By Rote: The Kids Almost Ruined It

Bringing (Daily) Life to Scripture Memorization

For the first few weeks of my Scripture memorization project, I soaked up Ephesians with the grace of an enchanted suburban princess. Every morning, after the kids shuffled onto the bus, I curled up in the squishy oversized chair by the east-facing window, dog in my lap, fresh coffee steaming on the side table. Soft piano music emanated from my laptop. I literally glowed.

I would read a portion several times aloud then repeat it from memory, slowly overlapping and building on the phrases. Although the process went slowly, it brimmed with peace and truth, a habit with which God was well pleased.


Then the kids got off school for winter break.

I had already missed a few days of memorizing when we decided to take a day trip to the Milwaukee science museum. I asked my husband Jeremy if he could follow Ephesians on my Kindle while I drove and recited the first half of chapter one.

Kids started yelling for granola bars the minute we backed out of the driveway. Twenty One Pilots blared through the speakers, frequently interrupted by Google Maps’ frantic rerouting.

“Here we go,” I said, raising my fist with confidence. “Paul, messenger of … of  ...”

“Christ … ?” Jeremy prompted, a little surprised by my early stumble.

“Jesus Christ?”

“Well, Christ Jesus.”

“Christ Jesus. To all the … the … ”

“Mom! MOM! Can I download a new game on my phone?” my teen yelled from the back of the van.

Like that, three weeks of memorizing were gone. I was a ship in the fog. An actor forgetting all her lines as the curtain opened.

“Shhh, I’m working on something!” I snapped.

“Uses too much data,” my husband yelled back, then: “Faithful Christians.”

“What?” I glanced at him, then back to the road where I was trying to merge onto I-94.

“Faithful Christians at Ephesus.”

“Of Ephesus. From Ephesus.  I have no idea. I don’t remember any of it.”

Like that, three weeks of memorizing were gone. I was a ship in the fog. An actor forgetting all her lines as the curtain opened. A disembodied brain stuck to the bottom of the sea floor, poked by scavenging fish.

I turned off the music and told everyone to shut up so I could properly recite. Then I realized that Brother Yun, my inspiration for memorizing Scripture in the first place, recalled Paul’s words while getting beaten with implements of torture.   

If I can’t recall Scripture while riding in a raucous minivan, one of the common scenes of my life, what’s the point?

As I kept my eye on the icy lanes, my husband read the passage I had supposedly memorized, the first 13 verses of Ephesians, aloud. What was second nature during my morning coffee sessions suddenly sounded like a foreign language. If I hadn’t committed to writing these posts for In Touch Magazine, I would have put an end to my misery right there. Sure, people in prisons the world over can seemingly recite the whole lineup of minor prophets after a day or two behind bars. Though not by choice, they have plenty of time to fill. Why should I invest so much time effort in memorizing when I can call up the Bible on my phone anywhere, anytime?

If I can’t recall Scripture while riding in a raucous minivan, one of the common scenes of my life, what’s the point?

“Honestly,” I told my husband, “the only one of those phrases I’m hanging onto right now is ‘every possible spiritual benefit.’ All the rest get lost in Paul’s endless prepositional phrases. That guy can ramble.”

“Paul’s pretty ADD when he gets excited about theology,” my husband said. (We have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in our family and can totally joke about it.) “But the ‘spiritual benefits’ are what the whole section’s about. Maybe identify those before memorizing the rest.”

My mouth dropped open. I’ve made a living from writing and teaching writing, but suddenly I was in sixth grade again, learning how to outline a chapter from my social studies textbook. I’d been getting caught up in details without grasping Paul’s main points in his letter’s powerful opening:

• God chose us from the beginning.
• He adopted us as his own children.
• We’re freely redeemed through Christ.
• We’re privy to His master plan.
• We were given an inheritance.

Chosen. Adopted. Redeemed. Partners. Heirs. These five words are the first I should learn. The details and phrases will follow, filling in and around those promises like melted chocolate running into a mold. Perhaps that’s not the most precise metaphor, but chocolate helps everything, so I’ll go with it.

Yet there is power in individual phrases, too, for “every possible spiritual benefit,” even outside the context of Paul’s main points, began to comfort me from the moment I said it aloud in the car. In my daily life, spiritual benefits are those blessings that override the annoyances of the world—like driving on a crowded winter highway and suddenly noticing the snow balanced on the branches. Or hearing the loud, living voices of my children and thanking God for their working lungs. Or eating a dripping tangerine wedge my husband hands me as I drive and struggle with the maddening Bible verse, and tasting the fulfillment and perfection of juice.


Illustration by Jeff Gregory


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Related Topics:  Spiritual Life

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