like Him.

The more I learn about God, the less I know about Him.  And the less I know about God, the more I learn about Him.

+Wessy vs. Calvy

I started my education argumentative towards Calvinism.  Now, I see it as a waste of time and really not an important theological fight at all (possibly worth a discussion but not an argument that divides people).  Although, I am still a solid Wesleyan, I’ve come to peace with the fact that there is Scripture that supports Calvinism as well.  It is what it is… let’s move on with life.

Here are some other blogs where I wrote about things I had learned in my classes:

Moses Foreshadowing of Jesus

The Reformation

Women in Church History here and here

God’s Word as Authority

 

Now that I’m done with my degree, I am released from Friday night Discussion Board assignments due dates, Monday night due dates, a ton of reading, the writing of papers, hours of trying to organize my thoughts, and staying up late to get it all done.  You would think I’d be excited about this, but honestly, I’m kind of disappointed by it.  For the last two years I’ve had a safe theological/Biblical discussion group that was not connected to my denomination, and there was a lot of freedom in searching and conversing openly there.  It was a place where healthy, honest, and mature debate took place, and it was a place where we could agree with one another too.  My faith has grown astronomically while in school, and now I feel like I’m coming off of a mountaintop into the valley where growth is stagnate and dull.  It was a good source of community for me, even if it solely took place over the internet.  I miss the environment of school, and I wasn’t expecting this feeling at all, upon my graduation.  Don’t get me wrong, graduation was definitely a celebration of accomplishing goals that I never thought I could obtain, and I’m so glad I was able to do what I never thought I could do!  I’m just surprised by the sadness that has accompanied it as well.

The truth is: I. miss. school.

I never thought I would ever say that, but I suppose I’ll talk more about that in my next blog.