(Spoiler: he might be ready for the Bible sooner than you think)
Last year, the kids and I embarked on a journey to read through the Bible in a year. It was a daunting undertaking, especially on January first, when we were staring down the entire Pentateuch, a handful of minor prophets, and the oddities of the book of Revelation.
Prior to this, our family devotions consisted of a much shorter Bible reading, especially when Jeff wasn’t home. I tended to play to the lowest common denominator: my youngest kids. We read Bible story books, memorized verses put to children’s music, and went over the same “big stories” over and over and over again.
David killed Goliath every couple of months at our house.
At some point, I realized we were making a critical error. My kids knew the Bible stories, but they were not reading THE Bible. They knew the tales publishers thought were interesting enough to include in a children’s Bible-the ones that could be easily illustrated or colorfully told. But when the only thing my children knew of Kind David is that he nailed a giant, and all of Revelation was boiled down to, “I’ll be back,” something had to change.
I wanted my children to fall in love with the Word of God, not a stylized, dumbed-down version of the Word of God. As good and useful as children’s story book Bibles are for littles (and they are, don’t get me wrong), there comes a point when it’s time to take away the pop gun and give those kids the Sword.
The trouble was, my kids were used to the pretty-picture Bibles, and they liked them. Their biblical attention span was exactly what the Bible story books gave them: five minutes or less. Their vocabulary was similarly challenged. And really, all they wanted to do was look at the pictures.
When it came time to read an actual chapter from the actual Bible, my kids got squirmy. They didn’t know where to find Romans and there weren’t any pictures and the sound of it was all so…plain.
In my home, where we value the Word of God, my kids had learned that the real Bible was boring, difficult, and only to be used in church. Without even realizing it, I was teaching them the idea every night when I hauled out the color-saturated children’s story Bible instead of the real thing when they were old enough to see and hear and touch the real thing.
Now, I know they were old enough because when I was their age, I began reading the Bible on my own. At that time in my life, I spent weekdays at a boarding school, only coming home on the weekends or for school holidays. As part of our daily routine, my dorm parents set aside time for personal devotions. Each of us kids was expected to sit quietly and read our Bibles for a short amount of time each day. No one looked over our shoulders and explained the big words. No one told us to skip over the parts about “begetting” or circumcision or any of the racy stuff about adultery. We just read it, our little brains dismissing the stuff that was too mature for us and absorbing everything else.
And do you know what? There was a lot my seven-year-old brain could absorb. I did not get bored or frustrated by the big words. Quite the opposite: I fell in love with the Bible when I was given the chance.
I was in second grade—the very same age my twins are now.
That discipline I developed in second grade became a life-long habit.
But six or seven seems so young when the six or seven-year-old is your child, and not yourself. I wasn’t sure my kids could handle reading the real Bible every day, especially the entire real Bible (because whoa, there are some parts I’d rather skip. Having Sex Ed right in the middle of family devotions is…awkward).
We did it anyway. My mother-in-law told me about a one-year audio Bible, so every night after dinner, we got out our Bibles and read along to the day’s audio reading. (Because mamas, you all know that the last thing you want to do at the end of the day is read three chapters of anything out loud to your children).
When Jeff deployed at the end of January, he was able to follow along with our Bible reading way over on the other side of the world, and we could all talk about what we were learning, just as if he was right here with us.
We didn’t do it perfectly. Some days, we missed. Some days, we chewed the Word a little more slowly. But mostly, we did it.
Still, I was worried I was pushing the kids too hard. Maybe we were reading too much each day? Was anything sinking in?
Then amazing things began to happen. My kids began to beg for our Bible reading each day. If we missed, they were genuinely disappointed and wouldn’t let me miss twice. Their questions became more insightful as their love of the Word grew. They began to connect the dots.
Then, a genuine miracle occurred: I bought the twins their first real Bibles for Christmas this year because their reading was finally up to the level where they could try to read it on their own. We began a new year of Bible reading as a family.
But the boys aren’t content to stop with the day’s reading. They snuggle on the couches with their Bibles, reading through Genesis on their own. “Did you read about Cain and Able yet, Paul?” Micah calls from his couch. “Oh, yeah! I’m waaaaay past that. Where are you at?” Paul responds.
Yesterday, they proudly told me they have read up to chapter 13 (although Micah insists Paul skipped chapters 9-11, an accusation Paul adamantly denies).
Let the reader understand: reading is agonizing for these boys. But the Bible has so captivated them, they cannot put it down. My sweet, dyslexic twins are reading their way through Genesis—the real Genesis—one slow word at a time, because they have fallen in love with it.
Can we all just stop and praise Jesus right now? Because my heart is full to bursting.
I can’t take the credit—God’s Word is living and active, and it is living and active even in the hearts of the very young. In my own home, God is giving me the privilege to see the power in the inspired Word of God, a power that cannot be replicated, no matter how charming the storybook version might be.
It. is. awe-full.
If you have been wondering what age would be appropriate to begin reading the real Bible with your child, let me encourage you: it might be earlier than you think. It might be now.