Friday, August 19, 2016

Why Can't I Read The Bible?

A couple of years ago, I was visiting with an elder at church and confessed something I hadn’t told anyone: “I can’t read the Bible, not daily or even sometimes. When I read the Bible, I feel terrible. I can’t measure up to what I should be doing or who I should be as a Christian.”

“Really?” Jerry asked. “When I read the Bible I feel challenged. Challenged to do better or be better. Not judged or condemned.”

Jerry’s words stayed with me – challenged, not condemned. But I wasn’t sure how to move from feeling condemned to feeling challenged.

Now I can look back and see that depression, perfectionism and self-criticism made me feel condemned with a lot of help from the enemy. What better way to keep Christians from spreading the gospel?

Going through therapy and reading Brené Brown’s books helped immensely. Brené Brown helped me understand the difference between guilt and shame; something we don’t talk enough about in Christian circles, or any circles.

According to Brown, the major difference between guilt and shame is “guilt = I did something bad” and “shame = I am bad.” Guilt has the power to move a person to right action in line with their values while shame makes a person feel unworthy and worthless. I felt shame (not good enough, not perfect enough) when I read the Bible. I could never measure up, therefore, what was the point in reading it?

When shame becomes our default feeling, I believe depression sets in. In order to change, I had to recognize when I feel guilt and when I feel shame. That’s pretty hard when you move from guilt to shame in .5 seconds.

But I am learning that even when I am in shame, I can stop and look back at what put me into that feeling. If it is something I did or thought, I can see if it lines up with my values - my desire to be authentic, to have integrity and to live in real faith. If I can take a step back from shame, I can let guilt help me take responsibility, be accountable for my actions or my thoughts. Then I can take action.

When I struggle with shame, I am learning to practice what Brené Brown calls shame-resilience. Brown says, “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable… If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to the light was deadly to the gremlins (the movie), language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.” (Daring Greatly, p. 67)

Speaking to Jerry about the shame I felt when I read the Bible brought light to my shame. Christ’s light. He offered a different way to look at my shame – challenging instead of condemning. That is shame-resilience. I also practiced shame-resilience when I mentioned it to other people. Some said, “Yes, I know that feeling.” Or “I struggle with that, too.” Starting the Beneath The Dappled Sky blog was a form of shame-resilience for me. I have learned I am not alone. I am not the only one to struggle with depression and anxiety. And, I know I am not the only one to feel condemnation when reading the Bible as a Christian.

The phrase, “put to shame” is found in the New International Version of the Old  Testament 47 times, but only 5 times in the New Testament. Why? Romans 5:5 says, “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”  And Romans 10:11 says, “As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.’”

Speaking shame, trusting in the Lord, and being self-compassionate have made a huge difference in my life. Reading Sarah Young’s devotional, Jesus Calling, also helped me to move from perfectionism and thinking I had to be or do something to be a “good”Christian to resting in God and trusting Him in my relationship with Him.

Even in reading the Bible.


  1. Beautiful, Gayle. And as someone who often feels shame for suffering chronic pain, and for missing out on so much of life because of it, I've learned how it helps to admit it to someone who loves me. Someone who can look at me and say, "It's not your fault, and you're doing so well with what you carry." I hope I can share the same words and feeling with you. You inspire.

    1. Isn't it wonderful to have people in your life who we can trust with our shame and hurt? So glad you have those people in your life. I value those people in mine. Especially as I reach out and ask for support when I need it. You inspire me, too. Looking forward to reading your book.

  2. Very inspiring and beautifully written, Gayle! Thank you! I struggle reading God's Word too! I don't read it everyday, or every week. Just periodically. I have trouble comprehending what I read. I fight guilt sometimes because I am not in the Word like I should be. My devotions are from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young too! I love how she makes Jesus so personal to me and then the scriptures come alive in helping me grow. No guilt! No shame! Just grace!

    1. Thank you, Jan. I love another quote in the Brene Brown book. "Robert Hilliker says, 'Shame started as a two-person experience, but as I got older I learned to do shame all by myself.'" I think that is what happens with reading the Bible. As I've come to a new understanding, I read the Bible differently than I used to. And I give myself much more grace.