10 ideas to re-engage with the Bible if we've become allergic to it.

i kind of miss the bibleshifting faith takes its toll in so many ways–changed friendships & relationships, loss of connection & belonging in churches, and disorientation on how we connect with God.  so many of the old ways stop working.  what used to fill us up now sometimes repels us. what used to feel so comfortable now feels so foreign. i can’t tell you the number of times over the past chunk of years i have tried to grind down on old spiritual practices that used to bring me so much life only to come up empty.

one of the things i am sad about for a lot of us is how our relationship with the Bible, a source of so much life & hope & goodness, has often become twisted & tainted.  for all kinds of reasons, some of us have become a little (or a lot!) allergic to it.  sometimes when we read it, we have a weird filter that all of the words go through that blocks us from stirring our souls & inspiring love and change.  it can cause us to cringe, harden our hearts, to feel cynicism instead of hope.

i often tell people who find themselves extra-allergic to the Bible to take a break from even trying.  there are all kinds of ways to engage with God other than the Bible and a healthy separation (just like when a marriage is in trouble) can often provide a space for healing. but what happens when we kind of want to try again?  when we feel a stirring to re-engage with the Bible in a way that won’t kick our allergies into full-gear?

this post isn’t for everyone; some of you are feeling great about the Bible and others of you have it safely on the shelf right now to give yourself more time to heal.  this post is for those of you who are feeling like maybe it’s time to give something a try again, who miss the beauty & challenge of it, who are wanting to re-connect with it in new ways.

these are some thoughts off the top of my head that have helped me over time.   i’d love for you to add yours to the list because the more ideas we have to choose from , the better.

10 ideas to re-engage with the Bible after we’ve become allergic: 

1. take one passage we really like or one that comes to mind or gives us hope and meditate on just it for a while.  i do this a lot and i remember how much i like certain verses, how much comfort they bring, and that i don’t have to study them, exegete them, put them in their proper context, know the greek word for it for it to do something in my heart.

2. take that same passage and look it up in different versions (i like biblegateway for that).

3. practice lectio divina, which is one of my favorite practices because it takes out “studying” the bible and replaces it with intersecting emotionally with the passage.  read it from different angles.  notice words.  notice feelings. notice soul stirrings.  some passages that i like are:  psalm 23, psalm 40:1-3, isaiah 43:1-4, isaiah 61:1-4, matthew 5:3-10, colossians 3:12-15, ephesians 3:14-19, luke 15:11-32.

4. read a passage and then re-write it in our own words. there are a lot of different versions by different people, as well as different translations.  it’s ok to let yourself be inspired too, and see how it sounds.  another thought is to collage it or draw it with images or pictures.

5. read a parable and ask ourselves these questions: 

what is a different title for it?
what feelings does it stir up?
what does it tell us about the tendency of human beings?
what does it tell us about our own hearts and lives?

6. after reading something, take some time and journal about it, reflecting on some questions like this:

this passage stirs up these feelings (comfortable, easier ones & harder, more uncomfortable or annoying ones)
originally, i was taught that this passage for sure meant…
i wonder if it could actually mean…
today, it makes me consider…

6. after reading the passage, ask “how does this point me toward loving God more?  loving others more?  loving myself more?”  

7. i know this is a stretch and it can definitely go either way, but for some it might help to imagine reading it for the very first time, before you knew anything or heard anything from a pastor or studied it inductively or…

8. read a psalm and then write one yourself.  this are some prompts that can guide us:

God, i am feeling really…
right now,  life is…
i long for you to…
i am wondering why..
i am trying to remember that…
i am thankful for…

9. read the passage as if it were being read to a community of people, not just you.  rachel held evans had a good post last week that addresses this & we talk about this a lot at the refuge, how the scriptures are communal.  what does it call us to together?

