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Bible Study and the City

One particularly summery evening last May, I headed to downtown Dallas. For me the road from my sedate suburbia to downtown entailed much more than thirty minutes of my time. It was a trip into another culture where beautiful, successful 20-somethings live, work, and love to party. Even though my well-worn NIV Study Bible sat on the seat next to me, my mind was far from memory verses or prayers. I stared down at my jeans murmuring to myself, "What were you thinking when you purchased these matronly things?" Then my eyes moved to the rearview mirror and I sat aghast at the face of a 50-year-old woman looking every wrinkle of the journey. Lastly, with a tightening in my chest I screamed, "Why did you ever agree to meet with a bunch of skinny, tan, unwrinkled 20-year-old women?"

Here's the story behind my frenzy: My 24-year-old son, Matt, dates Jill. Through their college years and now as young professionals working in Dallas, I have gotten to know Jill and her girlfriends at barbecues and birthdays. They have a close relationship, and together they adore Oprah, volunteer in the community, watch The Bachelor and have a monthly book/dinner club. Yet while most of these bright young women are Christians, most are not a part of a church family. Wondering how I might help them connect spiritually, last May I emailed Jill to see if she and her "girls" (as Matt refers to them) might be interested in meeting for a casual summer Bible study. I did not hear back for a few days, but then my inbox was flooded with unanimous reply-to-all "I'm in!" responses. We set a date. And now I found myself wending my way to our first meeting.

I had read about Generation Y, but it was a completely different experience opening the book of Philippians with them as they sat curled up on couches and floors. As I looked into their eyes and souls across bowls of M&Ms and chilled chardonnay, we debated the apostle Paul's all-or-nothing challenge to live contently even in over indulgent "Sex and the City" Dallas.

It was fascinating, heartbreaking, and also encouraging getting into their lives. Here are five things I learned:

1. Be myself. I learned to relax with the fact that I would never be 20-something again and realized that was not what these women needed anyway. Instead, they wanted to know, for example, had I ever blown it, or how had I stayed a good Christian "all these years." Most of their moms live in other towns, so I was privileged with surrogate mom/spiritual mentor status. (I have two sons, so 10 adopted daughters worked great for me.)

2. Listen. The first week I opened with, "Tell us why you are here?" They made jokes about being made to come or the hope of good food, but then Kelly and Bethany confessed being involved in Young Life and youth group in high school. They had not returned to "church" since then and missed it. When it was Katie's turn, she held up her Catholic Bible and blurted out, "I am a Bible study virgin!" Everyone burst out laughing, and it wonderfully eased the expectation that anyone was an expert and clued me into the fact that I needed to stick with the basics.

3. Be flexible. At first the girls wanted only to open our Bibles and talk about one chapter a week. Yet by the third meeting, the discussion waned and seemed to need structure. Jill asked if I could provide a few questions to guide the conversation. I ordered a book online; it enriched our discussions to the point where we often went past the time limit.

4. Provide peer support. That same summer I also attended a book discussion group with three women my age that inquired, prayed, and encouraged me as I shared about my Gen Y meetings. My friend Sharon accompanied me many weeks. It reassured me to have someone else to field questions and then debrief with on the drive home.

5. Apologize. Not a meeting went by without someone bringing up hurts or disillusionment regarding "church." At the first meeting Marina shared her attempt to attend a woman's Bible study but felt judging eyes even as she entered the room. I wept and asked for forgiveness for myself and the church at large.

I will always remember the summer Bible Study of '08. I learned that simply being available and vulnerable made up for much of my uncoolness, and that unconditional love (and a lot of laughter) goes a long way.

P.S. Wondering what the girls are doing now? They continued the Bible study this fall without me, choosing to take turns leading it themselves.

February06, 2009 at 1:21 PM

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