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Week 1 The Hungry Heart
Getting Started (10 minutes)
If your group is meeting together for the first time, have each person introduce herself by telling her name and something about herself (e.g., what she likes to do in her spare time; her favorite book, TV show, magazine; etc.). If your group has met previously, have each member share an area of her life in which God is challenging her right now.
Take a few minutes to introduce the study. Explain that participants need to complete the readings for each week (found in the participant book) prior to the group session. Review the format of the group session (see the Introduction) and ask if there are any questions before you get started.
Open with prayer, asking God to bless your time together.
A Few Minutes with Barbara (8-10 minutes)
Play the video for Week 1.
Let's Talk About It (10 minutes)
Barbara suggests that Mary Katherine's restlessness is rooted in her need to know and believe that she is loved. In what ways do you think restlessness is connected to this need?
Barbara talks about how women of all ages often experience restlessness because of busyness and a yearning deep within for something more. When have you experienced this sense of restlessness in your own life?
Barbara shares how she finds peace and stillness by being alone and doing things she enjoys. What are some of the things that bring peace, stillness, and enjoyment in your life?
Do you agree that the things we long for point us to the deepest desires of our hearts? Why or why not?
What other points or insights from the video would you like to discuss with the group?
Diving In (25 minutes)
This week we have explored how our hearts are filled with longing, and we have seen that though our hearts long for many things, above all they long for love and acceptance. They long to trust and to be trusted, to be filled to capacity with peace and contentment. And though we search for fulfillment in the people and places around us, what our hearts truly cry out for is the complete love that only God can give.
Have someone read aloud Genesis 2:15-18, 22; 3:1-7.
From the very beginning of time, we humans have struggled with the desire for more. More knowledge, more beauty, more pleasure, more power, more fulfillment.
Adam and Eve walked with God Himself in the most perfect environment possible. It was a breathtakingly beautiful place. God provided for their every need. They had companionship and important work. What more could they want?
But somewhere in the recesses of Eve's mind there was a question: what if there is more? A few words from a crafty serpent opened the floodgates of temptation, and an act of disobedience forever altered mankind's relationship with God.
What do you imagine the Garden of Eden looked like? How do you imagine its beauty affected the senses—what did it smell like, how did its fruit taste, what sounds would you have heard, what textures would you have felt, what beauty might your eyes have seen? (Day 1)
Thoughts: Ask members to share details they imagine when they think about the Garden. Point to the fact that it was the most perfect environment imaginable.
How does Genesis 3:7-13 describe how Adam and Eve reacted after they ate the fruit of the tree? What do you imagine was their immediate reaction—what might their thoughts have been? How do you think they viewed the Garden after that moment? (Day 1)
Thoughts: After their rebellion, maybe it became a scary place, no longer beautiful and perfect, or maybe it was still perfect, but they could no longer enjoy it. Their longing for more, even though more wasn't possible, destroyed their world.
Adam and Eve lived in a literal paradise, their every need met and their every want answered. But they were restless, and when faced with a life-changing decision, they succumbed to that restlessness and longing for more.
We aren't so different from Adam and Eve, are we? Our hearts and minds are filled with longings that we can rarely name, but that we feel down deep in the core of our being. We're unsatisfied with the world around us. We're frustrated with our relationships, which regularly fail to meet our expectations. We struggle to enjoy the work of our hands. We feel trapped by all the freedoms we're supposed to enjoy.
What do we really want? Why are we so unsatisfied?
Some days we may experience a strong, almost physical restlessness that results in anger or frustration. But most often we live with a quiet restlessness. We may have a vague sense that something's wrong in this life, but we aren't sure what it is exactly or how to fix it. The ambiguity and uncertainty can cause us to question things—our faith, our marriages, our work, our environments—in a desperate search to find the broken piece and repair it or change it altogether.
Though she enjoys the fruitful work of her hands and rich relationships with the women in her life, Mary Katherine is restless in Paradise, Pennsylvania. She isn't sure that she fits in with the community around her and is unsure she can live up to their expectations, but at the same time she desperately wants to find her place in the world. Naomi jokes that Mary Katherine was "born restless." Do you think that certain personalities are prone to restlessness? Would you consider yourself a restless personality? If so, in what ways? (Day 2)
What are some reasons that you think we, as women, are often restless? What emotional and cultural factors do you think contribute to this restlessness? (Day 2) Thoughts: Answers here can vary widely. Sometimes our busyness and the many roles we play in life can cause us to feel restless. Sometimes striving for perfection can result in restlessness. Sometimes the virtual world around us—full of social media, blogs, and websites—can encourage comparison, leading us to think that we aren't enough in one area or another, resulting in restlessness.