10. try just the red letters, the words of Jesus (remembering that he says some pretty tricky and confusing stuff in there, too).

a few words of warning:

let go of expecting God to show up in the ways we were used to. some of the spiritual high i used to experience is truly gone.  it’s not that i don’t hear from God or feel my heart stir or feel conviction in a powerful way, but i have come to respect that some of the “high” i used to experience is nowhere to be found.  it’s been so helpful (and tricky) to accept that that season is gone for me and had it’s place in my spiritual story.  now the question is how can i feel connected to God in new ways.

find the good.  any little stirring, any little bit of hope, any open door is a lovely gift.

be gentle with yourself (and maybe God, too).  be careful of leaning into shame or “i-shouldn’t-feel-this-way-something’s-wrong-with-me” and trust that healing this allergy takes a long time.

remember it’s okay to find what worksat least for now.

i’d love to hear your thoughts on this and what you’d add to this list!

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

34 Comments

  • This is so great Kathy. I have been so allergic to reading the Bible for a while now and have tried a couple these things. My favorite I think is the lectio divina. Or just “simmering” on on verse or paragraph for a good long time. Meaning every time I do read (not every day – sometimes not every week), I read that same thing until it seems like there might be something else to read for a time. The horrid nasty shaming self talk that pops up makes it a real challenge for me to do anything routine at all. I guess I find myself asking God to help kindly “trick” myself into being able to focus on any one passage for long. 🙂 Or else help me sit and be kind to myself about NOT doing it at all or doing it very little. Some of these suggested here I might like to try…some for me still make me want to break out in a rash. 🙂 So I’ll steer clear of those for now. Love your kind and gentle tone on this issue.

    Reply
    • yes, steer clear of rash-provoking ones for sure 🙂 i know exactly what you mean! thanks for sharing, it really helps me more than you know to know i’m not crazy or alone in these feelings.

      Reply
  • I tried all kinds of tricks to help me with Bible PTSD (literally, nausea, migraine, sweaty palms, muscle spasms) even after years of leaving the Bible on the shelf. I tried different versions, only bite-sized chunks, little devotional books. It all failed.

    What did work better was reading Bible passages from non-Christian sources: like Jewish Torah and Sufi versions of parables. Also The Scholar’s Version (Gospels and they have the Letter of Paul), and an obscure Greek language scholar who translated the Gospels. There is also The Poems of Jesus, which is kinda like reading the red letters but in a format that feels like a book instead of Bible. I did that for several years.

    After that, I found that I could listen to audio-versions of the bible without gagging or my head spinning. I have several bible apps on my iPhone and each one can be set to audio. I figured out this trick from listening to the Jesuit’s podcast Pray-as-You-Go, a lovely little daily meditation with a reading and Taize-style music.

    Reply
    • that is the right word, bible PTSD! i am going to check some of these out, especially the sufi version of the parables & the poems of Jesus. hadn’t heard of those and sounds lovely. thank you.

      Reply
  • Love how it seems like you are always in my head!

    One thing I have added that has been so helpful is The Reader’s Digest Bible. I have both the original version and the illustrated version — which is stunning. Out of print but available from Amazon.

    Best thing is it makes it a snap to read an entire book in one sitting. It also has been the only way some folks could read through the entire Bible. No chapter divisions. No verse numbers. No section headings. And the condensed form means that many ancient Hebrew literary devices that are bewildering to us — and their repetitions — are gone. But the thread of the story is unbroken.

    I’m figuring y’all won’t get all up in my face about daring to parse the words of the Scriptures … been there tons of times before.

    Over at my blog, I have talked about this — and my cHesed glasses I use for seeing from a different perspective. I have done so much changing in the past three years, I may have to revisit a lot of what I’ve said….

    Blessings!

    Reply
  • Thanks, Kathy. You are always so wise and encouraging to all of us that are struggling. For the past several years, all I have been able to see when I pick up my Bible are condemning, point-the-finger passages. I used to be someone who LOVED the Bible and every passage spoke to me personally, But I am struggling with that now. So, for now, I read Jesus Calling – I feel His words comforting me and telling me that He really does love me and wants to have a relationship with me. And I try to take little bites of the Bible and find passages that I know have spoken to me in the past. And, like you, I don’t always hear from God the way I used to. But I have to hold firm to the thought that He does still love me (no matter what) – even when I can’t feel or experience that love from Him.

