Hi! My name is Arden Ratcliff-Mann and I have a deep dark secret confession for y’all today: I’m a pastor, and for years I neglected my Bible. When I was in seminary, I read the Bible all the way through and was re-invigorated with love for the Word of God. I was surrounded by other pastors-in-training who liked to think deeply about Scripture, and we would all have long conversations about our faith. I loved learning about the history of the Bible and about the lives of the people who first read it. I wanted to learn everything I could about the Bible!
Then I graduated and moved across the country to take a job as a youth & children’s pastor. And, over time, I got so busy teaching Sunday School and running youth group and planning worship that I began to neglect my own spiritual growth. I no longer set aside time to nurture my personal relationship with God. Many weeks the only Scripture I read was the text for that Sunday’s worship service. I’m sure anyone who’s ever taken on a leadership role at church understands what I’m talking about—sometimes you get so caught up in the logistics of preparing and leading a Bible study that you forget to actually study the Bible yourself. I allowed myself to get caught up in that cycle for far too long.
But then this past January, I stumbled across a link to Shanna Noel’s Bible journaling on Pinterest. And I heard a little voice inside me say, “I could do that.” I’ve always been crafty—in college I would make paper collage birthday cards for my friends and I made scrapbooks for my now-husband every year when we were dating. As I scrolled through the archives of Shanna’s blog that first night, I became more and more convinced that Bible journaling was something God was calling me to do.
Since I started Bible journaling, I’ve been amazed at how much my relationship with the Bible has changed. Every day, I can’t wait to crack it open and discover a new verse or passage to journal. I actually carry my Bible with me wherever I go now—how crazy is that? It’s gotten me to dig more deeply into biblical books I used to ignore. Since most of my Bible reading was related to teaching children, I used to predominantly stay in the stories of the Gospels and the Old Testament; I barely even glanced at the epistles. But since I started Bible journaling, I’ve probably read more of the epistles than I had in the last three years, and am finding so much hope and inspiration in the words Paul wrote to the earliest Christians centuries ago.
I’m also convinced that Bible journaling has helped me become a better teacher and spiritual mentor. The other week, one of the students in my confirmation class asked if there was anything she could do to make God stop loving her. When I said no, she looked skeptical, and I began to search my brain for ways to explain it to her. Then I suddenly remembered that I had just journaled a verse that was perfect for the situation! So I grabbed my journaling Bible (cause I bring it with me everywhere!) and showed her the page I’d made for Isaiah 54:10—“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you.” Because of Bible journaling, I’m actually memorizing Scripture, and remembering it when it’s needed.
I believe that we all go through seasons in our spiritual life—times when we’re buzzing with new growth, as well as times when the leaves have fallen off our spiritual tree and our branches are barren. After a long spiritual winter, I now feel like I am finally waking up to spring, and it is thrilling! I am so grateful to God for putting this opportunity in front of me and allowing me to reconnect with Scripture after so long. I am also so grateful for the whole Illustrated Faith community—seeing everyone’s creative ways of praising God’s name and glorifying God’s Word on Instagram and Facebook is incredibly inspiring to me. I am blown away by the sheer amount of gifts and talents God has blessed this group with, and I cannot wait to see how God uses us next!