This is Part 3 of a series about my effort to memorize the entire book of Romans. Read the rest of the series here.
For the past month or so, my friend Dave and I have been attempting an enormous task: memorizing the entire book of Romans. I’m chronicling our undertaking in a series on this blog. In Part 1 of this series, I talked about my unlikely journey towards memorization, and in Part 2 I began describing my memorization strategies, starting with using all the “extra,” wasted moments in the day. Now, in Part 3, I’ll lay out the rest of my strategies.
The goal of these posts, as I’ve said before, isn’t to paint me as some amazing, super-spiritual example of discipline. Rather, I want to be an encouragement to you. I have a terrible memory, but these strategies work and God’s Word is worth the effort. My hope is to spur you on to hide God’s Word in your heart.
LEVERAGE YOUR SMARTPHONE
In Part 1, I described how the smartphone era derailed my earlier efforts at memorization. It’s just too easy to mentally unplug and mindlessly scroll through a social media feed instead of staying engaged and awake, which is necessary for memorization. The siren call of the smartphone over the past couple years has dulled my faculties to the point where I wasn’t sure I would be able to successfully get back into memorization even if I mustered up the willpower to do so. (By the way, Tony Reinke has a great, heavily-researched, Christ-centered book out called “12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You.” I highly recommend it [although I haven’t actually mustered up the courage to read it myself, just some excerpts]).
But, as Romans 5 says (hey look, the memorization is working!), “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” As dangerous as the smartphone has been to my spiritual health, there is grace available to use it properly. Wielded carefully, it can be a powerful and helpful tool. In fact, it’s now the primary tool I am using to memorize Romans.
I’m using an amazing app called Verses (it’s in the iOS App Store. Android users, I have no idea; you’re on your own). It’s beautifully designed and has some solid research behind its powerful approach to memorization. It uses memory games like fill-in-the-blank and reordering, and incorporates visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles. Here are some screenshots from my phone this week:
The app has a beautiful design which, more than just looking nice, helps to motivate me by tracking my progress. The blue circle shows how close you are to memorizing the passage, and the smaller green circle tracks the “health” of what you’ve previously memorized. You can use it to memorize anything from a single verse to a whole chapter at a time, and it’s really intuitive to use. As you can see, I’m working on chapter 6 right now, with chapters 1-5 locked down.
Memorizing one verse is pretty straightforward: just work on that one verse, obviously Write out John 3:16, or select it in the Verses app, or whatever, and practice. But what if you’re trying to memorize a whole chapter, or a whole book? Writing out the entire thing or trying to take on the whole thing at once is impractical. What do you do?
By “chunk it,” I mean, break it up into smaller, manageable sections. That could be a couple verses at a time, or perhaps an entire paragraph. I don’t recommend doing one verse at a time, because it’s too hard to remember how they all string together. But I also don’t recommend doing more than five or six verses at a time, because it’s too much to cram into your short-term memory as you’re working on it. Memorizing this way– a paragraph at a time rather than a verse at a time– means that a whole chapter is just a handful of chunks, rather than a couple dozen individual verses.
So for example, you can see in the screenshot above that I’m currently working on Romans 6:15-19. It’s five verses, one paragraph– one complete thought. The verses flow together as Paul is building his argument, but the paragraph as a whole is self-contained. I broke chapter 6 into verses 1-4, 5-11, 12-14, 15-19, and 20-23, based on how Paul’s sentences and flow of thought naturally grouped together.
Here’s how a typical day of memorizing looks for me:
When I wake up and am having my coffee, I use the Verses app to review the most recent chapter I’ve “got down.” I generally spend ten or fifteen minutes in the morning just “waking up.” Before, that was all spent on social media or news sites. Now, about half of that time is spent on memory. Which still leaves me plenty of time for Facebook. Additionally, I have a baby daughter, and while I’m giving her a bottle in the morning, I’ll use the Verses app to work on the next chunk that I’m currently trying to memorize.
In the shower, I’ll mentally run through the most recent couple chapters (this morning, chapters 4-6, which takes about 10-15 minutes).
I have a 20-25 minute commute in the morning, which is just enough time to recite the first six chapters of Romans. Once I get past chapter 6, I’ll have to start using my commute home as well.
Besides those two bigger blocks of time spent on review– shower and morning commute– I spend the rest of my memorization opportunities on practicing the chunk I’m currently trying to nail down that day. Bathroom breaks, lunch breaks, traffic lights, etc are spent on today’s chunk (today, it’s Romans 6:15-19).
One more important thing: before I go to bed, I run through the entire chapter I’m on. Research has shown that one of the best ways to strengthen the neural pathways involved in memorization is to work on that memorization right before you go to sleep.
I’ve found I can generally do one chunk a day– sometimes more if it’s easy or if I’m already familiar with it, sometimes less if it’s a more difficult section. That means I’m moving at the pace of about one chapter a week. As I get more and more chapters under my belt and review gets longer and longer, that pace will probably slow down.
One last thing: this epic and challenging quest has been greatly sweetened by doing it with a friend. When I memorized Philippians and Colossians a couple years ago, it was a solo project. It was worthwhile and edifying, but it was lonely and difficult.
What I’ve found this time, however, is that rewards are multiplied by doing it together. Dave and I are frequently texting back and forth about nuggets of gold we’ve gleaned from our meditation on Romans. That’s not to mention the near-constant heckling and trash talking that is simultaneously hilarious and uplifting, spurring one another on. There have been some really challenging parts of Romans to slog through– chapter 4’s convoluted sentences come to mind– and if I was doing this by myself I may have thrown in the towel. But to be able to share the glories of what we’re seeing in God’s Word, lovingly poke fun at Paul’s grammar, and send floods of taunting GIF memes… well, that makes the hard things easier and the good things even better. Here are a couple screenshots of our conversations:
Yep, that’s what fellowship and Bible memory is all about.
Read Part 4 of my series on memorizing Romans here.