Steaming mugs of coffee or tea in hand, the 12 women of the Among Women panel, plus several of the support personnel, having finished their wonderful supper, gather in the cozy living room of the Swartz home. A fire crackles in the corner grate, and the room is lively with chatter and merriment. After several attempts, Lynette is finally able to bring everybody’s attention to bear on the business of the evening, commenting with a smile, “It’s noisier here than last time. That’s what we like to hear.” After opening with prayer, she brings everyone focus to the main question of the evening: “What has stayed with you since the last retreat?”
A short silence. Everybody looks thoughtful as they ponder their coffee cups or the floor, trying to arrange a coherent whole from their reflections on the last retreat and the time since then. One by one, they begin to speak, and the first theme of the evening emerges.
“Last time it was a group of strangers,” says Carla, “This time it’s a group of friends.”
Several people elaborate on this theme of a new unity that exists among this diverse group of women.
Louella describes her personal experience of it, saying “We’re all in such different places, yet there is pain and joy in each one. I just felt such a kindred spirit with all the rest, it doesn’t matter [what the situation], with the young mothers and the rest…”
“We are just not as alone as we think we are,” puts in Lynette. “That’s one of Satan’s best tactics, divide and conquer. Just get us all feeling so alone.”
“The lies are the same for all of us,” comments Mim, “He’s not very creative in his lies. We all think we’re the loneliest, that we have it the hardest, that no one understands.”
“[But] we all have the same Jesus,” continues Elnora, “[who] has the same healing power.”
“And He is very creative” finishes Dot, to general approbation.
Another theme emerges as the discussion continues. One of the goals of this project is to enable women to learn from women across their spheres. For Martha, this took a somewhat surprising turn, as she shares in the course of the evening. She speaks slowly and distinctly, a peaceful dignity, mixed with quick humor, suffusing her voice and words. Laughter bubbles around the circle as she opens her remarks.
“I think I’m beginning to see why I’m a part of this.” She’s not the only one who has faced personal doubts about her own reason for being here.
She continues, pausing occasionally to choose just the right words: “I have been humbled to… to come under you young women, to come under your teaching and your mentoring. That’s usually my role, you know? And to see these young whippersnapper women – … [i]n all your maturity, your spiritual maturity, your abilities, and – oh my goodness – how you can navigate through all this technological stuff, you know, – and to just kind of submit to that feeling, to that reality.”
For Sabrina, the learning has brought more concrete results. She speaks in a gentle voice, with a direct, forthright style. “As I thought of each of you,” she explains, “and related to you it made me look at and interact with people in your spheres differently.” At a celebratory event shortly after the death of one of her uncles, she found herself doing something that she would never have thought of doing before. Going to her newly widowed aunt, she began a conversation by asking, “Do you think that [Uncle] Marlin would like to be here?” Interacting with women from different spheres, she says, has made her more aware of things that she says.
Women learning from women, trying to find ways to support each other in the varied callings that God has placed on their lives – it’s beginning to happen here, in this circle of women, who have discovered that they have so many of the same struggles, and that they all find healing and strength in the same God.
Even the newcomer is not excluded. Speaking to Naomy, Dot says, “I’m so glad that you’re here too. I hope that you don’t feel excluded. I hope you feel included, because you’re now a part of this.”
Next time we’ll hear more about Naomy, including her reflections on some of the ground covered in the last retreat. For now, it’s time to hear from you.
Questions for comment:
- What is one thing that you have learned from a woman who occupied a different sphere from your own that changed the way that you think or act?
- Have you ever found unity in a surprising place?