We sit in a lop-sided circle on a couch or a bed or a blanket on the bare floor of an apartment. We spread out our offerings – fresh bread and fruit, dumplings and chips and juice. We all admit we’ve been eating too many carbs lately, but we still polish off the plate of cookies together. Then we gather around a laptop and listen to a man talk about God.
We’ve come from different parts of the world, from families that are close and families that are broken, in relationships and single, churched and unchurched. Some of us Believe, some of us aren’t sure if we do, and some of us are just starting to wonder if we want to. We are strangers in a strange place without a lot in common, but together we are part of something beautiful.
For a long, long time Bible study has been the last thing I have been interested in. In college, Bible studies were academic – interesting and instructional, full of references to things we learned in class or in chapel, often including a breakdown of what the passage said in the original Greek. I learned a lot in college, but I also felt inadequate. It was impossible not to weigh my insights alongside someone else’s or compare the depth of my spiritual life to the girl who woke in the middle of the night and prayed for hours, burdened for the lost.
After college, there were a few Bible studies organized by churches I attended. You know, Women’s Bible studies. Just those words conjure up an image of church-ladies in floral dresses and too much perfume making vague statements like, “You’ve just got to ‘Let go and let God.’” I knew a lot of “right” answers, but I was as tired of giving them as I was of hearing them. And no one seemed prepared to deal with my doubts – “I believe in God, but I’m not sure if God is good.” “The Apostle Paul comes off like a really arrogant SOB sometimes.” Maybe you already know this, but these kind of statements aren’t warmly welcomed by many nice church-ladies.
Suffice it to say, I was surprised by myself when I agreed to join a Bible study one of the girls was starting. I was nervous. I didn’t really know any of the other girls and I wasn’t sure what to expect. We met for the first time and realized that we were coming from wildly different backgrounds, and were wrestling with different aspects of our faith. We were messy and confused and blunt and unsure. But we were open. And I got SO excited. Because I knew that this was what I was looking for.
We ask questions. We tell our stories. We laugh at and with each other. We offer suggestions and encouragement, but we also admit frequently that there are a lot of things we don’t know. And sometimes we just complain together. But mostly, we offer OURSELVES to each other. Not just our opinions or our knowledge or our advice. Ourselves. We sit in our circle and spread out our arms and say, “Whatever you are, you are welcome here. Whatever you brought to share is a gift. Whatever you have to contribute will be valued. Whatever you need to say is safe with us.” There is maybe more cursing than you’d expect at a Bible study. But there’s also more laughing. There is more joy. There is more room for grace. There is more abundant LIFE.
Strange, how the most beautiful part of my life right now might just be a group of semi-heathens who really love cookies. And maybe also Jesus.