Reading Beyond the Checklist

January 02, 2024 · by Whitney Gothra

Every year on January 1st, for nearly as long as I can remember, I would do the thing. I’d open my Bible up to Genesis 1 and decree in my heart that this year would be the year I’d finally read the entire Bible all the way through. And every year, until 2021 that is, I would fail miserably. I’d do okay in Genesis, slow down a bit in Exodus, and generally come to a screeching halt in Leviticus. I would pick up random books of the Bible throughout the year, but it was with a shame hanging over me. I would beat myself up for failing at a spiritual discipline yet again, and decide to just start over in the new year.

It was a cycle that bore no fruit. Just shame.

Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you are there?

If this resonates with you, I’d love to share my testimony of how God turned my Bible reading time from checklist-driven to grace-filled.

At the end of 2020, my husband and I were on staff at a church who had a unique tradition. At the end of the year, they would take a photo with all the church members who had read the Bible through that year. On the way home from the New Year’s Eve service, my then five-year-old piped up from the back seat, “I want to get my picture taken next year, Mommy. Will you help me? I can’t read yet.”

My heart did summersaults. How on earth would I be able to help my five-year-old read the Bible through when I fail every year?

Shame can sneak up on you and infiltrate all of your areas of influence if you’re not careful.

While I hadn’t disciplined myself into reading consistently, the enemy had taken my failure and attached layer upon layer of shame and condemnation onto it. I would pick up my Bible and instead of excitement, I felt like God was mad at me. Instead of a yearning to learn more, I felt like I could never be enough. Reading the Bible felt like this ultimate checklist item. Either I checked it off perfectly, or I gave up and waited for the next go around.

So when my daughter asked for my help in reading the Bible, I knew I had to stop this cycle.

My husband bought a speaker for our daughter’s room, we subscribed to a Bible-in-a-year plan on the Dwell Bible app, and played that day’s reading each evening as she and her two-year-old sister got ready for bed. It became a tradition woven into our lives. The girls loved to take turns pressing play on my phone. My oldest would remind us nearly every night to turn it on as she got under her covers. It replaced a sound machine in their room, and the Word of God was the last thing those little ears heard every night before sleep.

And just as I played the Bible for them each night, I picked up my Bible to read each day. Slowly but surely, crossing off each day’s reading. I don’t know what point in the year it was or what book of the Bible it was that marked the transition, but somewhere along the way the Bible came alive to me in a new way.

What had been a checklist item that I never quite succeeded at became my daily bread. What had been cloaked in shame became radiant in hope. Ironically, the first year I finally checked off all the 365 boxes was the year I finally realized it wasn’t about the check marks.

I had implemented new routines and rhythms to keep me accountable to my Bible reading. I had put the work in on the natural side. Yet God had stepped in and worked on the spiritual side. Condemnation turned into Godly conviction. I felt God drawing me to His side, showing me the areas where I was letting my flesh overpower my spirit. As I opened the pages of the Word, I stopped feeling like God was mad at me for missing a day, a week, or a month. I began to recognize that my perceived distance between God and myself wasn’t marked by an anger from Him or an indifference or judgement. “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” (Romans 2:4 ESV). I began to see that the space between God and I was where God was wooing me. Where He was loving me, showing His goodness, revealing His kindness. Each time I opened my Bible, I felt Him smile down on me, ready to reveal Himself through the pages.

I had to do the work to show up every day, but God is the One Who set my heart free and cleared my cloudy vision. Where the enemy wanted me cloaked in shame, discouragement, and focusing on non-existent check-marks, God wanted me to learn to love the scriptures with a passion, living life abundantly in the light of the Word.

The thing about the Word is that once you get a taste of that daily bread and once you drink from that well, you’ll soon stop craving nourishment from elsewhere. When you bring your consistency and dedication to Jesus, He WILL meet you there. Whether it looks like the whole Bible in a year or a year of reading Psalms over and over again. It’s the crucifying of your flesh and the daily drawing closer to Him that shatters any chains of shame the enemy may be trying to bind you with.

Drawing close to God and learning more from His Word is an inexhaustible resource. No one can mark it completely off their list and say, “I did it! I did all I could do. Learned all I could. I’m done.” No, we are called to want Him as the deer pants for the water. We thirst for Him. Daily. Continually. It will never be a need fully met until Heaven.

That nudge of disappointment you may feel that you didn’t complete your goal? That means you’re right where you’re supposed to be. You’re thirsty for Him. He is drawing you in. Don’t allow it to discount all the times you drank deeply from the well of Living Water this past year. Just grab your cup and fill it up for another drink. And another. And another. I can promise you that He will meet you in those pages.

On New Year’s Eve, 2021, my then six-year-old and three-year-old smiled proudly for the camera as they joined the group of saints who had read the Bible through that year. And I, at 33, stood next to them, with my heart again doing summersaults.

Whitney Gothra

About Whitney Gothra

Whitney Gothra and her husband Timothy have been married for around fifteen years, and they have three sweet and spicy girls, Ruby, Selah, and Marigold. They pastor the Apostolic Church of Wabash in Wabash, Indiana. You can connect with her on Instagram @theflourishstudio or online at whitneygothra.com.