I grew up immersed in the protestant church (baptism pun fully intended). More to the point, I grew up in a cycle of attending Southern Baptist-Charismatic-Full Gospel-back to Southern Baptist-Quasi Pentecostal-Non-denominational protestant churches. My parents would change church ideologies with the ease some might change the box of baking soda in the fridge: it's been hanging around a while, it's probably stale, and so we need a new box. And while the varying styles of worship and teaching methods were about as different as humanly possible, throughout the children's ministries replete with Felt Board Jesus (TM) to the youth groups with Music Your Parents Won't Like (TM), there was one consistent resounding idea that clung like a tick to my heart through all these years:
Quiet Time (TM).
Alumni of church youth groups will probably feel this scenario resonate with them: you go off to camp/weekend retreat and you're given a notebook or floppy, thin book. It has a catchy title, pages illustrated with what appears to be Word clip art, and paragraphs or questions with blanks to fill in. Like a Highlights for Children magazine, but about Jesus. Your group leaders - adults and college students alike - share their seemingly endless stories about What You Need (TM) to grow in the Lord. And you're taught a pattern to emulate: go into a Quiet Place (TM), have your Quiet Time (TM), read the Bible, fill in the blanks, pray, and you're set for the day. Do this for 10-15 minutes every day, and you're basically taking a spiritual multivitamin that will shore you up against what ills you.
My description may sound a bit snarky, but the sincere idea behind it isn't: it's supposed to be a practice that will stick through adulthood, grounding and centering you on reading the Bible. The issue comes in that, with rare exception, this practice is presented as less a discipline to enjoy and more of a repetitive necessity you GOTTA do.
Like eating vegetables.
As a child/teenager, I choked down ridiculously small portions of green beans, black eyed peas, and other sundry foodstuffs that came from the ground because I was told it was good for me. And I was forbidden from leaving the table until I did. Honestly, I hated the taste of vegetables back then. They always felt bland (no matter how my parents or grandparents seasoned them), some had a texture that put me off, and I didn't get why eating them was important for me. Nor did I really understand how any why my parents - especially my dad - could cook and eat an entire legion of vegetables, complete with cornbread on the side, and consider that a meal. I mean, who does that?
I'm still not a huge vegetable eater. I've grown to like some vegetables while others stay firmly out of my preferences of consumption. The thing is, no matter how much my parents may have wanted me to eat them, the fact is I didn't want to. I cognitively understood the idea that they were good for me (mainly because they droned on and on about it), but I had to grow and mature before I understood that this was something I wanted and craved, not something I had to eat because it was The Right Thing To Do (TM).
For years, I tried to choke down the idea of reading the Bible in a morning Quiet Time (TM) because it was The Right Thing To Do (TM). And yes: there was some lingering benefit to it despite my hesitation or reluctance at doing so. But I treated it as a ritual that must be endured instead of an opportunity to grow and enjoy what I was doing.
Like how I looked at many of the rituals at church: you endure them without celebrating them and what they signify.
Like how I looked at vegetables.
Sometimes, you just have to eat the vegetables, no matter if you want to or not (Kai? Eli? If you read this one day, that sentence was for you). Sometimes, you go to church and feel nothing. That's life. That's what happens. Neither your physical nor spiritual taste buds are just not feeling it.
But when you want to. When you want to eat. When you find joy in what you're consuming. It all changes. These days, I find myself more receptive to what I read in the Bible...when I read the Bible...because I'm looking not so much for a blank to fill in as an entire paragraph to incorporate into how I live and love in the world around me. It's an acquired taste, one that has taken me more than a few years to develop.
And as Ashley can attest, I even find joy in cooking veggies these days.
Because I make the recipe my own.