Educator and visual faith practitioner Elizabeth Valente describes for us the blessing of setting apart some vacation time for focused time in the Word …… we are grateful for her authentic and inspirational sharing!
+ + +
Like most educators, by the time May rolled around this year, I was ready for the end of another academic year. I was tired. I was weary. I still loved my middle schoolers, but we all were due for a break. I needed time to rest, renew, reflect, and reconnect.
Several years ago I discovered Bible journaling. I was intrigued - so I armed myself with a journaling Bible, some colored pencils, and an ever growing Pinterest board - and got to work. The perfectionist in me gave herself over to the experience, and I found myself interacting with scripture in a way I had never done before. I loved the fact that I was in The Word in a new and exciting way. I loved it so much that I brought it into my classroom, and weekly my students and I would take our morning religion time to read, reflect, write, and color in our Bibles. We all were using our Bibles in a new and unique way. It was beautiful to see. But....as this year progressed, my personal time journaling became less and less, pushed out by all the other things I “needed” to get done.
The week after school got out, I sat in my quiet classroom looking at the empty seats and decided it was time to return to The Word. I immediately thought of Nehemiah. I desperately needed to rebuild my walls. I needed to renew my commitment to God, and rediscover what His Word had to tell me. Deciding that the double whammy of Word and prayer was necessary, I downloaded some prayer sheets from the Visual Faith website and got to work.
Here’s what I learned:
Nehemiah is one of my new favorite people - Jerusalem was broken and destroyed. It was a shadow of what it had been, and when Nehemiah heard this, what did he do? He mourned. He grieved for what was done to God’s city, but then....then he got up and got to work. Never doubting God, he got the king to grant him permission to go rebuild the walls, and he even convinced the king to get his buddies to donate materials to do so.
When the time came, Nehemiah worked right along side the people, many times with a sword in one hand to fight the enemies that sought to stop them. He endured ridicule and conspiracies, all the while remaining faithful and strong in his convictions and God’s plan. He was generous with the people and made sure they were given what they needed for their bodies and their spirits. Oh - and he had no problem telling them when they’d messed up and to knock it off. In short, Nehemiah was pretty awesome.
I don’t need a study guide - One of my problems with maintaining a regular devotional life has been that I didn’t quite know what to “do” with the Bible. That sounds ridiculous, coming from a synodically trained teacher, but there it is. I felt I needed a devotional or study guide to dig deeper into scripture. After all, I’d heard all these stories before, what more could I learn on my own?
What I discovered was that I simply needed time to reflect, and the act of lettering and coloring gave me that time. I set myself the goal of reading a chapter each day and finding one sentence that spoke to me - one sentence that resonated. This was surprisingly easy to do. I discovered that this 21st century middle school teacher could relate to a 5th century BC cup bearer to a king. Just like Nehemiah, I need to be focused on the tasks God set before me, never doubting that He is in control and will bless the work I do. I too need strong hands, and a mind to work. I also need to be attentive to God’s Word and understand the work I accomplish is because our God is so very great. Over all of this, I should never forget that God is gracious, merciful, and abounding in love. These are the lessons God taught me as I pushed other distractions out of the way and gave Him my listening ear.
Prayer completed our exchange - Once I was finished in my Bible, I turned to my prayer page. By praying in color I was able to connect what I’d read to where I am. Much like the graphic organizers I use in my classroom, the sheets I used allowed me to focus what I’d read about and seek to apply it to my life. Right along with Nehemiah, I pleaded for God to hear me when I sang for joy and when I whispered His name. I prayed that He would strengthen me for the tasks He has called me to do, and I praised Him for His generosity and His omnipotence. Prayer is what solidified the timelessness and relevance of God’s Word.
I do have the time - As a woman who is a wife, a mother, and a full-time teacher, my time is not always my own. The excuse that I don’t have enough hours in my day, has been a favorite of mine for a while. Being on summer break removed that excuse, but I realized that no matter how busy my schedule is, “not having enough time” is a terribly flimsy defense. The time I’ve spent this summer wasn’t perfect; it wasn’t always uninterrupted time. There were moments when I’d put my headphones in to drown out the sounds of Peppa Pig or the five millionth repeat of “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin. There were plenty of instances when my reflections were interrupted by my daughter, who needed a hug or my help with something she was focused on. Sometimes I didn’t journal in my Bible and pray in the same moments. And sometimes, I missed days all together. And that’s okay.
Despite all of that, God still richly blessed the time I did spend with Him. Before long, I found myself craving those moments, missing them when they didn’t happen. This is what, I believe, God truly wants from us in our quiet (and not so quiet) moments with Him. He wants us to hunger for what He has to share with us. He wants us to look forward to time with Him. He wants to shower us with His abundant love. As David so aptly described in Psalm 42, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” He wants to refresh us in ways we can’t even comprehend. For the first time, in a long time, I felt this thirst. It was marvelous.
For me, Bible journaling and praying in color has become a touchstone, a way to feed my need to be creative, while reflecting on God’s Word and His many, many blessings.
As summer quickly winds down, I am so thankful for the time I’ve gotten to be sill and remember that He is God. I will take the lessons I’ve learned from Nehemiah as I prepare for another school year and pray that God will continue to strengthen my hands for the good work He’s set before me.
+ + +
Elizabeth Valente is the 7/8th grade teacher at Trinity Lutheran School in Jackson. She teaches and uses visual faith practices in her classroom - and even includes a journaling Bible on her school supply list each year! This summer, along with journaling in her Bible, she used the 12 Prayer Spaces resource created by Ruth Schian for visual prayer.
To use this resource for your own visual prayer time, find it on the Visual Faith Ministry website here: