The conversation happened 20+ years ago, but I found its echoes in my head this week.
Newly saved at 16, I started reading my Bible before bed. A sermon had encouraged me to start pouring over God’s word. I even wrote up my own personal reading plan.
Enter Trudie: she was a long time member of the church I attended and although she was sweet, she had a lot in common with The Church Lady from Saturday Night Live – a woman who was quite legalistic in her faith; nuance was not welcomed. She once called me out on reading the Word and I told her of my reading plan.
Her face fell. “Reading the Bible before bed? Oh no, honey, you should get up at 0500 and spend an hour with the Lord while the world is quiet. Your day will start off right and you’ll be able to have a much better day if you start it with Him. I do it every morning.”
My face fell. 0500? Gah, I could barely peel myself out of bed at 0620 for school some days. As a night owl, I was far from a morning person. It struck me that my Bible was many things, but a good luck charm or an insurance policy against life happening it was not. I wasn’t reading to ensure my day would be smooth sailing – I was reading to learn all I could about the character of God.
Group think never worked on me so I considered her words, shrugged, and kept reading before bed. Thankfully, she never followed up.
Lore Ferguson Wilbert once spoke about descriptive and prescriptive practices and it got lodged in my head – I often think through this lens when talking to others about my personal experiences.
Descriptive describes – such as Trudie’s 0500 Bible study and my pre-bed Bible study – your experience. A witness, if you will. There is nothing wrong with descriptive practices. It is a testament to where you are in your walk. Whether you read your Bible in the dead of night or at the crack of dawn or in the afternoon is neither right nor wrong – it just is – your experience is your own.
The danger comes in prescriptive experiences: I use my experience to tell others they need to do the same – perhaps so they will be holy like me; an extra-biblical layer. Trudie could have kindly shared her experience: “I read my Bible at 0500, spending an hour with the Lord, and it has enriched my life so much.” What a testament! Praise God for that! Insisting that someone else do what you’re doing because it works for you doesn’t mean its the right thing for the other person to do. Trudie was not more holier or closer to God just because she read her Bible before her day started.
I’ve made an effort not to project my experiences on others. I will of course share where I am or what I’m doing, but now I add, “This is what works for me.” And who knows, maybe someone will see that and think, “I need to try that!” or “Yikes on bikes, I would never do that, but good for her!” I would never insist that someone needs to do things the exact way I do them. Everyone is at different points in life, their walk with Christ, or has unique circumstances in a particular season (that I may have no idea about!).
What really stung, looking back now, was she missed an opportunity to encourage a new sister in Christ. Here I was, from a non-Christian home, a public high school student who was reading and learning the Bible on my own volition. School wasn’t forcing Scripture on me, my parents certainly weren’t encouraging it (they would have been much happier if I left all this church stuff alone): I had met Jesus and wanted more. I sought after Him. A woman as mature in her faith as Trudie, should have grabbed me by my shoulders and said, “That is wonderful and I am so encouraged that you are taking the time to rest in God’s Word. This routine you have going? Keep it up. It might change through the years, but make a habit of reading your Bible. A set time each day really helps. The Lord is going to use Scripture to pour into your life. It’s going to be a crazy road, but He is faithful.”
It’d have been even better if she could have continued the conversation: “What book are you currently reading? What are your thoughts on that? Here’s what I learned when I read that passage….”
But instead, she shut me down because I didn’t have the same routine as she did.
This all rolled through my head, as I’ve committed to reading the book of Isaiah contemplatively until next spring. With my recent schedule change, my Bible reading has been less than regular. I thought back to days when I was consistent with reading and decided to fall back on those practices.
I’ve started reading before bed again.
And you know what? I’m consistently in the Word.