I grew up with two sisters and a brother who have always been my best friends. I have never been a person who spends lots of time with oodles of friends outside of work and family. As my siblings and I have married and moved to different cities we have focused on our individual families. Keeping busy with my own family and work has concealed my need for, and God’s plan for, girlfriends.
I attend a large church. It’s a perfect place to limit relationships. I have participated in the women’s Bible studies for years, but until recently had not really connected with or kept in touch with anyone from a study. I’ve made excuses thinking I would become more involved if I didn’t work, if I was single, or if my family wasn’t so big. I volunteered at the women’s information booth once a month, feeling I needed to serve and give back in some small way – an interesting spot for someone so disconnected and unable to answer most of the questions other women asked when they stopped by! One day our women’s pastor joined us in the booth asked me, “How are you getting connected here?” I was relieved to be able to tell her that I was in a Tuesday night Bible study, but I felt a bit convicted calling my participation “connected”. She asked if I had considered facilitating a group at the next study. I am not a Bible scholar and wondered if there weren’t people more qualified to lead. What if I couldn’t answer theological questions that came up? Still, she planted the idea and I began praying about it.
By the time I next volunteered in the women’s booth the following month, I had agreed to lead a group. I was nervous, but knew God would bless my obedience. After the new studies were announced that Sunday morning, a woman stopped by the booth and, with obvious reluctance, signed up. I invited her to sign up for my table since it was her first time joining a study here and my first time facilitating. I didn’t know her circumstances, but sensed she was struggling with something in life. I was encouraged to think that God may have a purpose for me in this study.
Facilitating that first study was at times torturous! I felt inadequate and unable to inspire. I was as academically prepared as I could be each week, but I was nervous and fighting God for the reigns. One week the woman I had met at the information booth returned after missing the previous study. She was aloof and distant, clearly not engaged with our study, mentally elsewhere, yet she had showed up. God placed her on my heart and we ended up meeting for coffee a couple times over the next two weeks. She confessed her current struggle in an abusive, ungodly relationship fueled by alcohol. Soon after that she found the strength to leave her dysfunctional relationship and enter a rehabilitation program. She recently celebrated and thanked God for a year of sobriety! It was such a blessing to be a part of God’s work in her life. It gave me the encouragement I needed to continue leading. I began praying for a pure heart yielded to God’s agenda, expecting Him to do mighty things as we gathered. I dropped my agenda in favor of genuinely listening to and connecting with the women in our group.
Several of us have continued meeting together and shared a cabin at last year’s retreat. A couple of months ago one friend from the group invited me to attend a Beth Moore simulcast with her at a local church. Beth said something that day that really resonated with me: “A woman’s joy is not the same without girlfriends to share it.” She led us to Bible verse after verse of God’s people “making each other’s joy complete” and “rejoicing together.” One of my favorites was Luke 15:8-9: Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.” We girlfriends celebrate differently than men do. Beth had us all in stitches imagining the crazy search and celebration with girlfriends once the coin was found.
This morning reading 1 Thessalonians 1 confirmed God’s will for us to be deeply connected with others…
“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us (2:8)… we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory (2:11-12)… when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you (2:17)…. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (2:19-20)”
Each time my sisters and I spend time together I come home with a belly ache from laughing. I want more of that in my life and that takes authentic relationships developed over time. I am building them with the beautiful sisters in Christ that I am serving with. I no longer worry that I won’t have all the answers or that I am unworthy to guide a table of women faithfully seeking God. Instead, I cherish the shared wisdom and accountability that comes from these Godly women who struggle with sin just as I do. Without their encouragement I would not be writing this blog.