I Need Structure!

brick wall herringbone patternFor the past three years I’ve been involved with an organization that promotes Bible study and faith around the world, Bible Study Fellowship International. The procedures that BSF follows were originally developed by its founder, A. Wetherell Johnson, who had been a missionary to China for many years. She was asked to start a Bible study for a group of women in California, and the organization spread from there.

BSF follows a highly-structured framework in its materials and classes, with participants basically getting information and input on each Scripture passage in four different ways: 1) by answering the study questions, which are set up to be done daily, 2) by discussing the questions in small groups, 3) by listening to a lecture given by the Teaching Director of the overall class that might include several dozen small groups, and 4) by reading the notes provided at the end of each session. Actually, you could make a case for there being a fifth go-over, as the first day’s questions for each week’s lesson concern the notes and lecture of the week before. Very thorough!

This year I didn’t get into a BSF class. We were moving across town, so I didn’t want to commit myself to a long drive every Wednesday morning. There was some question about where the class would actually end up, as the building they were using was no longer going to be available. One strong possibility was a church much farther north, thus adding to the distance from my new address. I tried to get myself enrolled at a closer location, but somehow my application fell through the cracks until that class was full. I was told that there was a long waiting list, so I went with another possibility: a class only a mile from home at my in-laws’ church. I liked the women who come to the class and the discussions we had, but around week three I started missing that good old BSF structure. We did have questions to answer about the book we were reading, but they weren’t set out in any kind of daily form. I found myself doing a once-over-lightly on the questions Thursday mornings. There wasn’t that outside prodding that I needed to be consistent in my studies.

Then, through a sort-of-chance conversation, I found out that my old class had moved across town, too. They’re meeting at a church that’s only three miles from me. I don’t know exactly how this happened, but there they are. I got in touch with the class secretary and she got me enrolled. I’ll start attending tomorrow morning.

Moving to this other class hasn’t involved doing much more than sending a couple of e-mails, the aforementioned one to BSF and one to a teacher of the class I was attending, explaining to her why I wouldn’t be there any more. She was very gracious about it. All quite painless.

But I got to thinking about how hard it is sometimes for us to make changes when we realize that something isn’t working for us. I could have thought, ‘Huh. It’s going to be a little embarrassing to walk into the BSF class that I said I wasn’t going to attend,’ or ‘I don’t want to hurt the feelings of the women in my new class by dropping out,’ or whatever. At one point I was telling myself that I’d stick with the new class through Thanksgiving and then get enrolled in BSF during the break, but that idea didn’t make much sense. If I had decided that the right thing to do was to switch, then why not just go ahead and do it?

There’s always that fine line between obligation and desire, though. Sometimes you do need to stick with things regardless of your feelings. There were many, many mornings during my teaching career when I didn’t want to get up and go to school, but I went. You don’t get to sign a contract and then toss it aside. You don’t get to walk away from a commitment you’ve made. The secret is to distinguish between real and imagined obligations. Which is which? For me, the classic Obliger, I have to studiously ignore all hints of “what will people think?” or “will I hurt someone’s feelings?” What earthly difference does it make to me? (I’ve said before that one of the worst well-intentioned reasons for doing something or not doing it is that fear of hurting feelings. Reasonable tact, yes. Sensitivity to others, yes. But not enslavement to the possibility of someone else’s slight.)

Are you sticking with something that you need to change? Are you letting a sense of imaginary obligation hold you back? How could you move on?

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