Wednesday, March 7, 2012

bsf.


Every Tuesday night, I pack my Bible and my notebook into a striped tote bag, put a nametag on my chest, and drive out to the Methodist church where Bible Study Fellowship meets. It’s become a weekly routine, a part of my week as rote and as typical as brushing my teeth each night. And although I won’t go so far as to say it is the best night of the week, I will tell you that it is making me better, stronger.

BSF is healing my soul.

I’d been hearing about Bible Study Fellowship for months, mostly from fellow bloggers, but occasionally from a friend or churchgoer in the “real world” too. I was hesitant, only because I was busy. My schedule was packed, and I couldn’t imagine another night filled with yet another thing, no matter how good that thing might be.

But then God began to point my heart in the right direction. I’ve still got a lot to learn about boundary-setting, and some day, probably not too far in the future, I’ll blog about it, tell you what I’ve learned about making sure my boundary lines fall in the right places. Until then, what you need to know is this: Boundary-setting is all about saying no to some things so you can say yes to the better things.

I am trying so hard to say yes to the better thing, and for me, that meant saying yes to BSF.

So right before Christmas, right before my grandmother fell and all you-know-what broke loose, I went to my first meeting, encouraged by an older woman at my own church to step outside my comfort zone.

I loved it immediately, not because it was perfect, but because it was just what my soul needed.

Isn’t the Father amazing in that way? Providing us exactly what we need, in the very places we least expect it?

I have been a part of many, many Bible studies. I have fond memories, in particular, of a single women’s Bible study I attended while I lived in Birmingham, Alabama, adjusting to the tension that exists between college and real world, right when you’re on the cusp of breaking free only to be tamed again. I loved that study, loved learning about God’s will and what choosing God’s will really meant. I didn’t know a soul, which is part of the reason I think I loved it so much. There is something about gathering with people who only know you as a fellow daughter of the King that is so comforting, so reassuring. They love you just because you arrived, just because you worship who they worship. They love you, no questions asked.

That’s what I needed last year. I needed people outside of my own congregation to show me my Father’s love.

BSF met that need.

Every Tuesday at 6:55, about 100 to 150 women of all ages and races gather in the fellowship hall of that Methodist church to sing praises to the most high God. I won’t tell you that it sounds good, because I’m really not sure it does. I know some people think that high soprano voice is the most beautiful noise on the planet, but I find myself missing the basses and the tenors something fierce, probably because my natural pitch lies closer to that of a man’s. But that’s not important. What makes it beautiful isn’t really the voices, or the powerful piano. It’s that these women so obviously love singing praises. Not because they are good at it, not because they always get the words and the notes just right, but because they absolutely love being together for the good of the King.

For a girl who loves structure and order, BSF is a blessing from heaven. Those many, many Bible studies I’ve been a part of? Don’t think too highly of me, because most of them have driven me absolutely crazy. Hours upon hours of prayer requests. Heavy on gossip, light on the Word. Pink, flowery books about being a Proverbs 31 woman.

Women’s Bible studies can be hard for reasons some of you probably already know. The main reason, though, for me, has always been a lack of structure, a focus on prayer and fellowship that the introvert in me just can’t handle on a weekly basis, three hours at a time.

BSF begins promptly at 6:55. We sing a couple of songs together, say a prayer, and split into our discussion groups. (There are about 6 or 7 in mine.) Promptly at 7:10, we begin our discussion: Out loud, we answer the questions we’ve answered on our worksheets during the week. Women who haven’t answered the questions on paper can’t contribute to the discussion, which seems a little harsh, but prevents excess, opinionated discussion. BSF is strictly Bible-based. Women come from all kinds of church backgrounds, and the message was clear from the beginning: BSF is not the place to talk about your church’s pet doctrines or your own personal opinions. I like structure, but I’m also opinionated, so this was disconcerting at first. The answers the discussion leaders want aren’t my opinions; they want answers straight from scripture, with verse references, if at all possible. The leader is constantly checking the clock, making sure we get through all the questions before time is up. At 7:55, we move back upstairs to the fellowship hall. We sing a couple of songs, and we settle in for a 45-minute lecture on the material we’ve just covered in class.

At 8:45 — never a minute later — we are finished.

I joined BSF for a lot of reasons. My heart was a little sore from some of my own personal struggles with church, and I knew my heart’s pains were affecting the state of my soul and of my spiritual growth. I wanted to meet new friends, wanted to do something different with one night out of my week, wanted to get back on track with meeting God quietly on a daily basis.

BSF, while not perfect, has answered so many of those prayers. (While friends are a little hard to make at BSF — structure does have its down sides — my very first night there, God provided: A girl from my book club had decided, unbeknownst to me, to start BSF too. I include this detail not because it has that much to do with anything, but because God is so, so faithful, beyond what we could ask or imagine. He is so, so good to me.)

There’s this passage in 2 Corinthians where Paul admonishes the people to be better givers, to be more generous and joyful with their money and their time. The Corinthians had become distracted by all of their church issues and struggles with immorality — so distracted that they had forgotten what it meant to be generous. They just stopped giving.

For the past 18 months or so, I’ve been distracted. I’ve blogged about it here and there — though, more often than not, I’ve tried to keep it quiet; some personal things should remain personal, after all — this personal struggle with some church hurts and frustration.

Then in December, my grandmother fell. In January, she died, and my perspective changed.

Life and death, I think, remind us of not only who we are, but of what we do with our time here, however lengthy or brief.

I don’t have time or energy to devote to past church hurts. My grandmother’s death and BSF have helped me to forgive and to press on.

God wants so much more for my soul, and because I was distracted, I wasn't letting Him do His work.

Now, every Tuesday night, I gather with women — old and young, black and white — who are so obviously in love with the Lord. Their love is contagious, and because of them, I’ve been reminded of just who I am in Him.

Church has become a better place for me in these past few months. Not perfect, no. And sure, maybe God has different plans for us at a different congregation down the road. But for now, I am meeting the Father there. I am not distracted. I am not angry or hurt.

I am free.

BSF helped to make that possible. It shifted my focus and reminded me of the good and powerful things the church universal is doing.

Just like those early Corinthian believers, I had become distracted by my own congregation’s growing pains — too distracted to remind myself that the church, like the Father, is so much bigger than what we make it.

Now, on a weekly basis, I remember, and I am grateful.

God is healing my soul. I can tell. I can feel it.

And I have BSF to thank for that.

5 comments:

Rachael L. Anderson said...

I'm so glad you are enjoying it! You made a good point that boundaries are not meant just to say no to things, but to say no to some things yes to better things. I'm going to send this post link to my mom, I know she will like it (She is doing a BSF now).

Brittany said...

I love what you said about being distracted and how it prevents God from working on us--I think that's so true. I need spiritual feedings during the week too, to remind me of the important things and to encourage me to try a little harder.

Love your spiritual insights Annie. They're always so inspriing.

Mads: said...

This is a wake-up call. Made me cry.

TefMarie said...

"Pink, flowery books about being a Proverbs 31 woman."

This line sums it up so well.
I've heard about these studies, but haven't checked it out myself. This post makes me want to. Thanks for sharing. Glad you are learning and growing and striving through this.

Courtney said...

I love bsf! It's such an amazing tool for spiritual growth! So happy your heart got tugged in that direction!