Recovery Room: The Bible as an Instrument of Self-Harm

In Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, I explore how theology or Scripture can serve as its own sort of addiction, how we might use either to numb or soothe pain without communing with God. Even good things can play tricks on us; yes?  Today, Heather Caliri explores the flip side of that coin. What happens when we use Scripture as a weapon against ourselves, when we use it as a torture tool that causes pain? Do you know this bag of tricks, this way of using Scripture for shame instead of freedom?

This is, perhaps, one of the most honest pieces that's been submitted to the Recovery Room. Please take the time to read it, and then visit Heather's website at heathercaliri.com.

***

The stack of books glared at me from my nightstand. Nearly 2 p.m., time to go to class, and yet I hadn’t picked up my Bible that day.

Lazy, I said to myself. When will you start making God’s Word a priority?

I sighed. If I hurried, I could get in fifteen minutes.

Cross-legged on my single bed, I set my notebook in my lap, and my Bible and quiet time idea book by my knees on the mattress.

Hosea again. I glanced at the Bible study prompts. Another two days, and I’d be done, finally.

I read: Do not rejoice, O Israel; do not be jubilant like the other nations. For you have been unfaithful to your God; you love the wages of a prostitute.

Oh, God.

I was so tired of verses about unfaithful prostitutes. Sure, I knew I was unfaithful to God—just look at my laziness this morning. I was sure the verses were talking about me. I was the unfaithful prostitute. I was the ugly sinner.

But I was desperate to read something else.

I sighed. Surely even this wish showed my unfaithfulness.

I forced myself to keep reading. I forced myself to see myself in the Bible’s harshest words that day, just like I’d done the day before, and the day before that.

I thought this was what God expected of me.

***

Twenty years later, I came across that notebook in a box in my garage. I’d saved it through a dozen moves, but had never looked inside. I’d never been brave enough.

It didn’t look very scary: an unlined drawing notebook, a magazine photo of a sunset taped to the front, with a verse from the Psalms layered over it: Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desire of your heart.

I wondered, with a quickened heartbeat, if I was ready to read it.

No time like the present, I thought, and opened the cover, bracing myself as if it concealed shards of glass.

I squinted at pages crowded with the tiniest cursive. The tiny, smashed-together words shouted out the desire of my heart back then: a desire to do more, be more.

I had longed for God’s word to set me free. I had hoped it would fix me, scrub my insides, and cleanse me.

And don’t get me wrong—I believe God’s Word can do those things. It is a transformative book; reading its words can bring life.

But it’s also described as a double-edged sword, isn’t it?

What I realized, re-reading that notebook, is that I had used God’s powerful Word to cut myself.

I sat down on the floor of my garage, reading entries filled with shame instead of God’s grace. I was astonished at how my self-loathing shone through each page.

I’d always identified with the worst character in each prophecy, always assuming I was the evildoer, the harlot, the beast. In my naiveté about the Bible, I’d missed that the prophets were almost always speaking to communities, not individuals, the powerful, not the broken-hearted.

I missed that things others had done to me—abuse, trauma, loss—were crying out for justice. I missed that God preached freedom for me, not condemnation.

In page after page, laser-focused on my own shortcomings, I had missed God’s relentless, overwhelming grace. Instead, I had taken His powerful Word and used it as a weapon to punish myself. [tweetherder text="I am recovering from using the Bible as a weapon of punishment. @HeatherCaliri #RecoveryRoom"]I am still recovering from reading the Bible that way.[/tweetherder]

After college, long after I finished reading the book of Hosea, I stopped reading the Bible altogether, my heart a despairing, cooling cinder. I loved God, but I couldn’t keep going.

Ever since then, I’ve struggled to pick it up the Bible at all. Every time I did, I’d be met by waves of anxiety.

This baffled me. Why couldn’t I read it like everyone else could?

Now, on the floor of my garage, I realized why. My heart was crying out: No more.

