So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. [Deuteronomy 11:18-19 (NLT)]
For thousands of years, during their weekday morning prayers, observant Jews have worn tefillin. Sometimes called phylacteries, they are small black leather boxes attached to leather straps. Inside the boxes are four sections of the Torah from Exodus and Deuteronomy. The verses pronounce the unity of one God in what’s called the Shema, the promise of blessings for obedience and warning of retribution for disobedience, the obligation to remember the Jews’ bondage in Egypt, and the responsibility to transmit their faith to their children. One box is strapped on the left arm so to be near the heart and the other is strapped on the forehead. The placement symbolizes that God’s word is to be impressed upon both the heart and soul.
I don’t have words from Exodus and Deuteronomy written on parchment and placed on my body, but I do have sticky notes with Bible verses stuck on my bathroom mirror and on the wall by my desk, along with a verse-filled envelope in my purse, and lists in my journal and by my bed. Struggling with my Lenten discipline of memorizing Bible verses, I’d put them in a box on my forehead if I thought that would help! A few days ago, however, I realized part of my problem—the verses I was memorizing were someone else’s choice and not mine!
Several years ago, admitting my inability to quote Scripture, I asked how a church friend always seemed to have the perfect Bible verse on the tip of her tongue. “Verses are easy to memorize,” she replied, “when they mean something to you.” Recalling that conversation, I scrapped the ready-made list of Bible verses I was using and selected some verses of my own.
While all Scripture is worthy of memory work, we each have verses that speak to us personally, as if God spoke those words just for us (and, indeed, He did.) We’ve probably underlined them in our Bibles or written them down in our journals. These are the words that speak directly to us about something in our lives and they’re the ones we want to be able to pull out of our memory banks. While it’s still difficult to memorize the verses I’ve selected, it’s gotten easier. Instead of my Lenten practice feeling like a burden, it has become a joy. The point of this memory work, however, is not to impress someone with my ability to quote Scripture at the drop of a hat. The point is to internalize those words—to make them truly a part of me.
One of my pastors suggested that, no matter how we choose to observe Lent, we should make its six weeks different from the other forty-six in the year. While I’m making these six weeks of Lent different from the previous 3,674 weeks of my life, I hope to continue memorizing meaningful verses in all the remaining weeks God chooses to give me. Rather than putting those verses in tefillin, however, I will slowly, but joyfully, tuck them into my heart and soul.