Maybe Easter isn't the best time to post about this. Maybe I should do an Easter-related post instead. But it's the end of the day, and I have a lot on my mind, and I don't really have anything else to say about Easter that I haven't said other places around the internet already today (as a Christian, am I allowed to say I am out of things to say about Easter? I don't know.)
I am discouraged. Normally that wouldn't warrant writing anything or sharing my feelings (unfortunately discouragement follows me around quite a bit), but I am discouraged about something very important to me- Bible study. I treasure my Bible study group, and the fact that I am feeling this discouraged about it is very troubling indeed.
Let me first provide a bit of background about my Bible study group. I have attended Bible studies before, but never finished them before becoming a part of this group. I didn't stay motivated, I didn't feel held accountable, and I didn't connect with the material, maybe because I didn't have any say in choosing what the material was, and I didn't know who made that decision. Maybe being removed so far from that process is a bad thing. Anyway, shortly after I got married, my mom said I should come to her Bible study group. It was me and three of her coworkers, plus her boss's wife. My mom works for a Christian bookstore, and she has since I was six years old, so I know many of her coworkers very well- some of them since I was born. Her boss and his wife moved back to Pennsylvania only a few sessions into our study, and it took a long time, but we finished that study up. Then we started another one, and I think this was the time our group started to expand. Some more of mom's coworkers joined us, I invited Brandon's mom, and we started meeting in each others' homes. Then the group expanded again, after some bookstore customers were invited, and we started meeting in a room at a local gigantic church (my mom and a few other Bible study group attendees are members there.) Somewhere along the way, my mom sort of became the leader of the study, and even though our group was bigger, it was almost entirely made of bookstore employees or their spouses (plus me and an in-law!)
These past few studies we've done together have been exceptionally great. Instead of voting on the most popular book from a random selection, the Holy Spirit has really led us in a specific direction, it seems. Our last three or four studies have really gone well together (if you're curious, over the past year and a half or so, we've done Priscilla Shirer's Jonah, Kelly Minter's Nehemiah, Francis Chan's Remembering the Forgotten God, one that I don't remember the title of, and now we're doing Jen Hatmaker's 7.) They've been convicting and enlightening. Our group gets along very well. It has grown considerably over the past year, with over twenty people on my email contact list, but we stay steady at about 12-15 people present at each meeting.
This time around, though, things have been weird. One regular member decided not to participate in this study. Another member hasn't been able to come- she left her job at the bookstore and works somewhere else now, and between her schedule and sharing a car with her husband, she just hasn't been able to participate in a while. Another person came back after missing the last few Bible studies due to a lot of stuff going on in her life, but she has missed about half the sessions. One person who has been there pretty much every week has missed the last three weeks. Another person dropped out in the middle of the study. For a group that started by being pretty much all bookstore employees, it has been really creepy to see them all essentially leave. Two weeks ago, NO ONE from the bookstore was there (my mom was sick.) I was there, and so was my mother in law, but the other people there (we had a small group that night) had no connection to the bookstore, other than they were invited by someone in the study. And I love this group of women, don't get me wrong, but it's just WEIRD. Last week, my mom was back, but other than her, there was no one from the bookstore. I don't know if they've all given up or what. Well, that's not true. One person is currently serving a two year English teaching mission in Japan. Two other Bible study members (her mom and her sister) have been in Japan these past two weeks visiting her. So that's totally understandable. But still...next week, when they're back (please be back! No jet lag!), will they be the only bookstore people? I have sent emails and facebook messages checking on some of these folks, and they go unanswered. I know people have their own lives and sometimes family stuff goes on, but they do realize that when they don't show up (especially when it's several weeks in a row, and you know they're still alive because hey, mom sees them at work), it's worrisome. If you miss Bible study without telling anyone "hey, sorry, I'm not feeling well" or "My relative is in the hospital so I won't be able to make it this week", we worry. We worry about you, and I worry that maybe you just don't like the study, or us, anymore. I am paranoid and insecure, though. My Bible study group are my only friends outside work (where I basically have one good friend, but we don't hang out outside work) and my friends from high school (whom I pretty much see twice a year, on my birthday and at Christmas.)
Maybe I'm taking all these absences too personally. I am worried, though. I'm worried that these people won't be back. And I don't like that idea, because I like them. I'm worried they don't like the study we're doing, because it really is good. But when everyone stops coming to Bible study, and you're not entirely convinced that people are doing a really crucial part of the study (in this case, "fasting" from seven different areas of our life, like media and excessive spending and stuff. It's a long story- I promise to write more when we're done, because I really like the study), well, what's my motivation for doing the work? I no longer feel held accountable. I no longer feel as loved and supported as I used to. I think to a certain extent, other people in our group are feeling the same way. (And mom, if you're reading this, IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT. The fault does not lie with the leadership, but the participants.)
I'm not really sure what the point of this post was, other than to express my concern and sadness. Last week, seeing our shrinking group, and feeling emotional about some of the things we talked about, and realizing that the people I have known the longest don't even come any more, I felt kind of broken. I feel like we as a group are falling apart. And I hate that. I don't want to fall apart. I don't want to stop doing Bible studies. I don't want things to change. I HATE change. I don't want to lose my friends- and if you never see someone and they don't answer your emails and you stop talking to them, are they still your friends? I don't really know. The whole thing is sad.
Have you ever been a part of a Bible study group? How did that go? Did you really click with your fellow members? Did your meetings turn into chat-fests with snacks and gossips and not a lot of focus on the work? I know that happens a lot, but that's not what's happening with us. I was (and am) proud of that fact. That's why I can't figure out why our group is shrinking. I thought we were doing everything right.
Anyway, that's the end of my stream-of-consciousness nonsense for the night. Sorry I didn't write a pretty Easter post. Maybe after some more reflection I will come up with a late post sometime this week. This is just what was weighing on my heart this evening.