By JENN WALDEN – It was borderline compulsion.
Flipping the pages of a well-worn Bible from my youth, I found it full of handwritten notes and dozens of passages colorfully highlighted. This precious book chronicled a portion of my faith journey, all before journaling Bibles were a thing.
I reached my first destination, ripping out the page. Then, more flipping. More ripping. I was on a personal journey so important, it required literal, almost gut-wrenching, action. I’m sure it looked like I was desecrating the most sacred Book in my life.
I’m still not willing to say this was a good idea, but I dove into an afternoon of plastering pages of my childhood bible with Mod Podge and adhering them to particle board at my kitchen table. I was determined. And by the end of my project, I was sticky, too.
When I was done my family praised my work. Even my 9- and 11-year-old sons chimed in on what a great job mom had done crafting with glue and paper.
I felt rebellious, radical and fulfilled, all at the same time. This was a mission of mayhem, accomplished. My afternoon of demolition and reconstruction was not about a disdain for the Scripture, it was quite the opposite.
I spent years studying the Bible. From the time of my childhood, I dedicated hours to understanding its mysteries and theology. But in what seemed to be a flash, I realized all my knowledge had left me wanting. I was undone and I didn’t even know it.
My spiritual wardrobe largely consisted of draping myself in the Bible and “truth.” I wore these two accessories through many seasons with extreme diligence. In other seasons, I would leave them on the floor of my closet, barely noticing their existence.
I thought faithfulness to God was somehow defined by proudly wearing these accessories. When necessary, I put them on display to let others know of my spiritual prowess and–should I say this?–superiority.
So there I was, dashing through pages. But instead of diving for more “truth” or knowledge, I was searching for phrases like, “God so loved,” “love your neighbor as yourself”, “love others as I have loved you”, and “without love- I am nothing.” In an Aha! moment, I realized all my theology, my knowledge, and words and words and words could never compete with one simple truth — Love.
I was left with the sobering idea that even the pages of my Bible and its many notes could not replace my calling to the simple mission of Loving God and Loving my neighbor as myself.
With tears, I ripped out the pages where love was boldly calling to me. It was a mix of sadness in seeing long-held traditions slip through my fingers, regret that I didn’t realize my mission sooner, and deep gratitude for being freed to wear love.
A new determination gripped me, a desire to say before God, “Never again will I think that love means I can be unkind.” For far too long, in my self-important world, people were dismissed in the name of “truth.”
On the makeshift desk in my closet sits my artwork, the pages of one of my childhood Bibles, glued together to form one word: “Love.” This work of elementary art is my visual shout out, “Hey girl, you’d better learn to love or else you’re nothing”.
No amount of Bible knowledge, deep theology, religious tradition, or cross-adorned buildings can replace love. In the end I realize any response to my fellow person begins with a foundation and motivation to express love, not knowledge.
If God so loved the world, our path to His heart is clear. It is love–of course–which moved a Father to send His only begotten Son. In Jesus, I am free both to love and be loved. It is the highest and hardest calling of my life.
The treasure my childhood heart sought out–to know God more deeply–is rooted in love.
I’m still on this journey to love. It probably never ends. But on this new path, my prayer is that I’ve left behind the thought that mere knowledge of the Bible somehow places me higher than another in my deep desire to know God and experience His love. And, I hope I never again see “truth” as a license to withhold love and disregard people.
I’m not sure what my next deco project might be. I doubt it will involve tearing pages out of an old Bible. But I do hope, whatever it is, that it only expands my strength to love those around me–and to reach out, in love, to those I’m yet to meet.