I once dreaded the Bible. I dreaded the drudgery of read-through plans. I dreaded the discipline of deep study. I dreaded boring passages, disturbing imagery, and the faith-testing questions the text raised. But most of all, I dreaded the shame my Bible aversion produced in me. I felt sure a good Christian would not dread the Bible. That shame consumed so much of my attention that for 10 years I never asked myself a very simple question: Why did reading the Bible fill me with dread?
The first glimmer of a response sparked unexpectedly one Sunday, as I sat in the balcony at church. My pastor’s sermon was about spending time with God, and he first walked us through a long list of spiritual disciplines, several of which involved the Bible. Then he said, “When you choose disciplines, start with what you enjoy most.”
I looked down at my sermon outline, then back up at him, my mind spinning. I could not argue with his point—it seemed like an obvious, gentle rule of thumb. What shocked me was that I had never, ever considered my enjoyment when approaching God’s throne. Instead, I’d unconsciously assumed that the harder and more painful the discipline was, the better.
Hearing the word “enjoyment” lifted my head up a little, like Charlie Bucket sniffing the air for Wonka’s rich chocolates. I could not stop wondering what enjoyment would actually look like. Was that even possible for me with the Bible?
The answer arrived in a packet of CDs I ordered for my kids. Hoping to inspire them to memorize Scripture, I’d purchased a collection of Bible passages set to music. But when I played them, my kids had zero interest. I, however, couldn’t stop listening.
One day, while anxious and distracted, I mindlessly turned on a song composed from Romans 8:38-39. “For I am convinced,” the vocalist sang, “that neither death nor life, nor angels or demons … will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.”
I had never considered my enjoyment when approaching God’s throne. Instead, I’d assumed that the harder the discipline was, the better.
My eyes filled with tears. I sang along, suddenly 10 pounds lighter. “I am convinced,” I cried aloud. “I am convinced.”
When the next song began, I realized this was enjoyment. I had once dreaded the Word, but I was ravenous for it as song—it held promises I could sing and dance to. “Choose what you enjoy,” my pastor had said. I spent the next few months listening to the CDs on repeat.
I felt a similar hunger when I wrote Scripture verses in calligraphy. As I formed capital A’s and planned my flourishes, I’d ponder the meanings of the words and God’s direction for me within them. Enjoyment also grabbed my hand when the church began sending out reminders to meditate on the Sunday Scripture portion at noon each day. To my surprise, these daily readings felt like an invitation into communion with my congregation.
As I kept following joy towards God, I discovered a few things.
First, I was not alone in my dread of Scripture. As I felt less shame, I shared my experience. Lots of people nodded with painful recognition. Many felt terrible about their lack of discipline, experience, or time. My honesty did not just help me, but drew me closer to other believers.
I was not alone in my dread of Scripture. Lots of people nodded with painful recognition.
Next, it turned out much of my drill-sergeant approach to the Bible had roots in my past. As I explored my Scripture aversion, I found wounds from spiritual abuse and childhood trauma. To survive, I had learned to drive myself hard. Beginning to read Scripture more tenderly was part of God’s healing in the whole of my being.
Taking my pain seriously also gave me greater connection to the Holy Spirit’s lead. When I cried out for help, the Holy Spirit increased my discernment. As I healed, I found it easier to turn immediately to God with my shame and wait for help to come.
Finally, and most ironically, when I read Scripture, I started to notice honesty about negative emotions everywhere. Psalmists confessed deep rage, prophets black dread, and the nation of Israel felt abandoned and betrayed. My shame had blinded me to Scripture’s revolutionary candor. What once shamed me has turned into a mirror for my soul. The transparency of the biblical text gives me courage to bring every one of my thoughts to God—not as rote mind control, but through freeing, tender intimacy with the Divine. As Paul insisted, nothing I think or feel can separate me from God’s love.
My dread of Scripture once kept me at arm’s length from the Bible and, more importantly, from Jesus. But I’m thankful to say God renewed my mind with the explosive power of joy. Seeking the Lord with delight instead of obligation removed my blindness to the Bible’s transformative power. Mercifully, my dread has been reshaped into adoration for the One who can free us of everything we fear.
The point was driven home recently, when I was invited to read Revelation 21 in church. As I spoke the passage aloud, I exulted in its healing promise: “I am making all things new,” God says in verse 5. “These words are faithful and true.”
Illustration by Nishant Choksi