January 15, 2020

Eight Lessons From a Reluctant Bible Study Leader

Fifteen years ago, I was talking on the phone with my sister, and we got on the subject of Bible study. “I need to be in a group of women,” she told me. “I need the accountability. I won’t do it on my own.”

A few days later, I was talking with my cousin, and we got on the subject of Bible study. “I need to be in a group of women,” she told me. “I need the accountability. I won’t do it on my own.”

A few days later, I was talking with my church friend, and we got on the subject of Bible study. “I need to be in a group of women,” she told me. “I need the accountability. I won’t do it on my own.”

At which point, God had my attention.

A few weeks later, my church friend and I headed up a planning meeting at church, and a few weeks after that, we held the first session of Proverbs 32 women’s Bible study. (No, we’re not trying to add to Scripture; we just wanted to convey that while we were striving to reach the Proverbs 31 standard, we weren’t there yet. We should have called ourselves Proverbs 30, but the “Sayings of Agur” didn’t seem to convey our mission. So we went with Proverbs 32…P32 for short.)

Now, my Bible study sisters and I are deep into our 15th (!) season. I can hardly believe we've been at it this long. I can hardly believe it got started in the first place. Because I was possibly the least-qualified woman in the world to lead a women's Bible study.

But God has a way of working with the least.

If you're sensing God leading you to facilitate women's Bible study, here are a few lessons I've learned along the reluctant way:

1. With God’s help, you can do what you can’t. I was not qualified to facilitate a women’s Bible study. I am neither theologian nor Bible scholar. I am an introvert. I’d never even done a full-on Bible study before, much less headed one up.

Now I’ve learned that if God calls you to it, He will equip you for it. I brought plenty of weakness to the Bible study table—and there God showed His perfect power (2 Corinthians 12:9). Many weeks, after I’ve told God, “I can’t do this. I need You to do it through me and for me,” I’ve driven home from church praising God for the honor and thrill and wonder of seeing Him work.

2. You can love what you don’t even know you like. On a list of spiritual blessings from my entire life, P32 is very near the top. But before I wandered blindly in, doing or leading women’s Bible study wouldn’t have been on the list at all. Our God of surprises sprung this passion on me when wasn’t even looking for it.

3. Silence does not equal disinterest, boredom, or anger. In P32’s early days, I agonized that ladies who never spoke up didn’t like the material or didn’t like me—or both. But after more than one of them told me privately, “I love this study and this group. I’m getting so much out of it,” I quit worrying about my non-talkers. Someone can be engaged and enthusiastic without saying a word.

4. Pray. (Wisely.) From the beginning, we knew we needed to pray with and for each other. But in order to dedicate most of our time to studying and discussing the Word, we started using prayer cards. Every week, our members wrote their names on index card and, if they wanted to, a praise or a request. I shuffled the cards and handed them back out, and each woman committed to praying for the sister whose name was on the card. We also formed a closed Facebook group, open to all members of P32 but not to anyone else—a safe, private place for us to all share in one another’s joys and sorrows.

5. Do your best to choose a study that’s right for your group, but don’t get hung up trying to find THE right study. Every year, God has graciously guided me toward and then confirmed a study I felt was a good fit for us. But I always come back to this truth: as long as we are digging into His Word and using careful, humble teaching to do it, Jehovah will bless and inform us. He is not so stingy as to leave us just because we don’t choose one “right” study. He is bigger and more generous than that.

6. Growing pains are normal, but they probably won’t last long. We had seven ladies our first season of P32, and it was so special we couldn’t keep it to ourselves. We started showing and sharing it, and others began saying, “I want that.” Twenty women showed up at our first meeting that second year. We revamped our format to accommodate the growth, but it was unsettling. “I just feel like crying,” one our founding members told me, and I shared her grief. We went back to our original structure and quickly settled into a new normal with a larger group. It wasn’t the same, but it was still good.

7. You will scarcely know a sweeter privilege on this earth than that of watching—before your very eyes– another woman grow in her knowledge of God and her love for Him. The gift of having a fellow sister in Christ tell you that because of what she’s learned in a study, she chose differently or reacted differently or thought differently or felt differently than she “normally” would have is immeasurable. It is worth every worry, every difficult morning, every beyond- ourself moment. To borrow from 3 John 4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my [study sisters] are walking in truth.” My heart breaks with happiness just thinking about it.

8. You really can't imagine the joys that are set before you. That's because "no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).