    Reply
    • thanks for sharing, denise. i am glad you are finding little bites of food that sustain a little. i, too, try to hold firm to that thought no matter what. i try to think of the love that i have for my kids and how in my limited humanness how deeply i love them no matter what, no matter what, no matter what.

      Reply
    • Thank you Denise for sharing this comment – it is exactly how I feel about reading the BIble. I used to be passionate about the BIble and loved it’s complexity and messages, but like you about 3 yrs ago I couldn’t pick it up without it condemning me – to the point that I had mild PTSD with reading it and also attending church.

      Reply
  • Thank you so much Kathy…I haven’t dug into the Word since my mom has been diagnosed with cancer. Hoping to get back into it soon because I know the harshest part is yet to come.

    Reply
  • So many have tried to make the Bible more than it is, and something it is not. How often have we been told that “the Bible says….”, based on some English translation, with no language or cultural context, followed by using that same passage to bash someone over the head? I’ve heard “the Bible says….” followed by the most outrageous stuff that the Bible does not say.

    The Bible in the hand of someone bent on proving that others are “less than” can easily become a WMD, rather than a report of the God who loves us and desires fellowship with us.

    Reply
    • that is one of my crazy-making phrases, along with “God says…” i wish people would just be honest and say “i think the bible says, or i believe the bible says, or my interpretation of the bible is…” it would help so much!

      Reply
  • I love this!

    What I will share is that I am studing a Masters in Biblical Interpretation at the moment. So it’s pretty much compulsory that i get into the bible whether I am enjoying ti or if, indeed i am having an “allergic reaction” to it!

    What I am looking at is arguning a case for the use of humour in terms of interpreting what Jesus said and did and usinvg it as a valid way of biblical interpretation to compliment other appraches. when the external examiner saw my proposal about this, he wrote in response – I love it!

    I get to combine a hobby of mine with stand up comedy and humour in the bible. One of my colleauges at college is looking into the idea of comedians being the modern day prophets.

    I feel i have found my littel place of belonging in the universe and God being with me in all of this. These littel encouragements keep me going in the hard work and endurcen it takes to do the study for the masters, a lonely pursuit for the vast majority of the time.

    I hope for others to find similar fulfillment. Everyone has gifs and abilities – sometimes all they need is someone to show them that that have them and to belive in them for their light to shine.

    I think this world could use a littel more light, don’t you?

    Reply
  • I struggle with this, and have for more than three years. I want to read it, but don’t ever get far. Two things that have worked: 1) finding a group (no this isn’t easy, and I don’t know of any right now) to discuss 10-15 verses a day with and 2) watching the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Matthew DVDs. All narration and everything the actors say is straight from the Bible. A person can even read along. The One Minute Bible series also helps some, though I haven’t kept up with it like I’d hoped. Part of my difficulty at this point is that I didn’t read for so long that now I think of it as a “discipline” or “habit” to pick back up, and that’s the last thing I want it to be. So the minute I think of it like that I back off, then a few months later try again… vicious cycle. I used to love Bible reading, too.

    Reply
    • thanks, mary. i know that feeling so well, where i’m like “okay, i want to really ‘try’ in a more disciplined way” and then that feeling that comes in when i don’t or just doing it because i feel like i am supposed to and that isn’t the idea. thanks for sharing what has been helpful to you, always great to hear different possibilities.

      Reply
  • oooh, I really really like this. Especially #6 and #8. I like it a lot, because of how much yucky stuff has truly gotten in the way between verses being comforting. I so remember intro to bibilical interpretation in seminary, and dissecting the crap out of every verse. It was very clear that there was a “right” way to interpret scripture. It was the beginning of the pinhole in the hotair balloon of my fondness of the bible.
    Then things happened, and the bible was turned into a threat of a grenade that was thrown any time one would even think of getting out of line. Honestly? I have been reduced to not even knowing what version to read anymore…It is at that point. In seminary, the main bible teacher made it very clear that nothing was acceptable other than the NASB version. I tried the message for years, but it felt like…..it didn’t fit right for me anymore? I am open to suggestions, as I do want allergy medicine, haha. In the meantinme, I think there may be a Psalm Stacy or two coming from me this month. 🙂

    Reply
  • Thanks Kathy for all.. especially #8 . I didn’t sleep much the other night and the next day told my boss ‘you’re looking at a supernatural woman, cause the only way I’m getting through this day is with God in me’ I remembered Carole King’s song ‘Natural Woman’ and just added an extra word to remember God’s presence 🙂 I love God’s word but sometimes there are just the right words out there inspired by God that help sooo much ….

