Titus 2:3-5

The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Gathering at the well: how women support each other.

Below is my devotional lesson from our Ladies Fellowship Meeting nearly two weeks ago. I meant to post it the same day, but with everything that's been happening here at home I never got around to it until now. I was speaking as much to myself as to anyone else, as I need to learn to balance out my life now that I have two teenagers to look after too.

In our busy fast paced lives it is often difficult to stop and catch our breaths, or to spend time just being. Today we are going to look at an alternative to “running around like headless chickens.” I have been told by a friend who grew up on a farm that chickens can continue to run around for several minutes after losing their heads. It is a frantic purposeless run that makes a mess (with blood) everywhere the chicken goes.

I have recently been introduced to that frantic run a round when Rob and I started looking after Jerome and Keean, two of the Bahamian students at our school. They are both 15, and both keen athletes playing baseball and basketball. This will keep us busy with sports through the entire school year. Now that I finally have a driver’s license and a car I have been plunged into the world of school runs, and endless errands for supplies for the boys at no notice. It seems to be a common trait amongst teenagers that they find it impossible to give more than a few minutes notice for anything, no matter what the impact may be. Despite this though I don’t want to become purposeless, making a mess where ever I go, like those headless chickens.

Back in Scotland, where I originally come from, we haven’t quite gotten to frantic yet. Life still has a manageable pace, where there is time for neighbours to just drop in on each other and share a cup of tea and some fellowship. Scotland is a semi-rural country. With a population of just under five million, and the largest city containing about half a million, it is a country in which most people live in towns or villages. I grew up on the edge of town, and my family still live there. My parent’s house is never locked while anyone is in and awake. Neighbours and friends will still just chap the door and walk in. The kettle will always be “just going on” to make tea, and a warm welcome will always be found. There is time for the women in these communities to just be.

Back in the Bible times most people lived a rural existence on farms or in villages, and a few towns. We are going to look at a few passages that show us how these women managed to spend time together, to fellowship, and even to just be.
In Genesis chapter 24:11-16 we encounter Rebekah.

Verse 11 “And he [Abraham’s servant] made his camels to kneel down without the city by a well of water at the time of the evening, even at the time that the women go out to draw water.”

Verse 13 “Behold, I stand here by the well of water; and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water:”

Verse 15 “And it came to pass, before he had done speaking, that, behold, Rebekah came out, who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, with her pitcher upon her shoulder.”

Abraham’s servant had been sent to find a wife for Isaac, and he knew that the best way to meet women was to hang around the local well until it was time for the women to come there to gather water for their household. Even though the well had water 24 hours a day there were set times when all the women would come to gather together, as they gathered water.

We find the same thing happening in Genesis 29 when Jacob meets Rachel, and again in Exodus 2 when Moses meets the daughters of Jethro.

Gathering at the well was a daily activity for the women. It was a part of their daily lives. And knowing what social creatures us women are, I am sure it was also a part of the day these women looked forward to. It would take a while to fill everyone’s urn, so there was time to chat, catch up on news/gossip, ask advice and all those other things we women like to talk about. It was a time to be outside the family home and mix with women from other families. It is one of those activities that helped to give a sense of community that they belonged to a group larger than just their own family.

In the reverse to be excluded from the group and forced to gather water alone was probably one of the most painful of social punishments. To be shunned by the group stabs at the very heart of who a woman is. That is why as little girls in the playground we would gang together and deliberately exclude the one girl who would play by our rules. Boys will beat each other up and be friends again in a few hours. Girls will not only hold a grudge, but we recruit our friends to join us in this grudge and subsequent exclusion of the one child. Sometimes we didn’t even agree, but we dare not voice our disagreement, as we didn’t want to be the next one excluded from the group.

We can see this in the Bible in John 4 with the account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. It is immediately apparent something is wrong with her life because she comes to gather water on her own. This is a woman who is being shunned, excluded, by her own community.

Verse 7 “There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith to her, Give me to drink.”

The tired and weary Jesus had deliberately sent the disciples to town for food so he could meet with this lonely excluded woman. While the particulars of her situation could only be known by Jesus because he was God, the fact that she was a lonely and hopeless soul was clear from her solitary visit to this well. She was seen in her community as a social pariah. There was no pleasure in her daily trips to the well. Instead every day she was reminded that she was a social outcast with no friends. She got no fellowship, no chat, no help with the task in hand.

The sad thing for me in this lesson is that we often choose to live as that Samaritan woman. We live solitary lives, doing by ourselves and for ourselves. We make ourselves too busy and too isolated to have the time for living as part of a community. The Samaritan woman would have jumped straight back into the community if she were given the opportunity. We just build bigger and thicker walls of isolation. We stay within our own family unit and convince ourselves that we don’t need more than that. Yet how untrue that is. We were made to be in community. We are made to rely on each other for support, for help, for fellowship.

As women we are made to exist in more than just our family unit. This was true in biblical times, and is still true today. Throughout history it has been the women who have defined and held together communities. No greater example of this can be seen than during the Israelites forty years of wandering in the desert.
In Leviticus 15 we read of how a woman is unclean for seven days after she begins her issue of blood. Everything she touches is also unclean. Still today Orthodox Jews stick to this. I follow the online blog of an Orthodox Jewish lady who lives in Israel. I have found her to be very open and informative about her faith and its practices. Every month that she has an issue of blood she is unclean for seven days. She is separated from her husband at all times during that seven days. She has to slow down and live a less demanding life, as she can touch nothing her husband will come into contact with.

Back in the desert the unclean women would dwell together in separate tents to everyone else. Their food would be brought to them, as they could not cook or they would contaminate the cooking utensils. For seven days the women got to relax, rest, fellowship with other women in the tents of exclusion and have a break from their very demanding life. The tents were not allocated by family unit. Rather it was a time when the women were able to step outside of their family unit. By building up strong attachments to each other across families these women cemented Israel into a nation, rather than just a group of slaves.

One of my personal favourite provisions from God is found in Leviticus 12
Verses 2-5

“Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. And she shall continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled. But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days.”

This means that when a woman gives birth to a son she shall be seen as unclean for forty days. That is forty days free from housework, free from social responsibilities, free from all things. The new mother has only two tasks during her forty days, that is to recover physically and to bond with her baby. What a wonderful gift for the new mother. But if it is a girl everything is doubled. She gets seventy seven days with just her baby girl. That is eleven weeks to just bond and rest and recover. All her normal work and responsibilities will be taken care of by other women. Today, here in America, working women get a total of only six weeks, forty two days, maternity leave when they have a baby. Then it is back to work, leaving someone else to care for their child. That is not how God wanted us to behave. He gave us, in His Word, guidance for our care and wellness.

We are supposed to have a day of rest in every seven. Then we get seven days of rest during that time of issue of blood. Then we get forty days rest at the birth of a son, and eleven weeks rest at the birth of a daughter. I love how a mother gets twice as long to bond with each daughter she has compared to her sons. I remember hearing this old saying as I was growing up:

“A son is a son ‘til he takes a wife. A daughter’s a daughter all of her life.”

We get twice as long to bond with daughters because the LORD knew the relationship between a mother a daughter was a special one, just as all woman to woman relationships are special in a way that requires us to slow down, and take the time for us to just be.

In finishing I would like to leave you with a few Scriptures that speak about being a friend to others.

Be Friendly
Proverbs 18:24 “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”

Be a good example
Proverbs 27:17 “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”

Be helpful
Ecclesiastes 4:9 “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.”

1 comment:

  1. Oh, excellent post! I'm going to link to it, everyone can benefit from this! Blessings to you and yours. :-)



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