The women’s Bible study was the first I had joined since becoming a wife and a mom. I had those initial years of marriage stuffed under my belt: where the honeymoon period morphs together with the commitment we made before God—and in my case—before practically every member of the church where I grew up. Those are the years when a new bride and groom wonder what in the world they’ve done while still knowing they were supposed to keep doing it. Every day.
I sat on thick, cozy furniture in a circle, of sorts, with several other women at a house where we met. We sipped hot drinks and reached for snacks and held the book we would be reading through. It was the umpteenth Bible study I’d been a part of, but this time in a new life season.
In the decade before walking into that house, I’d completed a tenure of teaching young children with disabilities and behavior disorders: five-year-olds who wore diapers and cussing six-year-olds who grew up in gang-filled neighborhoods. It was my dream job. The school was excellent. But between that work and several years of graduate school, I was burned out.
I spent the school year before getting married doing full-time coursework and studying for tests in the evenings and on weekends to complete my graduate degree. On a stormy spring night, six weeks before the wedding, a twister dropped down in my yard and split a 15,000-pound oak tree in two. The top half fell on my house. For the next month and a half, I lived in a hotel.
And then, I passed my tests, graduated, and got married. I moved to another state leaving my friends and family, and the only place I’d ever lived.
These experiences were mostly ordinary. Life changes and a few trials, the likes of which lots of people go through: a few difficult things—no tragedies.
In the season between new bride and new mom, I’d lost a little human inside of me before having the chance to discover whether the baby was a boy or a girl. The following year, I gave birth to a son after a full-term pregnancy and 34 hours of labor. A couple of months after that, our doctor diagnosed him with “failure to thrive” when I didn’t nurse like I was supposed to.
Still, I would comfort myself that the Old Testament man Job had a much harder life.
In the two years before meeting with those women in that house, my husband and I had made the decision to leave a big church that was operating less as a church body and more as a smattering of loosely connected ministries. It was only the second church congregation where I’d ever belonged.
During that period, I found myself in the foreign role of church visitor rather than the familiar role of church member. Going a-visiting on Sunday morning was hard and uncomfortable, though it was a worthwhile experience that gave me a new perspective. In some ways, it was good for my relationship with my husband. In other ways, it was not at all helpful.
By the time this opportunity to meet with other believers (women!) came, I was eager to discuss the Word. This wasn’t youth group; I had adulted, and now I hungered for camaraderie with peers and older women who had been through some of the same life stuff: little trials and marriage and kids and loss.
By this time, and without realizing it at first, I had shed the superficial belief that every “Bible study” book printed by Christian publishers was the real deal.
In fact, I realized that many such studies weren’t studies of the Word at all—these were book studies with verses thrown in, often haphazardly, to support an author’s point or point of view.
The book we were going through was about womanhood, and what our role as women is supposed to look like for daughters of Christ. It contained erroneous statements under the guise that these declarations were biblical. Most of the book contained themes that were simply the author’s opinion.
And I was the lone holdout.
I brought up these concerns, but no one else agreed with me (or if they did, they didn’t speak up). No other participant admitted the lack of Scriptural basis for the themes of the book. No one else talked about how the author had a one-way travel plan for being “a woman of God,” a trip that could apparently only be taken with the author as the travel guide. The group was guided around my concerns and led back to accepting the book’s premise. After a few of these redirecting cues, I took the hint, and we continued going through the proverbial motions.
Along with the superficial nature of the book during that study came a somewhat seemingly superficial discussion. Many of these women were older than me. They had surely gone through the same types of things I had, likely worse. Where were the issues in our hearts we were supposed to be sharing, pouring out, praying over? Where were the Scripture verses we should be comparing the book’s statements to?
Because it’s important for me to guard against my own special kind of arrogance, I sought other opinions. My husband, who has always preferred diligent study of the actual Bible and is not the type of person to appease, agreed with me about my assessment of the book. A few other people I checked with agreed, people who weren’t going to simply say I was right because they liked me and everything I stood for.
I don’t want to disrespect the group of women I met with. They welcomed me and got to know me a little. Maybe they didn’t want to speak up. Maybe they were worn out. Maybe there was something I missed. Maybe they had spoken up before and taken their cues, just like I did.
In the life season after this study, I found authenticity with a different group of women doing studies about what God has to say…in the Bible. We developed rapport and kept confidences. Sure, we read books, often pointing out where we believed those books were in contradiction to the Word. These women taught me about being real and asked the hard questions of me and shared the hard stuff of their own life. We admitted to, referenced, and read aloud Bible passages we didn’t like and worked through the verses, sometimes with gritted teeth. We laughed, we cried, we got angry. And because what happens in your small group study stays in your small group study—we occasionally cussed.
I met lively women decades older than me who knew exactly the kind of study I’d been involved in before, women who were born in the 40s and some of who had been wives since the 60s, and even before that. They nodded their heads knowingly when I mentioned it. Yeah, they said. We’ve been there, and we’ve long been done with that.
In the years since that study in the cozy living room, I’ve come to appreciate more how my husband studies the Bible: inductively. Take a verse or a passage and read. Learn about the context that surrounds it. Research the time period and customs and culture in which it was written. I have learned to open the Word of God and ponder on one verse or passage. Sitting with it. Standing with it. Thinking about it during conflicts in marriage and while breaking up sibling rivalries and driving kids around. Gritting my teeth while obeying it. And sometimes not obeying it all.
I still read Bible study books by Christian authors and listen to Christian speakers, though I’m more selective and skeptical. I’m a part of a community group that continues to be an encouragement on the hard stuff we live through.
My hope for my future studies, and those of my children’s and that of Christ-following churches, is that chosen studies will emphasize knowledge of Scripture: thorough reading and dissection above topics, themes, and trendy sermon series.
My hope for myself is that, with humility and gentleness, I’m brave enough to point out when commentary appears to be contradictory to Scripture. And that I won’t point others to my own commentary in the process, but to the words God has written.