My grandmother’s frail hands slightly shook, uncontrolled, as they waivered over the opened Bible in front of her. She looked at me, then back to the text, and then back at me. I could see the frustration in her eyes: she was frustrated because she wanted to talk to me and ask me questions about the book, but she was also frustrated by the book itself. She pushed her weakened voice until a tiny sentence came out, ragged and quiet, “How do I read this?”
In her 95 years my grandma encountered the Bible many times – she had been to church for nearly all those years, had a close relationship with God, and fostered the love of her Creator in her children and grandchildren. Over the last few years of her life she occasionally admitted to me that she had struggled in reading and understanding the Bible and all it entailed. Her beliefs never waivered much, but she wrestled with comprehending the words she read.
In that moment as we sat together in the nursing home, I desperately wanted to say something profound and inspirational to her. I wanted to say something that would console her in her final weeks on this earth; I thought for a second and blurted out, “Keep doing what you’re doing. Read, ask questions, pray, re-read, pray, ask questions. And repeat that again and again.” I smiled and held her hand, but I knew my answer wasn’t entirely profound, and definitely not inspirational. I knew that my words frustrated her even more.
It was hard to guide my grandmother at that moment in how to read the Bible because she knew the Bible – she lived out its pages all her life as she fed the hungry and gave to the needy (Proverbs 31:20), raised a good family (Proverbs 31:28), encouraged her friends (Hebrews 10:25), talked with others about God (Mark 16:15), brought my grandpa utter joy and love (Proverbs 12:4), built a strong household (Proverbs 14:1), and tried to understand the Word (Proverbs 1:7). She wasn’t just a hearer of the word, but a doer (James 1:22).
My grandma sought after God and found what she was looking for in spite of her doubts, fears, and frustrations. She may have thought she wasn’t doing this Christianity thing right, but she was doing it exactly the way it should be done. She plowed forward and fought to find God so she could hear that still, small voice in the deserts of her life. She professed her love of God with her voice, with her smile, with her love for others. She understood the Bible more than she thought she did, and taught many others around her how to understand it as well.
Truthfully, I would do well to heed the same words I gave my grandma and act as she did because I, too, struggle to understand the Bible. Despite the classes I’ve taken in (and out) of seminary, I often feel that I don’t know much of anything, and I often wonder if I’m doing anything right. I suppose part of my struggle is that I want to do everything correctly and honor what I read before I put it into practice, but I’m putting it into practice and not perfection. I’m going to screw up, I’m going to make mistakes and errors (a lot – trust me, I will), but thankfully God gives me (and you, and my grandma) lots of leeway to try and figure it out as we go.
May we read, ask questions, pray, re-read, ask questions, pray, and re-read the word of God until we comprehend the tiniest of details, and may we act according to what we read, even if we don’t understand fully how to do it.
much love. sheth.