For me, recovery from self-harm means affirming that though God’s Word is good, it is also powerful. It means letting go of the idea that I have to read it every day to be a “good Christian.” It means changing how I read it, and finding other ways to connect to God. It means putting my soul’s safety over any to-do list.

But most of all, it means paying attention to how my time with God feels—whether I anticipate Him, or dread Him. It means listening to what my heart has to say about my faith.

It means trusting the verse I ignored so many years before: that while delighting in God, my heart will find its deepest desires.

***

Heather Caliri is writes at HeatherCaliri.com. You can find her on Twitter @HeatherCaliri. Follow along with her work. You won't regret it.

 

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Recovery Room: The Two Fasts

Welcome to the Recovery Room. Here, we'll discuss the things that supplant inner sobriety, and connectedness to an abiding God. Couldn’t we all use a little recovery from something? 

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Each Sunday evening, our small church gathers under the warehouse roof. There, we share a meal, laugh, and pray through an evening service that includes a short teaching (or "homily," as some of you might like to call it). This Sunday evening, I had the privilege of teaching on fasting and its relation to my personal recovery from alcohol addiction. Today, I'd like to share it with you.

Imagine yourself there, in that quiet candlelit space. Imagine yourself filled with grand food, good community, and great joy. Imagine yourself sitting with friends in a warehouse. And listen.

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In the most recent Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I'm discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. If you sign up today, you'll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song "Train Wreck." It's a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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And the Winners Are... (The Lectio Divina Journal Results)

I've been practicing the slower, more restful reading of scripture. For those of you who've followed along over the last week, you know I'm writing specifically of the practice of lectio divina. Last week, I introduced you to the Lectio Divina Journal, a tool to help with the focused practice of listening to scripture. At the end of the post, I offered a chance for a few lucky readers to get their own copies of the journals, and today is the day of reckoning! AND THE WINNERS ARE (drum roll implied): Kris Camealy; Micah Smith; RJ.

The winners were chosen by way of an internet randomizer, which is to say that my personal preferences or biases played no part in the above selections. So to Kris, Micah, and RJ, I say a hearty CONGRATULATIONS!

For those of you still interested in the Lectio Divina Journal, may I suggest clicking lectiodivinajournal.com for more information on receiving your own copy? The more I use this journal, the more convinced I am that it is the perfect tool for individual, family, or group devotion.

Thanks to all those who entered. I'll be doing more giveaways over the course of the year. Check back in from time to time.

But while you're here, would you visit the comments below and answer this question: what are the biggest hangups in your spiritual devotional practices, and what are you doing to overcome them?

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The Death of Protestant Work Ethic (A Lectio Divina Journal Giveaway)

We are a doing people. Aren't we? I'm not sure when I took to the notion that the quantity of my spiritual striving mattered more than the quality of my spiritual rest, but somewhere along the way, I did. The ethos of doing, doing, always doing, took root in my life, and those roots stretched deep. Serve more; pray more; feed more people; lead more worship; start another study group; read the Bible; read the Bible; for the love of God read the Bible--mine was a practice of devotion by action and performance, by tugging up on the bootstraps, by ever-employing that good old protestant work ethic.

Ah, the Protestant Work Ethic.

According to our good friends at Wikipedia, the Protestant Work Ethic "is a concept in theology, sociology,economics, and history which emphasizes hard work, frugality and diligence as a constant display of a person's salvation in the Christian faith...." It is an undergirding construct, often implied but less often spoken, and it finds its application in both vocation and spiritual discipline. Simply put, protestant Christians work out their salvation with fear and trembling; they don't get so mucked up in the rites, ceremonies, and sacraments of our more liturgical brothers and sisters. Right?

Do you wonder whether the protestant work ethic has influenced your Christianity? Ask yourself--do you recall the days of scripture memory quizzes, Bible drills, and reading challenges. I do. Conversely, do remember times of silent listening, of slow and contemplative scripture reading, of meditation on the Psalms? I'll be honest. I don't. And all this pragmatic working out of my faith, the do-do-do and more-more-more of my southern protestant Christianity, made for a pretty haggard soul.

So much for finding. (Matt. 11:28-30)

*****

In the early days of my sobriety, a good and right therapist challenged me to sit in the silence with God, to cease striving and begin listening. The practice was simple, he said. Ask God to speak, sit in the silence, and then consider his voice. In my first attempts, the anxieties of the day came to roost, cacophony of crows as they were. These anxieties were too much, and they drowned out the Spirit's voice. Needing a way to silence the noise, I turned to scripture as a way to anchor my thoughts. I didn't come to the Bible in the way I'd been taught growing up, though. I didn't blast through three chapters of my Bible-in-a-Year chart hoping a that some verse would leap off the page and come to the rescue. Instead, I took a more restful approach.

I began my time by sitting in my high-backed chair after the children had gone to bed. After a few moments of silence, of allowing the anxieties to shriek from the edges, I opened my Bible, picked a small passage of scripture, and read. I read the verses twice, perhaps a third time. I prayed, asking God to still my mind and speak to me through the words and phrases of the passage, and then I sat in the silence and waited. And using the scripture as an anchor, I found an amazing thing--the anxieties of the day seemed to retreat. Mind quieted, only the scripture spoke.

This was my first encounter with a smaller, quieter, more restful sort of scripture reading. This was my first real encounter with lectio divina.

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The term lectio divina is a horned-rimmed, blazer-wearing, three-dollar phrase meaning "divine reading." The practice traces its roots back to primitive Christianity. As stated by Greg Russinger and Lisa Kelly in the Lectio Divina Journal,

"lectio divina comes to us from the earliest days of the church; in the third century Origen used the Greek phrase thea anagnosis (divine reading) to describe a way of approaching Scripture for the purpose of finding a personal message for God. This practice became more wide spread when the desert fathers and mothers made the Word of God the basis for their prayer lives, and shortly after this Saint Benedict made the practice of lectio divina central to Western monasticism."

Lectio divina is not just a historical practice of the church, though. Instead, it's a way of contemplative scripture reading still used by Christians today. How does it work? I'm glad you asked.

Though the practice of lectio divina could be parsed in different ways, Russinger and Kelly suggest the essential elements are 1) the reading of the text, 2) reflection on the text, 3) responding to the text, 4) resting in the text, and 5) journaling the text. The goal of the practice is less about the do, do, do of the reading (though there is some practical element of effort expended) and more about resting in the text. This being the case, the portions of scripture contemplated are much smaller, and greater time is spent in quiet (or silent) contemplation asking God to speak through the scripture. The practice of lectio divina is the practice of hearing the still, small voice of God in an unhurried, unburdened sort of way.

*****

Be honest--does the prospect of reading the bible in a year or memorizing another chapter of scripture induce a panic attack? Could you stand to read less but receive more? If you answered yes to either of these questions, or if you're generally burned out on the whole protestant work ethic thing, then lectio divina might be right for you. But be forewarned--if you've never read scripture this way, prepare yourself for the shattering of your protestant work ethic. This isn't the kind of scripture reading that will result in a large number of memorization note cards, or in honing your Bible sword-drill skills. And because we live in a world of constant information stimulus, prepare yourself, too, for the difficulty of quieting your mind enough to rest in the scriptures. (This is a particular struggle of mine.)

If you'd like a tool to help you get started, though, I have just the one. Consider this Lectio Divina Journal created by my friends Greg Russinger and Lisa Kelly. The journal leads the reader into a day-by-day contemplation of certain scripture passages, and gives ample space to journal your thoughts. (Follow this link for a few sample pages.) It's a great tool for the beginner and experienced practitioner alike, a tool I hope to use throughout the year.

Over the next week, I'm giving away 3 copies of the Lectio Divina Journal. How can you win one of the copies? Just drop a comment below and tell me why you'd like to be entered into the drawing. I'll throw your name in the hat. (All winners will be randomly selected.) And for those of you who'd rather not wait, you can order your Lectio Divina Journal here.

This year, would you consider resting in the scripture with me? Would you consider practicing lectio divina? Come along, and find rest.

*****

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