She was high when she came in for Bible study. (I usually miss it, but even I knew it.)
Let’s be honest. When you are arrested for being under the influence, you’re still under the influence after you’re arrested. She had only been at the jail for a little while but had come to Bible study. (That’s a good thing!) She saw someone she knew and said the f-word loudly as she took a seat. “Hey now,” I said. “You just walked in to ‘church’, don’t say things like that in here.” She didn’t pay attention; kept right on talking.
She looked familiar but her hair was different. I studied her face but her name wouldn’t come to mind. “I know you…but can’t remember your name.”
“Tina*,” she said.
“Tina,” I repeated, “That’s right!” and I remembered. Oh yes, I remembered.
The teacher proceeded with the short lesson about God having a plan for our lives, for their lives. Tina kept talking. And talking, even through prayer.
The teacher was frustrated; I was, too. I spoke to Tina again and again asking her to wait just a little longer and she could have time to talk as everyone colored pictures. (Coloring is a great stress reliever.)
Our time ended and we left, a little unsure if anything had been accomplished. We reminded ourselves where we were and what our goal was, planning to return the next week.
I have to admit I was flustered. I had remembered Tina from before and knew this was usual for her. She talked to anyone and everyone around her and probably just came to Bible study to get out of her cell. Who wouldn’t? If she kept disturbing, no one at all would get anything out of the studies. Not one. I didn’t want to be a nag, but had to figure out what to do. I started to pray. That’s always the best place to start! I prayed for Tina several times a day. I didn’t just want her to be quiet, I wanted her to not come back-to the jai-EVER! It wasn’t about the talking, I wanted her to turn her life and future over to God! I didn’t just want the other girls to hear the lesson, I wanted Tina to hear God’s Word speak to her!
One of the reasons praying first is so important is that it changes the pray-er’s perspective. I went from being frustrated about Tina’s non-stop disrupting to real concern about her soul. Jail was no good place for anyone to keep coming back to. Something needed to give for her and all the other girls! After a few days of praying for her, I went from hoping she wouldn’t come to Bible study to really hoping she would!
Several days later, we arrived back at the jail for Sunday morning Bible study. I told Becky, this week’s teacher, “Don’t be alarmed when I lay down some rules at the beginning.” “OK,” she said, a little concerned.
As the girls filed in, they took their seats at tables set up in the multi-purpose room. Cakes, muffins and other baked goodies were set out for them to enjoy. We were pouring coffee and cocoa into small styro cups. Before we asked the blessing, I started the list of rules for class.
“Please don’t be swearing during Bible study. This is ‘church’ so we need to act like it,” I went on. I told them there would be plenty of time to talk after the lesson but while the teacher was speaking to be respectful. The ladies sitting on each side of them needed a little bit of encouragement-maybe a lot. It would be “stealing from their neighbor” an opportunity to hear from God and be encouraged. We prayed and began. (I took a seat across from Tina.)
The lesson was about serving God now and not putting it off.
Tina was mostly paying attention. I shooshed her once and bumped her foot under the table once. Finally, she said in a loud voice, “I think she was talking to me!” Then again, in a louder voice, “I felt like she was talking right to me!” She went on to explain how the lesson had applied. I was thrilled! “See, Tina, if you will quit talking, God will speak to you,” I told her. Tina was so glad, and even surprised. “That lesson was for me,” she said again smiling.
We finished up, hugged each one as they went back to their cell and pretty much floated out of the building. It had been a great Bible study with the girls! I was praising the Lord again and again for what He had done!
As we drove back to the church for the morning service, I kept thinking of Tina and it hit me. “…if you will quit talking, God will speak to you…” That goes for me, too! Sometimes I get so busy praying and talking to God that I don’t give him an opportunity to talk!
If I quit talking, He willspeak to me… and others! I love to talk, but, like Tina, I need to make sure I don’t do it during church or Bible study! It distracts everybody else-in jail or out! I don’t need to be “stealing from my neighbor”! I need to be ready to shut my mouth and open my ears and heart to hear from God!
I can’t wait to tell Tina that the lesson was for me, too!
*not her real name
Dawn Reed is a columnist for The Floyd County Times.