    “Looking out on the morning rain
    I used to feel uninspired
    And when I knew I had to face another day
    Lord, it made me feel so tired
    Before the day I met you, life was so unkind
    But your love was the key to peace of mind
    Cause you make me feel, you make me feel,
    You make me feel like a super natural woman
    When my soul was in the lost-and-found
    You came along to claim it
    I didn’t know just what was wrong with me
    Till your kiss helped me name it
    Now I’m no longer doubtful of what I’m living for
    And if I make you happy I don’t need to do more
    Cause you make me feel, you make me feel,
    You make me feel like a super natural woman
    Oh, Lord, what you’ve done to me
    You make me feel so good inside
    And I just want to be close to you
    You make me feel so alive
    Cause you make me feel, you make me feel,
    You make me feel like a super natural woman”

    Reply
  • Thanks, Kathy, for the grace that makes it ok not to have to interact with the Bible to have a relationship with God. You know that I grew up in the sort of place where a Bible allergy was unacceptable. It was the duty of all good Christians to study, every day, no excuses (good luck with that amidst 4 small kids, small business, my own shifting faith and a host of messy friends 🙂 and I have to admit that it took awhile for God to peel away my own judgement of folks who found themselves unable to connect with God in this way. I have since come to understand that being Jesus with skin on to the people in my circle is of much greater value than forced interaction with words that are often hard to grasp. From there I have often found that interecting with God’s promises have the most meaning as they tend to really be relevant in the here and now. My other personal favorite is studying God’s names as being able to call on Him by name reminds me that this is really a relationship, with a real God, who really shows up in my life. Jehovah Shammah-God is here. Love ya!
    P.S. I liked your explanation of #3. Sounds like a great new way for my type A nerdiness to find a little freedom.

    Reply
    • thanks for sharing and i am so glad i know you! i love this line: “i have since come to understand that being Jesus with skin on to the people in my circle is of much greater value than forced interaction with words that are often hard to grasp.” loveliness.

      Reply
  • i swear, i am so bad with numbers 🙂 thanks for letting me know and oh well, i’ll just keep it like it is since 11 sounds lame. thanks for sharing and love hearing how in all different cultures that the scriptures can come to life just be reading them and giving people a chance to reflect on them instead of us telling people how they should feel about them. the course sounds interesting. i hope that our paths cross in real life one of these days. i saw linsey and kevin recently.

    Reply
  • Pingback: Stuff I’ve Been Reading
  • Pingback: this message will self-destruct in… | lifeinthedport
  • I’m reading your words for the second time in two days and I just wanna scream “WHERE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?!” Kathy, this is SO timely, you don’t even know. I am passing it along to others who have confessed a similar allergy …

    Bless you for writing it.

    Reply
  • by the looks of the dates on the comments this is an older blog. having said that i was scrolling down my fb page and came across this today. it rings true for me today. i remember when the words of jesus were used to condemn rather than encourage and that’s why i’ve had difficulty. my bible has just sat in a drawer yet my relationship with jesus has never been better. i was taught that in order to feel close to god and be a ‘good christian’ there were rules i had to keep. i have since realised neither of this is true. thanks for sharing kathy

    Reply
    • I am amazed to understand that you feel this way! I know that I have felt this way for at least 3 yrs and feel fear and a PTSD-like response when I read anything “heavy” or “condemnatory” in it. I have a similar response when I try to go to church and anything “heavy” is preached from the Word. Denise’s comments below really rang true for me too.

      Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *