First- I'd like to thank my dad for the fact that this topic is even important to me. My dad has been a consistent and quiet example of memorizing the word of God- and that's all I'll say. Thanks, dad.
Oh, where do I start? I think I'll have to do something a bit out of character for me as a writer and actually organize my thoughts. Here we go.
2 Myths about Scripture Memory
Myth #1- Memorizing the Bible is for the Super-Christians. I know you've thought it before: Bible memory is for those who fast, don't watch TV on the Sabbath, have never seen a rated R movie, and practice spiritual disciplines that you've never even heard of. It's like a higher level of Christianity, something reserved for the varsity Christians who have mastered loving their neighbors and being transformed by the renewing of their minds. Just push all that junk, all that presupposition and prejudice out of your mind, and cling to this: Bible memory is for anyone who wants to follow Christ. Period.
Myth #2- I need some kind of curriculum to do that with my kids. In fact, I am personally anti-curriculum when it comes to memorization. What you need is a plan. Stick with me and we'll talk more about that.
An important caution
Beware the danger of training your children to do their acts of righteousness in front of men. This is subtle but toxic to your child's walk with Christ. There is a tendency in the church to raise kids who feel like "Spirituality is what I do in front of or with others to know God and to be approved of by His followers." In the sermon on the mount, Christ repeatedly warns against the danger of doing religious things in front of men (Matt. 6:1-6) He specifically states giving and prayer, but I think it is all summed up in "acts of righteousness." I know I have often been excited about an emerging discipline or ability in my kid's life and wanted to show others- maybe in sincere delight or maybe in pride. This can take form in, "Drew- say that Bible verse you learned at VBS" or "Ella, would you like to pray?" I think there is a place for other Christians affirming in our children that what mom and dad are saying is true. (For example, I think it's good that others affirm to them that memorizing the Bible is important and a great use of time and energy. We just have to be careful that we aren't teaching them to show off and to crave the approval of men.) I just wanted to bring this up as a caution for thought.
(Honestly, this very reality of doing acts of righteousness in front of men has made me think and even pray about what to say on this post. But I think this is valuable and worth being said, and I'm trying to say it in a way that will embolden you and not affirm me. Hope that's working!)
3 Reasons to Memorize Whole Passages
Disclaimer: I'm not saying I'm against AWANA type curriculums that do individual verses. I have a limited experience as being a teacher for one year in a 4-5 year old setting. My experience that year was that the kids only put verses in their short-term memory, and most could not say the verse again at the end of the night, let alone the next week. This may not be the case of families who practice at home and reinforce throughout the week. However, I am a proponent of memorizing whole passages from the word. And here's why:
1- You get the whole context. Maybe you've been in a situation where someone quoted a verse that did not mean what they tried to make it mean. If that person had said the verse before or after, it would have been clarifying. But instead, they used a phrase or isolated line to make their point. This is risky business, or "bad hermeneutics" as they say in Bible college. One of the benefits of learning a whole passage is understanding a scope of scripture. This will not only bring greater understanding as your child grows up and begins to think through those passages, it also begins to form the truth that the Bible is not a bunch of random sayings but intentional passages with meaning, audience, purpose, and a point.
2- It's easier to do. I think using whole passages is easier on both an individual level and as a family. For example, if your child sets out to memorize five verses, they have the reference to learn for each and then the initial 'get go' as they start to say them. If they attempt to memorize 5 verses from the same passage, there is only one reference and one 'get go'. And then they're off. The verses flow together and can be practiced more easily because you aren't trying to remember all the random verses- just one passage. Also, it helps a lot for everyone to memorize together because you do it together as you live life, much like the Deut. 6:7-9 idea of talking about God's law as you go about your day.
I've seen this play out when Ella is restless at bedtime, so we'll just say our "blessed berses" as she calls them. Or when you are waiting in the bank drive thru, you can say "Blessed are the poor in spirit...' and let someone fill in the rest. From a logistical standpoint, it is easier on you as parent to have one passage in the front of your mind that you are keeping before them instead of all three kids having 4 different verses. And I think it's unifying, it adds to the culture of your family that not only do you have shared books, adventures, songs, snacks- you have a shared knowledge of God's Word that brings you together and shapes what it means to be part of that family.
3- It's easier to practice. I kind of already explained this, but one passage is much easier to review than a list of verses. And that's what it takes to plant that Word in there for the long haul- lots of review. I think the best review happens when you are in the car, clearing the table, in the bathtub, or waiting around.
1. Your kids will be better at it than you. That's OK. They are young and fresh and have minds that can effortlessly learn. You have to keep that in my mind and not get discouraged (but also know that you will get better at it as you go!)
2. It comes in seasons. Let me list for you all the things we have memorized this year: the Sermon on the Mount (work in progress- currently at verse 9)........you see all those dots, that's because there is nothing else to put on the list. And that's OK. Sometimes it works well with where you are at in life and you make progress quickly. Or you may find you spend 6 weeks on verse 1. That's OK. It's not a race or a contest: it's a long-term goal of putting God's word in our hearts. Keep it in front of you. If you are in a season that doesn't seem to lend itself to being in routine and adding new verses, just review whatever you know. Remember- you are not doing this to earn some sort of favor or to be a better Christian, you're doing it to live out something you value. Don't feel pressured.
3. Find what works for you. Here is our current plan, which I share not to say "Here's how to do it" but to say "Here's how we currently do it- and it could change at any time." I use a Bible, verses written on construction paper, and jelly beans.
- We read the verse out of the Bible. I think there is something valuable for them to see you actually reading it out of the Bible- it helps the little ones in particular understand where this is all coming from.
- Each day, we review the verses we know so far from that passage, and every three or four days we add a new one. We say it together a few times, then each child has the opportunity to say it by themselves. If they can say all of our learned verses, they get one jelly bean. If they can say the newest verse, they get another jelly bean. The whole time lasts about 10 minutes and I try to do it 2-3 times per week. (When we are in a homeschooling rhythm, we do it daily. But in this summer season, a few times a week is a good goal for us.)
- I post the verses on the wall in the kitchen so that we see them and can review them easier.
That's it. Our whole plan.
- You can use hand gestures or actions to help kids learn. This is good for younger ages (2-3 years) but seems cumbersome for older ones. I have found as Drew gets older he doesn't need the hand gestures, and it adds another step in the memorization as he tries to first remember the gesture and then what it means, when he could have just said the words. But maybe some learning styles would benefit differently.
- I don't emphasize the reference (such as Matthew 5:2-9) Personally, I feel like if they know it's in the sermon on the mount, they'll be able to find it. I think it's more important that they know Jesus said it and not exactly where it is, at this point anyways. Maybe as they get older I'll feel differently....I dunno?
Last week I took a little video of each of the kids saying their verses. They were pretty rusty as we hadn't done it in a good week. But that's OK. I think it is helpful to see because they are all at different ages (2,4,and 6) so it looks different for them at this point. It's interesting that Ella is really the quickest at learning new verses right now, which you wouldn't think of a 2 year old. But I think it goes to show that they are capable of so much more than we think.
I'm going to post the videos here- but I have to warn you that you will have to crane your neck or turn your monitor. I will not go into details about how much time was spent figuring out how to rotate these videos, upload them, and then have youtube "fix them" back to the way they were. Sheesh. Yes, I am technically challenged, thanks for noticing. Hopefully what the clips will show is that at different ages you can learn together and have an adjusted expectation for each child.
Here's Drew, 6 years old:
Here's Isaac, almost 4 years.
And Ella, 2 years:
As I look back at this post, I realize I spent the whole time as a "how to" and not addressing the issue of why we help our kids memorize the Bible. Sheesh. I'll try to add that thought in the next few days. I'll also try to list some passages that I've used that are really fun and meaningful even for young children.
Hope that's encouraging to you. If you feel condemned or frustrated or "I'm not a good mom because we don't do this"- please stop. That wasn't my goal and that's not helpful to you or your children. Pray for wisdom and shepherd your little hearts as God leads you.I am just putting this out here so that maybe some will see that it's possible even with young kids and take some of the mystery out of it.
Every day people, people who eat a lot of hot dogs, have laundry piling up, get frustrated with their kids, and constantly fight the feeling that they aren't great parents, those people can do this. I know, because that's a pretty good description of me. So pray for wisdom and proceed with joy.