MOORHEAD — He never planned on reading the Bible 100 times, but by Aug. 4, that’s exactly what Jerry Mykleseth had accomplished.
It took nearly 33 years, and even though he’s reached this milestone, he’s not about to put his Bible on a shelf.
“I’ve heard that if you do something 24 days in a row, it forms a habit,” Mykleseth says. “I figured, if we can watch a half an hour of TV a day, it should be a no-brainer to be able to do the same” with reading Scripture.
His Lutheran parents gave him his first Bible, the “Living Bible,” as a Confirmation gift in the early 1970s, with an inscription that reads: “May this be your guide through your journey in life. Love, Mom and Dad.”
“As I look back on that little quote now, I realize how prophetic it was,” he says.
Mykleseth tried dipping into Scripture in middle school, but soon lost interest. He picked it back up in high school, but it was in talking to a couple guys at work — an agnostic and a Catholic — who challenged him that really got him going.
“What is the truth here?” Mykleseth asked himself. “I went home that day and started reading the New Testament, two or three pages a day, and in the first six months, I only missed one day.”
Over time, he increased his reading goals. After high school graduation in 1984, he was up to four or five chapters a day, and while in college at North Central University in the Twin Cities, he added journaling to track his impressions.
A college comrade
Here, Mykleseth met Troy Darrin. The two had many late-night discussions about Scripture, but Darrin had no idea of the commitment of his friend’s Bible reading.
“We didn’t room together, but we were right across the hall from each other,” Darrin says. “Jerry, more than anyone else I knew, just loved to talk about the Bible.”
Through the years, the two continued discussing Scripture, but the depth of Mykleseth’s reading remained mostly hidden. Then, before a recent visit, Mykleseth casually mentioned the milestone, and Darrin was transfixed.
“I was most impressed with the incredible discipline it took to keep that kind of schedule,” he says, and for so long. “It wasn’t like it was something he had to do; he loved doing it.”
A Christian missionary in Eastern Europe, Darrin says learning of his friend’s pursuit ignited a fire in him to read more Scripture. “Without him saying anything, I was encouraged.”
People seem to be seeking truth more these days, he says, noting that security can be found in “trusting this incredible book… which has stood the test of time.” As believers, he notes, “it’s our rock, and Jerry’s been standing on that rock all these years, holding onto that truth. I’m very impressed and proud.”
A habit takes off
Initially, Mykleseth focused on the New Testament, but began reading the Bible cover to cover at the start of 1989, realizing that, as St. Augustine once said, “The Old Testament is revealed in the New, and the New Testament is hidden in the Old.” He found that by covering 10 chapters a day, the whole Bible can be read three times a year, with every 15th year acquiring an additional reading.
Reaching his 100th read-through in August, he knew exactly how long it took: “32 years, 7 months, and 4 days.” Though he used several different translations, Mykleseth says he prefers the King James.
Most of that reading has happened in the quiet morning hours, but on restless nights, Mykleseth rises to do his reading. “If you’re going to be awake an hour, why not? A habit can be powerful, good or bad,” he says, adding, “I’ve said over the years, ‘If God inspired individuals to write the book, how important is it for us to actually read it?’”
Over time, he’s also realized the inexhaustibility of Scripture, along with its practicality. “It helps you put everything in the right perspective,” he says. “There are certain verses, like Proverbs 3:5-6, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart…’ We’re not going to fully understand every trial, but we can rest in knowing that God knows.”
The Bible can comfort, encourage and challenge, Mykleseth says. “It offers examples of what to do, and what not to do. The more you read it, the more you know these stories, and you can attach them to (situations) today.”
Meanwhile, in Mooreton, N.D…
Yvonne Ward is nearing the end of her own, if not more modest, goal of completing her first read-through of the Bible, with the help of Ascension Press’s “Bible in a Year” podcast, led by the Rev. Mike Schmitz of Duluth, Minn.
Ward also recalls the first Bible she received from her parents at Easter in 1973. Called “The Way,” it cost $5.95. Three years later, her parents — her father was now a Catholic deacon — suggested she purchase a New American Bible. “That’s the one I started this podcast with.”
Though she’d heard the Bible read many times over the years at Mass, Ward, a committed Catholic, says she’d never read the Bible as a matter of discipline. “At 70 years old, my reading has always been random, more just reading verses and highlighting them. So, I wasn’t reading it every day, but I was using it.”
At the start of 2021, she heard about a new podcast that would include daily readings, 20 to 30 minutes long, including an explanation by a priest. Ward decided the time was right.
“When this popped up, I realized, ‘I’ve got to do this.’ I wanted to do it from start to finish, and not deviate,” she says. “Once I start something, I follow through.”
The experience has been transforming for Ward, who became a widow after her husband Bill’s death in November 2019.
“It’s given me direction, and I will say that my personal relationship with God has changed,” she says. “It is unbelievable how it’s caused me to see myself and creation differently.”
Despite knowing the stories within Scripture, she says, learning about them with more context has been an “extraordinary gift.” “God is bringing healing to so many people through this, especially in listening to Father Mike’s reflections.”
Ward adds, “It’s hard when you’re on the edge and you’re losing hope, but it seems like Father Mike pulls me back and points me to God’s unfailing goodness. (God’s) not going to let me go; I cling to him and him alone.”
Over the past year, Ward says, she has remained true to her daily commitment, and has discovered several online communities comprising others throughout the world also joining the “Bible in a Year” charge, including a group page led by a priest from New Jersey, who offers additional reflections daily on Facebook.
“If I’m having a bad day, there are people I don’t even know reaching out to me,” she says, noting that widowhood, despite her children and grandchildren living nearby, can be lonely. “But how many times have widows been named in the Bible? That’s comforting to me.”
Describing herself as “just a little country bumpkin,” Ward says she never would have picked up the Bible on her own, but the podcast has given her the courage to do so, and she will never regret it.
“Bill died two years ago on Nov. 12. I never could have done this if he had been in rehab,” she says. “This came when I needed it the most. It has been a saving grace for me.”
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Oct. 29, 2021.]