When my daughter Avery turned ten, we began a journey that lasted a little over a year where we endeavored to read through the whole Bible together. We got up early, using a Bible reading plan we developed, and spent about an hour a day reading the selected chapters, discussing and praying together. We made the agreement that if we did this together, we’d take a trip to Israel, just the two of us, and go explore the places and the stories we’d just read about.
Needless to say…it was a wild ride that didn’t go exactly as i’d planned! (BTW: A special shoutout to my friends Jon Tyson and JR Briggs, who each had unique contributions in starting and shaping this journey.)
If you’re reading this, I think there’s a high likelihood that, like me, you believe in the centrality of the Word of God and have daily engagement rhythms that are built around that principle. Knowing that, I’d like to share 5 lessons that I learned over the course of Avery and I’s year together.
Lesson #1: I had to adjust my idealized picture of what this was going to be like.
Look. I’m a man who likes a plan and I had a very specific plan going into this year and a very specific feel for what this was going to be like. I could envision the breakthrough she was going to experience, the discussions we’d have and all of the ways she’d grow closer to the Lord as a result of this.
About three weeks into the process, I had to pivot. What I was trying to do was use my own process for reading the Bible and prayer and apprentice her in that…while doing my best to make allowances for the fact that she was ten years old and I’m…well…I’m older than that.
But truth be told, that age gap was significant and we are very different in temperament and personality. So I flexed the plan, but if I’m honest, that was difficult for me. I had a very specific idea in my mind of what was going to happen, how things would unfold and what her response would be. But as I saw the young woman in front of me who God has entrusted to us, it was most important that it was built around where she was at and what Jesus was doing in her. While that felt a little bit like a death, it felt incredibly necessary. Bonhoeffer talks about how the idea of Christian community can often kill the reality of Christian community. That was definitely going on here.
One addition we made was using The Bible Project videos as both a teaching tool and a carrot. She LOVED those videos. So she knew that when we finished a book, we’d be watching a recap of what we just read, and we’d get to watch the recap of a book that we were starting to read. It really motivated her and gave her life. I really can’t recommend this more highly for both kids and adults!
Lesson #2: The Discussion is where it’s at.
Of course we know this…but do we know this? I’ve been doing my own individual daily rhythms with the Bible and prayer for such a long time, it can be difficult to remember that the Bible started as a communal document that was read out loud and then people would immediately engage. Only a few hundred years ago did people start having Bibles in their homes.
I was struck again how potent and powerful it is to discuss what we’re reading. Our normal progression was to have discussion around three central questions: 1) What does the text say? 2) What is the Spirit stirring in me? 3) What am I taking away for the day?
Doing this out loud and not just in silent prayer or in a journal for a whole year was different. And quite refreshing.
Lesson #3: The win was the consistent rhythm, not just the content.
Over time, breakthrough can work a little bit like interest in that it compounds over time. Another way of thinking about it is what Eugene Peterson says; it’s a “long obedience in the same direction” that ultimately brings about spiritual transformation.
I was struck by how often our prayer times returned to questions around the Fruit of the Spirit…where we were seeing God at work and where it felt like we were stuck. (I’ll readily admit that when things didn’t go like I wanted them to, the fruit of patience was regularly lacking.) The consistent rhythm of responding to the Spirit, praying, and then almost asking, “How did it go yesterday?” was a major key for us as the months rolled on.
Lesson #4: The Bible is hard. It’s especially hard for girls.
There’s a sociological principle called The Curse of Knowledge that says once you know something, it’s hard to un-know it. If I didn’t wholeheartedly believe that to begin with, I definitely do now.
I grew up in a house that read the Bible and talked about the Bible all the time. So many of the stories and passages are things that have been in me for decades. I’m so familiar with them that the prospect of reading for the first time can make them become unfamiliar.
But let’s be real: There are some CRAZY stories in there and having a lens to understand those stories is really important. Case in point — The first book of the Bible (just a few pages in!) has stories about genocide, mass slaughter and some really difficult stories about rape. I mean…if you haven’t had the “sex talk” with your kids yet, it’s going to come up. The Bible is grisly, earthy and gives a full picture of the darkness of humanity.
And that is particularly true if you’re a girl. The number of questions and discussions we had around what was happening with women in the Bible never waned over the year together. Some of these discussions were quite powerful, and some of these discussions were quite frustrating. But it renewed my perspective that the Bible gives a full picture of the human condition (which is why the Gospel is such good news), but that if you want people to read the Bible, you better have a legit hermeneutic that can handle the scrutiny. (PS: My daughter never stops asking questions, and if I wasn’t giving a good enough answer, she kept pushing and pushing. I really like that about her.)
Read the Bible with a ten year old girl for a year who’s going through its entirety for the first time and you’re going to get a front row seat to how the rest of the world is skeptically looking at the Bible and Christians. This isn’t a sign of unhealth, but of legitimately wrestling with the text.
Lesson #5: It was totally worth it.
My daughter grew in her relationship with the Lord, we made deposits in her life that will last for decades and it grew our relationship in some really deep, beautiful and unexpected ways. I learned so much from this year together. As a father, as a lover of the Bible, as someone discipling other people. And there are so many things I’d probably do different if I could.
But you know what? I’ve got two more kids who will someday turn ten. And I’ll be doing it again for each of them.