Tuesday, June 15, 2010

In Which I Choose a Topic and Get on with It: More Than A Sum of Our Parts

I began a new Bible study this morning.  It's a group study that meets for the next five weeks to watch a video series and take part in a small group discussion.  The topic is conversing with our daughters in ways that are meaningful about topics that matter.  What drew me to the study is that it deals with five intentional conversations that mothers should have with their daughters over and over and over again.  I like the idea that I can learn about these conversations and then reuse them for years and years.  I'm all about getting my value from my time and I figure ten hours to learn about something that I can reuse x3.  That's my kind of value.

I've attended other Bible studies at this particular church so I knew, generally, what to expect.  Coffee cups and carry in breakfasts are allowed.  No red drinks.  Bring your Bible.  Workbooks and pens will be provided.  Casual dress is fine.  Some is more casual than others.  Since the study is about talking with your daughters, I expected a room full of mothers and I wasn't disappointed.  The ages of mothers ranged from early twenties to early sixties. 

I'm guessing the early sixties mom was there to lend support and encouragement.  I suppose she could be there to evaluate her own performance in retrospect or to learn tips and hints she can pass on to her own daughter as her daughter begins raising the sixties mom's granddaughters.  Or maybe she was lonely and she figured that as a mother and a daughter she might enjoy sharing the time with others.

Truly, it's difficult to say why anyone else was in the class.  Our opening activity was to introduce ourselves, share the ages of our daughters and tell about our proudest parenting moment.  A question about proud parenting moments immediately creates a competition and sets up a serious challenge, especially in a group of churchy women.  If you really say something that made you proud, that's bad because pride is not a virtue.  You also have to limit the things that are pride worthy.  Is a sports achievement something that the group would consider worthy of pride?  Should it be the number of memory verses the child learned?  Or would personality traits be better suited for the right answer?  Do I share that I'm proud that my children play well together?  Or that they are kind?  It's always good to go for the laugh.  Telling a funny story about your child is an easy and effective way to avoid sharing a truly prideful moment.  Or you can fall back on "when I gave birth"  because really, who can argue with that?  Giving birth trumps just about anything.  It also ensures that no one else can trump you because everyone that's been in one of these Bible study groups knows that you can't pick the same proud moment (or whatever) that anyone else has shared. 

I would have rather heard why others were taking the class.  That would have at least given a feeling of solidarity with some of the other women.  Answers could have been focused on the topic at hand and served to create a feeling of comradery:  I want a better relationship with my daughters.  I don't want to screw my daughters up too badly.  I'm trying to do my best and figure I need all the help I can get.  I'm a daughter and I know I want to do a better job than my mother did.  There is much common ground to be found in that answer.  It's been my experience that creating common ground is important in this kind of Bible study.

After sharing who we are and what makes us proud, we chatted without purpose for about 20 minutes.  My husband left for Australia today.  I didn't have 20 minutes to chat with strangers, even if those strangers were friends I hadn't met yet.  I had prescriptions to pick up.  I had things to do.  On a good day, 20 minutes of undirected chatting with strangers would have been less than comfortable.  Today it was like fingers on a chalkboard.  I smiled.  I chatted.  I counted down the time and made lists in my head.  I checked out the other women.  I noticed hair, teeth, skin and clothing.  I watched mannerisms and listened to conversational styles.  I evaluated each on the friend to not friend scale.  I waited for the video presentation and my opportunity to move onto my list of things that needed to be done.

The video presentation was interesting.  It helped me look forward to completing the lesson and digging into these conversations that I'm to have with my daughters.  I will get my value from this lesson and I can see where there is value to be had.  I filled in all the blanks in my workbooks and made notes in my margins.  I felt great about getting on with it.  Then I read the first conversation starter for each small group after the video presentation:  Have you ever judged someone or shown favor based on appearance?  If so, what were the circumstances?

How unfair is a question like that?!  Especially when you've been given 20 pointless minutes in a room full of strangers.  Twenty minutes to create stories about each and every person at my table, weighing them on the scale of potential and judge them completely based on just a tiny bit more than a first impression.  I hate it when I'm trying to do something virtuous, like attending a Bible study even though my husband is leaving for Australia and I could have used the time in a thousand more productive ways, and it comes back to bite me in the butt by reminding me how desperately I deserve judgement.

I confessed my judgement to everyone at my table in an I'm-going-to-just-flat-out-admit-my-sin-and-dare-you-to-throw-a-stone way and found that I wasn't alone in my judging others.  I hadn't really thought that I was but it was nice that my table mates were willing to admit it.  We'd all been summing each other up, tallying the friend potential and making judgements.  Our lecture topic was "You are more than the sum or your parts".  Definitely a topic that I need to remind myself of when it comes to judging others.  Each and every person I meet is more than just what I see on the outside.  And really, even if they are only what I can see and judge, isn't that enough?  Doesn't the fact that each and every being on this planet is created by God demand my attention and respect and give me an excellent reason to postpone judgement?

I left the Bible study thinking about the last minute preparations for Rob's trip to Australia.  I also had a new awareness of the women around me.  I looked at them, not with judgment but with gratitude that there were so many that desired to glorify God in the relationship that they were building with their daughters.  We'd gathered on common ground. We were all mothers.  We were all daughters.  We were all women.  And over the next five weeks I think I'll find that judgement to be the most true and the one that matters most.

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