Once upon a time, I excelled at Bible “sword drill” and Scripture memory challenges. As a pastor’s kid and general all-around overachiever, I could fan the pages of my well-read Bible and start reading a certain passage faster than most. And if there was a verse to be learned by next week, I had it memorized by sundown. After all, as the Psalmist wrote, “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee.”
Of course, I later learned that the real Psalmist didn’t write those particular words in King James English. As I grew, I discovered other translations and paraphrases of the familiar verses and by the time I got to college at a Christian school, many of the versions I’d heard through the years had melded into an amalgamation of words in my memory. I had hidden God’s Word in my heart…but sometimes it was harder to find it again.
The specific reference for certain verses was the first thing to go. Instead of quoting chapter and verse, I was more likely to remember it was in a certain book of the Bible, on the lower right side of the right-hand page, and underlined in blue ink. (What can I say? I’m a visual learner.)
The next memory slip came when I could recall only a phrase of a verse and had to paraphrase the rest. The essence of the truth was still there, but the precise wording was gone. Thy word have I hid in my heart…just not exactly.
In the grand scheme of things, my faith hasn’t suffered for my lack of memory. I continue to read Scripture and meditate on certain passages, therefore adding new verses or solidifying existing entries in the memory banks.
The real problem comes when I’m writing and need to find that verse I want to use. Often, I only remember a phrase and searching for those words may or may not lead me to the verse I was thinking of. To make matters more complicated, I also must be able to document for my publisher which exact translation I used so that we can add the proper citations to the copyright page. And then the words I use in my book have to match that translation precisely down to the punctuation.
For example, I recently finished line edits for a novel coming out next February. One phrase from Jeremiah 29:11 pops up several times in the book as somewhat of a theme verse. In my mind, God tells Jeremiah that He knows the plans He has for him, plans for good, to give him a “future and a hope.” Except that particular phrase isn’t in most of the translations. Instead it’s written as “hope and a future.” Since we had to cite it correctly for the version my publisher uses, I changed the wording in several spots. It felt weird at first, but then I came to appreciate the fact God gives hope first, then the future.
Another example. In a pivotal scene, one character reads a verse from Psalm 23 where “goodness and mercy” will follow her all the days of her life. Mercy. That’s a great word. And this was a phrase I’d heard over and over growing up…except it wasn’t in the version my publisher wanted me to use. I had to write “goodness and love” instead. It just didn’t roll off the tongue as easily and I was almost tempted to find a new verse for that scene. Except the unfamiliar wording drew attention to the word “love”…which tied perfectly into the theme of the entire book, Focus On Love.
I’m still writing Christian fiction, so verses from the Bible are still likely to pop up here and there in my stories and in the minds of my characters. However, until it’s time for another round of picky line edits, I’m not going to worry that my wording is not exact. After all, that’s part of making the story real.
What about you? Do you still remember things you memorized as a child? Can you recite it perfectly or have a few phrases changed over time? Does it matter as long as you remember the essential parts?