A version of this post was originally published here

January 9, 2020

Dear Children: Please Don’t Give Up (Even Though No One Would Blame You If You Did)

Dear Children,

Please don't give up.

Please don’t drop out of the race just yet. Please don’t sit down when the finish line is in sight. You’re almost there. You can do it. You almost certainly won’t regret giving it your all, all the way to the end, but you might regret it if you don’t.

Don’t stop working hard in that class. Don’t decide that good enough is good enough in your walk with God. Don’t accept almost when you’re getting ready for that competition. Don’t abandon that hard-but-worth-it relationship. Don’t settle for halfway on that goal you’re working toward. Don’t prepare just most of the way for that big performance.

I know you’re tired. I know you feel discouraged. I know you’ve studied those notes, practiced that song, run that drill, rehearsed that speech, had that conversation, prayed that prayer, and reviewed that presentation dozens of times already.

I also know you cannot entirely control the outcome of whatever you’re working toward. You don’t know what God has in store for you. You don’t know for sure what will be on that test. You don’t know how good the other competitors are. You don’t know how your friend will respond when you share your heart.

The results of that test, race, performance, conversation, struggle, presentation, game, or contest might not be exactly what you’re hoping for. You might get a B...or lower. You might get second place…or last place. Your BFF might reject you. God might say “no” to your prayer. You might trip over your words or your feet in front of the crowd. You might not hit all the right notes. You might know disappointment.

But you do not have to know regret, too.

You do not have to add “if only” to this chapter in your story.

If you prepare as hard as you can for the challenge ahead, you still might not get the prize you’re seeking.

You may have to deal with disappointment. But you will not have to deal with regret, because you will know you did everything you were able to do. And in that, you will find peace for the moment and renewed hope for the future.

Disappointment is painful, but it is not nearly so painful as disappointment with regret heaped onto it.

Former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” 

You can do, it my loves. You can do the next bit of hard work. There is strength available to you that is not your own:

"Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint" (Isaiah 40:31).

Keep your eye on the goal.

Not only or even mostly the goal of winning (whatever “winning” looks like in this race), but on the goal of contentment without the distraction of “if only.”

Finish strong. Gain for yourself the prize you can control: completion undiluted by regret.

You can choose to take regret and “if only” out of your equation. And when you do, you’ll know the beauty of this truth: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7).

Run on, dear ones. Run on.

January 3, 2020

When Morning Doesn't Come, I'll Stay With You In the Night

“Is that the best you can do?” 

I overhead this question at church a few Sundays ago when I was on my way to the coffee bar.

“Is that the best you can do?” was part of an exchange that went like this:

Man 1: “How are you?”
Man 2: “OK.”
Man 1: “OK? Is that the best you can do?”
Man 2: “Today it is, yes.”

Indeed, “OK” was the best he could do that day. 

It was better than he could do some days. 

It was an honest answer. 

But it did not play by the unwritten rules of social interaction, which maintain that “fine” or, preferably, “good” or, ideally, “great” are the expected responses to the standard question, “How are you?”

“Most people aren’t comfortable with a perceived problem (your feelings) until they feel like it’s close to being solved,” wrote Akilah S. Richards on Everyday Feminism.

Of course, we do not want to stay mired in despair. Of course, we don’t want to make a pit our permanent home. If we must be in a battle, we want to fight it and win. If we must be going through a struggle, we want to do just that: go through it and come out on the other side. 

But while we’re living in this messy world, there are some battles that don’t get won in ways that make anyone cheer.

There are diseases that don’t get healed.
There are broken relationships that don’t get repaired.
There are losses that never stop hurting.
There are wrongs that don’t get righted.

This is part of the reality of life, but it is not the part that makes for good Sunday-morning banter.

When we know someone in these realities, we may get used to their problem or tired of hearing about it. They’re doubtlessly tired of it, too, but they’re probably not used to it.

And so, to my friends who are living (maybe as permanent residents) in seasons where some days, “OK” is the best—or better than—you can do, I make this pledge . . . and hope with all my heart I keep it more than I break it.

When healing doesn’t come, I will stay with you in the sickness.

When joy doesn’t come, I will stay with you in the sorrow.

When provision doesn’t come, I will stay with you in the want.

When reconciliation doesn’t come, I will stay with you in the estrangement.

When answers don’t come, I will stay with you in the questioning.

When clarity doesn’t come, I will stay with you in the uncertainty.

And when morning doesn’t come, I will stay with you in the night, trusting that together in the darkness, we will fan hope's bright flame.

**A version of this piece first appeared on Her View From Home.**