I didn’t grow up reading the Bible—though we did have an illustrated Bible stories book floating around among Dr. Seuss.
One Thanksgiving Day, I paged through a King James Bible looking for the section on Thanksgiving prayers, resolved that I would provide the most eloquent of blessings on our meal. This made perfect sense to me; after all, I had found the proper formal place setting arrangements for Thanksgiving in the cookbook. Surely there would be an index of holiday prayers in the Bible.
Later still, my mom bought me a red-letter, black, leather-bound, New International Version study Bible for Christmas. I was sixteen, and the hunger and curiosity from internal and external sources burned. I wanted to know: Is there a God? Is he real? Who is he? How do I reconcile all I’ve learned in sixteen years with this book? Can I?
I started reading at the beginning like you do with most books. Genesis wasn’t too bad, and the start of Exodus is eventful, but then you get Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy all up in there, and my interest waned.
It wasn’t until my freshman year of college in my dorm room one night that what had seemed inaccessible suddenly opened. The Bible was incomprehensible to me one day, and then it was like water for an unquenchable thirst the next. I couldn’t get enough. Chapter after chapter and whole books in one night, me underlining, underlining, devouring, delighting, crying, smiling, shaking. God, thank you, thank you, this book, these words, these promises, you!
Now, I love to study the Bible. It troubles me, confounds me, and angers me, and it inspires me, reassures me, and shows me Jesus.
A study found that 88 percent of American households own a Bible. Your typical American Bible owner has on average 3.4 Bibles. I will not confess to you the number of Bibles we possess. It is a gluttony of sacred texts.
While 69 percent of adults consider themselves moderately knowledgeable about the Bible, just one in four adults can correctly name those first five books of the Bible. Apparently owning a Bible does not mean you know the Bible. I guess my kids aren’t going to pick up Bible literacy by osmosis.
I changed jobs a while ago and moved to a new city. Transitions like these present opportunities to make changes in other areas of your life too. By necessity, a new schedule requires adjustments in time, prioritization, commitments, and expectations.
Our morning routine at home had shifted significantly as a result of the move, and after reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in early January, I felt inspired to seize the opportunity of change to add more change. “What do you think about starting to read the Bible with the kids?” I asked my husband.
“Sure, that sounds great,” he replied without hesitation. His response was sincere, which made me happy and also overwhelmed by dread. He was supposed to put up resistance or feel halfhearted about the idea, so I had an easy out of this sudden inspiration to educate our children.
Ol’ Dietrich recommends reading a chapter from the Old Testament, half a chapter from the New Testament, and a psalm, every day, out loud, in order. He insists there’s no reason why children and adults alike can’t sit through this kind of daily reading.
So says Bonhoeffer. He never met my children.
This intimidated the heck out of me, even though Dietrich affirms that it’s God’s book and he will do the work in each of us as we hear the reading of the Bible.
My children have amazing questions about God and heaven and death and Jesus, and I have mediocre answers. I do not want to bring my children into faith by coercion. I do want to fan the flame of curiosity and questioning in them. However, I am afraid they will find the Bible dull and confusing. I do not want to turn what has been life-giving and life-changing for me into something that is a burden and empty ritual for them.
I suspect these are the reasons I haven’t brought them to read the Bible.
But I will read them Harry Potter and Dr. Seuss. They read to me now, too, and when there is a word they stumble over, I give it to them and ask if they know what that word means.
Why not also with the Bible?
The other morning, I sat down at the table while the kids were eating cereal. I didn’t want to make a scene, but I felt like I was going to make a scene: With my large, burgundy, leather-bound Bible in one hand, I felt the urge to sweep my right hand above the book and then speak some grandiose, British-accented statement, like, “Now, children, we shall read and study the Word of the LORD!”
I resisted. “Hey guys,” I began, as they continued chewing, “what do you think about us trying to read the Bible together each day?” The eight- and seven- and three-year-old heads all nodded, so I explained that the Bible shows us how God interacts with people. Henry, the three-year-old, stuck a Cheerio to the end of his nose.
“Buddy, stop that, or the Cheerios are going to end up on the floor.”
I told them how the Bible demonstrates God’s faithfulness. The Cheerio fell off of Henry’s nose and rolled onto the floor.
Henry stuck another Cheerio to his nose. “Henry. Really.”
I told them it’s important for us to know what the Bible says, so “What do you think?”
They thought it was a great idea. So I read to them the first chapter of Genesis, interrupted now and then by rebel Cheerios. God is, after all, long-suffering.
We didn’t make it into the New Testament or to a psalm because the Wells wagon had to get moving or else we’d all be late to our individual destinations for the day.
That was two days ago, and we haven’t moved into chapter two of Genesis yet, but tonight as my daughter tried to stall going to bed, she said, “Can we read the Bible together, just for five minutes, pleeeeeeeease?”
Yes, let us stretch across your bed with your Bible and meet Zechariah and Elizabeth, Gabriel and Mary and Joseph. That word is pronounced “Israelites.” Can you imagine what the angel Gabriel looked like?
It was like water flowing.
Together with my children, the Word is made new.