Structure Can Set Us Free.

Silhoette with a clock brainIf we use it correctly, that is.

So I’m continuing to gain wisdom, both practical and spiritual, from my wonderful Bible study group. A couple of weeks ago I was a little puzzled by the fact that the teaching leader’s phone kept chiming as she worked her way through our discussion of the study questions.  Why on earth doesn’t she turn that off? I wondered. She’d just reach over, touch the screen, and continue. I thought she was getting text messages or something. Couldn’t they wait?

Well, it turned out that the chimes were a way for her to stay on track with how fast we were progressing through the list.

The organization is very concerned about time use, and the leadership meetings’ agenda is set by them. (Orders from headquarters, as it were.) We have two hours and fifteen minutes, and each segment within that limit is supposed to last a certain time.  We march through the meeting, hewing to the schedule, and manage to get everything done. One segment is always concerned with how important each question is, relatively speaking, so that we’ll have some idea of how long we have to spend the next day when we’re leading our individual discussion groups. Some women actually go so far as to color-code each question according to importance.

The possible drawbacks of this structured approach are clear. One group leader brought up the fact that she found this type of pre-set limits to be a distraction. And there was mention of a class in a previous year in which the GL was more concerned with getting through the questions on time than with any meaningful input from the group. So we have to be sure we’re not veering over too far on that side of the road.

On the other hand, having no structure is pretty terrible too. You have to have an idea of where you’re going, obviously, or you’ll never get there. I’ve been in other study groups where the leader meandered, wasted time, lacked control or focus, and had no sense of where we needed to be. It was extremely frustrating.

So the best structure is one that’s not obvious, that’s acting as a foundation and not the whole. Musicians, for instance, are often told that they need to practice diligently and get all the technical details down, but when they actually perform they should concentrate instead on, well, the performance itself. That terribly difficult section with the 32nd-note runs? Well, you’d better have practiced that until your fingers were bleeding. But now, as you sit onstage? It’s part of the larger whole. Lose sight of that, and your performance will be mechanical. Your technique is there, holding you up, but it’s only worthwhile if it leads to what you’re actually trying to do.

So this past Wednesday I met with my own group. (They’re so wonderful!) And we were running a little bit behind but doing okay.  I had the “important” questions marked with asterisks. We got to a certain question that I thought we’d really already covered in the previous discussion. Could we just sort of mention that and move on? No. The women had some additional thoughts, really good ones. So we took the time for them. That’s what we’re there for, after all. And we still managed to get into the auditorium for the lecture pretty much on time.

Sunday is a family dinner day. The Broncos are playing at 2:05. (We’d better win against the Chargers this time!) I want to be able to relax and enjoy the afternoon. (Remember my ideas on having a personal Sabbath? It hasn’t been going all that well. I need to get back to that priority.) Maybe if I think in terms of building a structured foundation I’ll be a little more motivated to have preparations done ahead of time. Then my focus will be on my guests.

What structures do you need to put in place in your life?

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