I Learned to Read the Bible Through Tears
I can scarcely read the story of Rachel and Leah without crying. Years ago, someone referred to me as a “Leah” — unloved, yet noble. “God blessed and honored Leah.” It was meant to make me feel better. It didn’t.
Leah was unwanted and even hated by her husband. She tried to earn his love by having children, hoping they would turn his heart towards her (Genesis 29:31–34). I wanted to be loved and wanted too — I understood Leah’s desire. In my mind, nothing could be better than a husband’s love. By the time Leah had her fourth son, however, she was less concerned with her husband’s love and more concerned with praising God. When she bore Judah she said, “This time I will praise the Lord” (Genesis 29:35). Leah saw that her worth was tied to God and not to her husband, Jacob.
Now, almost a decade later, I see what God did in my life when I was called Leah.
Better Than Any Love
I too had learned to depend on God for my worth; he was my husband (Isaiah 54:5–6). He told me I was beautiful (Isaiah 62:3), and that he delighted in me (Isaiah 62:4). He listened as I poured out my heart (Psalm 66:19) and assured me of his love and faithfulness (Psalm 36:5).
At first, I felt God’s love was not quite as good as having a husband who loved me. But sitting with God, day after day, I realized his love and attentiveness were not second best; they were better than the love of any man. Not having the love of a husband pushed me into depending on the love of God to sustain me. Since I had never had to depend on God for everything before, I had never expected him to be everything.
I thought of God primarily in relation to my past or my future. I was grateful that Christ died for my sins, happy that I had committed my life to him, and was looking forward to heaven where I would spend eternity with my Savior. I needed him in the present too, but my day-to-day relationship was frequently more theoretical than personal.
I Had to Read the Bible
I had spent years having quiet times, some of them fruitful, many of them just perfunctory. Sometimes, I read the Bible simply to check it off my list and then went on with my day. If a verse jumped out at me, that was great. But if not, it didn’t bother me; I had done my duty. I would close my Bible, satisfied that I’d done enough.
But on days when I felt desperate, I didn’t care about duty. I was dedicating time to be with God because I needed it — not because I had to. I approached my Bible reading with a different mindset, with expectation and anticipation, not a sense of obligation. I was trusting that God would give me something to sustain me; I needed God to feed me with his word (Deuteronomy 8:3). Without my earthly husband, I needed the Lord to step into his place.
So when I opened the Bible, I asked God to be my husband and friend, my teacher and my counselor. And just as importantly, I believed that he would. I viewed my reading as ordained by God for my good that day, so I paid close attention to what the Lord might be saying.
I would tell the Lord when I opened the Bible, “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” (Psalm 119:25). Because of that, I read with purpose. I didn’t read just to get through it. I read to learn (Psalm 25:5). To meet with God (Psalm 42:2). To find rest (Matthew 11:28). To experience joy (Psalm 16:11). To gain wisdom (2 Chronicles 1:7–10). To find comfort (Psalm 119:76). To see myself clearly and repent (Acts 3:19–20). To have peace (John 14:27). To understand spiritual truth (Proverbs 2:3–6). To get direction (Psalm 119:105). To find strength (Isaiah 41:10). To revive my soul (Psalm 119:107).
Treasures of Darkness
I had journaled what I learned from reading the Bible for years. A friend suggested that I first write out the Bible passage in red pen, and then use a black pen to write out my thoughts and prayers.
So, every day I sat with a poised red pen, waiting for God to illuminate a verse or passage. Sometimes the words jumped off the page, almost as if they were highlighted in neon. Other times, I wasn’t immediately sure what to take away. So, I would pray and ask God to open my mind to understand the Scripture (Luke 24:45). Then I would go back over the same passages, searching for wisdom and understanding.
It was then that I realized God really did have manna for me every day. The more I had to search, the sweeter the manna tasted, the deeper the words penetrated, and the more precious the truths became. I understood Jeremiah’s familiar words in a way that I never had before: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16).
I couldn’t imagine not spending time with God. It was my food. The famine Amos speaks of was unthinkable — a famine not of bread, “but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11). Feeding me his word was one of his many treasures for me in my darkness (Isaiah 45:3); my suffering made God’s word sweeter and more life-giving (Psalm 119:71). I didn’t need to fear famine.
Ask, Seek, Knock
I now use the Discipleship Journal Bible plan, reading in four places daily. When I’m not struggling, God doesn’t dangle the fruit as low. Or perhaps I just don’t search as diligently. Regardless, finding a passage to feed me every day is more challenging when I’m not starving.
Yet I still try not to leave my quiet time without finding at least one portion of Scripture to meditate on. It is in the looking and expecting that I find God. Jesus’s words have proven true: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7–8).
Those years of desperation, and that practice of expecting God to illuminate his word daily, transformed me. I have not approached Scripture the same way since. My tears at being Leah were at first tears of sadness, of feeling rejected and forsaken and unloved. But now in reading about Leah, I have tears of gratitude, remembering how God used my deepest pain to give me more of himself. To show me I am accepted and wanted and loved. To show me he will never leave me. And best of all, he shows me those things again every single day.