I’m just back from one of my favourite women’s conferences. Once a year, an army of women gather together to get fired up, faithed up and then go home and live differently. Great speakers, great music, great friends, what could possibly go wrong?
Now there’s something you should know about women’s conferences. It may be a bit of a stereotype, but on the whole, we like to save seats. But there are rules when it comes to how you can legitimately bagsy a place. If you leave a coat, a cardigan, a bag, a personal item, then the seat is yours. If you leave a conference flyer, then nope, that is not a legitimate seat save.
Thems the rules. (I don’t make them).
One afternoon, our group of girls returned from lunch and looked for an ‘unsaved’ row all together. We sat down and just as the next session started, a group of women came in and whispered (loudly) that we had to move, as we were in their seats. There was no sign of a bag, a coat or even a flyer. But apparently, because they’d been sitting there in the previous session, this counted as a ‘save’.
(Did they not know the rules??? Sheesh.)
So, I was sitting there with several different voices running through my head;
The voice of grace; Let them have it. Just get up, be gracious (even though they’re being rude) and move somewhere else.
The voice of justice; They can’t just demand that we get out of our seats. The seats were not saved or marked in any way. Nah, we’re staying right here.
In the end, rightly or wrongly, I settled on justice, smiled through gritted teeth and said, ‘sorry…the seats weren’t saved…we’re not able to move’.
Bad move, as one of the women then went to get a Steward and all of a sudden, it started to feel like a handbags-at-dawn sort of stand-off.
I could feel the hot flush of embarrassment flame my face. How silly of them to take it that far? Had they even listened to a single word of the last session on loving extravagantly?
Suddenly, I realised how absurd it was to think that a seat really mattered. But I was stuck. Stuck between wanting to do the right thing and, not wanting to let them think they’d ‘won’.
In the end, to avoid disruption, the group somehow squeezed themselves onto the row and I sat there in quiet shame at what had just happened. Here I was, sitting through incredible teaching and I was still willing and able to get into a scrap with someone about a chair.
Later, I analysed it. Why was it so difficult for me to give up my seat? Why was it so difficult for them to sit elsewhere? Why was I so struck with this idea of ‘justice’ that I completely lost sight of the bigger picture? It’s surprisingly (and depressingly) easy to do.
Although he was talking about religious traditions, Jesus had a few choice words to say about those who ‘strain at gnats’ and completely miss the point. Our churches and communities and committees are full of people whose need to be right, completely overshadows their ability to do the right thing.
At the weekend, I very nearly became one of them. Thank God, that despite our (at times) immaturity, He still chooses to speak to us, even when we’re being ridiculous.