The young boy tossed his Bible into the hallway after Sunday school then ran off to play. In an effort to pave the way for the oncoming rush of parents, the ministry leader gave the Bible a quick back-kick shoving it against a wall. I froze. The dusty shoe pattern imprinted on the Bible cover reminded me of one of the most spiritually humbling experiences of my life.
We were running late for church one Sunday during a visit to Pakistan several years ago when the police signaled our van to pull over. They wanted to check our papers and asked our driver to step out to talk over the situation. I glanced nervously at my mother and son, fidgeted with my seat belt, and tried to breathe slowly. Our hosts, a Pakistani family, reassured us that everything was okay. After several tense moments, the police released us and we were back on the road to Islamabad.
When our driver let us out in front of the church building, I hastily set my Bible on the van floor and stepped out. We wound our way through the security maze and checkpoints supervised by Muslim guards, then hurried up the steps where we were photographed, given an ID badge, and asked to sign the registrar—standard procedure for many Christian churches in Pakistan in the wake of several church bombings after September 11, 2001. We sang some worship songs then the minister asked us to open our Bibles. Mine, I remembered, was on the van floor, so I just listened.
Later that evening as I marveled at the spring gardens within the compound where my mother and I shared a room, our host took me aside and said, "You shouldn't have done that." I held my breath, not sure what he was referring to. "They are watching us to see how we act; how we treat our holy book," he continued. "This is a different country, I know. But what you did … they see that as disrespectful. It is a reflection on us as Christians here."
The garden didn't seem so pretty anymore. In fact, the drifting fragrances suddenly overwhelmed me. I mumbled a weak apology then rushed to my room across the road longing to be home where I wouldn't have to worry so much about what I did.
That night as I listened to the armed guard tap his nightstick along the fence outside, my eyes swelled with tears. I berated myself for being thoughtless. I knew it would be offensive to set a Qur'an on the floor. Yet, setting my Bible on the van floor had seemed inconsequential to me at the time. It was something that would have been ignored or dismissed if witnessed at my home church. I questioned why I treated my holy book any differently from how the Christians in Pakistan treated theirs.
At the same time, I wondered if our host meant to imply that I undervalued my Bible. I chilled. That couldn't be true. Of course, I esteemed my Bible. However, I realized my carelessness that morning certainly wasn't oozing with reverence. My poor judgment shamed my host and possibly an entire Christian network in this part of the country. At that moment, I began to question if I had become too casual and overly complacent in my treatment of the Word of God.
Back home, I kept my Bible on the floor by my bed. The coffee rings splattered on the cover were just an indication of frequent casual times spent with God. That wasn't so bad, I told myself. Yet, I knew, it was also not uncommon to find Bibles carelessly tossed on the kitchen table or couch after church or even left on the car floor for the entire week.
I pictured my beloved books back home and winced. I knew I would never leave my treasured old hardback copy of The Secret Garden or Rebecca in a place where they could be kicked or maimed. How would that reflect my feelings about those books?
Sadly, I realized it was true. I had become lazy in my treatment of my Bible and worse I unconsciously taught my children to be also.
John Stoughton said, "The Bible—among other books is as a diamond among precious stones." I needed to begin to show more respect for this precious diamond. Not out of a sense of duty but out of love for the Author and his words. Further, I needed to teach my children how to treat their Bibles with tenderness.
Their first lesson? No tossing Bibles on the floor after Sunday school. That would be disrespectful. And as I'm learning, it would be a reflection on us as Christians—no matter which country we happen to be in.
Janice Sheridan is a mom and freelance writer who lives in Illinois.
Copyright © 2011 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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