As I faced some serious stressors recently, I knew I needed God’s Word in my life. Desperately. Right now. I’d found myself struggling with bouts of anxiety and doubt as I sought freelance work, managed a house, and tried to meet the constantly changing needs of my three children.
A couple of months earlier, I had fallen into a rhythm memorizing Ephesians, figuring out how to outline main ideas, understand larger concepts, and fill in the gaps with the actual details of the verses themselves. I’d set aside a certain time each morning to review the verses and build upon Paul’s bank of theological truths.
And then it all fell apart.
I found myself approaching “memorization hour” with a sense of dread, or, perhaps more toxically, boredom. I found reasons to put off memorizing until I ran out of time, which added to my angst the next day when I realized I’d forgotten what I’d learned a week ago.
What’s the point of a discipline if you don’t stick with it? If I couldn’t stick to memorizing Scripture when I got tired or distracted, wasn’t that proof that I needed to all the more?
In the opening chapter of Celebration of Discipline, Richard J. Foster writes that “we must come to the place in our lives where we can lay down the everlasting burden of always needing to manage others.” Don’t let the disciplines “degenerate” into law, he writes, so as to exert control. While I wasn’t telling my friends and family to memorize Scripture, I’d begun to burden myself with an idea of achievement that devolved into paralysis. The memorization process was no longer working for me.
I knew I needed God’s Word in my life. Desperately. Right now.
In Deuteronomy, God tells us to “bind [His words] as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead” (Deut. 6:8). While I don’t believe this exhortation was intended literally, I get the point. To pay attention, keep the Word close by. In my case, perhaps, even as close as my skin.
I had heard about temporary Scripture tattoos, glorified rub-on transfers not unlike the Ninja Turtle squares my son gave out with his valentines at school. A bit higher in quality, these tattoos purportedly lasting three to five days rather than just an hour or two, intended to stay on the skin long enough for the wearer to have embodied the message.
Maybe it was just another form of procrastination, looking for a solution rather than working out my spiritual growth with fear and trembling. (Raise your hand if you, too, have a dozen or so daily devotional books on your shelf.) But it felt good to place an order for three 10-packs of scriptures to imprint on the inside of my arm. If they would help me look a little bit cooler, too, suburban 40-something mom that I am, all the better.
Maybe it was just another form of procrastination, looking for a solution rather than working out my spiritual growth with fear and trembling.
When the tattoo packs arrived in my mailbox, I ripped them open, dumped the plastic-covered rectangles on my bed, and started to read the verses (which took some time with the backwards print). They’re NIV–not my preferred translation these days–but the words washed over me just the same, like the cool Catalina Island tides that lapped my toes at Intervarsity Christian Fellowship camp in college. As a 20-year-old having recently worked through the spiritual fallout from a legalistic church in high school, I had just begun to read the Bible for myself and find freedom, not condemnation, in the words. I stood on the rocky shore, salt in my hair, and read passages like the ones now strewn on my Midwestern bed:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NIV).
“So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
(Isa. 41:10 NIV)
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2 NIV).
Eventually, I shuffled all of them like a deck of cards. Then I picked one at random, peeled off the plastic, and pressed it to the inside of my wrist without looking, holding it down with a wet washcloth. When I peeled off the paper backing approximately thirty seconds later, there was the “ink,” as shiny and dark as fresh henna paste.
“Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).
Okay, God. The mind of Christ. With your grace, I’ll keep listening to that wise, gentle mind growing inside mine, whatever rerouting and reapplying it takes.
Art by Jeff Gregory