In many ways, our culture is designed to keep us restless and unsatisfied. Constant advertisements sell us on the idea that something else is better than what we have. Our economy is fueled by competition and comparison. Being complacent—content—is frowned upon. The fear that being content will make us unproductive keeps us striving and working harder and harder. The idea of rest and stillness seems indulgent and lazy.
Though it seems as if our modern-day culture conspires to keep us restless and wanting more, our present dilemmas are nothing new to the condition of the human heart. Consider the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. The author, King Solomon, was a king of great renown. The son of Israel's beloved King David, Solomon had restored the people's faith by building an amazing temple to be a place of worship and a home for the Ark of the Covenant (also known as God's presence). He was an extremely successful king by anyone's standards, and the world was seemingly at his fingertips. Solomon had everything that a man could acquire. And yet he was restless.
Have someone read aloud Ecclesiastes 1:1-10.
Ecclesiastes reads like a diary of sorts, chronicling Solomon's pursuit of fulfillment, meaning, and joy. Wisdom—check! Success—check! Wealth—check! Solomon had all those things in spades, and yet he found that nothing he could acquire or attain could give him the deep and satisfying joy that he found when he finally realized he could rest in God's love, provision, and authority. Pursuing anything else, he said, is like "chasing the wind" (Ecclesiastes 1:17).
Centuries after Solomon lived, a young man named Augustine found himself struggling with the same frustrations and fruitless searches Solomon experienced. After living a life devoted first to seeking pleasure and then to seeking wisdom through various philosophical pursuits, Augustine finally discovered that a life of devotion to God and reveling in his status as God's child was the only thing that could truly satisfy. In his classic book Confessions, he wrote, "Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee."
When Mary Katherine discovers her gift for weaving, she finds fulfillment in her work and receives much encouragement about its quality and beauty from customers, her grandmother, and her cousins. Although she is able to find joy and some peace in that area of her life, it does not fulfill a deeper desire—to experience unconditional love and acceptance from her family and her community. This desire, of course, is only a shadow of her heart's true and greatest desire, which is to know and experience the unconditional love and acceptance of God. Like Solomon, she discovers that the work of her hands cannot fulfill the deep desires of her heart.
How do you identify with Solomon's frustration in finding meaning in his life? Have you faced similar struggles of your own? (Day 3) Do you identify with Mary Katherine's frustration? How?
Is anyone willing to share her answer to this question: What do you most desire in your life? (Day 3)
Have someone read aloud Proverbs 13:12.
What both King Solomon and Saint Augustine discovered through their experience and disappointment was that choosing to trust and live in God's love is the ultimate source of life and fulfillment for our hearts. Anything else will be less than what we've hoped for, and realizing less than what we've hoped for indeed makes the heart sick.
God's gift of complete love and acceptance required no small sacrifice. John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." God sent His Son, Jesus, to Earth to become the sacrifice for our sins and pave the way for us to have an intimate relationship with Him. Trusting in that sacrifice and reveling in our state as God's beloved children is the only way our hearts will find fulfillment during our short time here on Earth. He is the only One who can fulfill the complete desires of our hearts.
God's salvation and grace is a gift to us—there is nothing we can do to earn the gift, and there is nothing we can add to or take away from it. All we need to do is open our hands to the gift of His love and accept it—gratefully and eagerly. It is a perfect gift, and in His love we will find rest for our hungry hearts.
Second Peter 1:3 says, "[God's] divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness." God has given us His love and His grace—everything that we need to fulfill the deepest longings of our hearts. So why do you think we still tend to have restless hearts? (Day 4)
Thoughts: Often we let our own doubts and fears cloud the truth and keep us from fully experiencing what God has given us. We erroneously think we need to do more for God in order to be truly accepted by Him. Because we tend to think we must earn God's love, we're often afraid to let go and fully trust Him because we're afraid we'll mess it up.
A strong, sensitive, and independent young woman, Mary Katherine wants to be loved for who she is. She finds that she doesn't neatly fit into the mold that many women in her community embody; she wants to be loved and accepted for her own strengths, not just because she can be a good farm wife. In a sense, we are all like Mary Katherine—we all want to know that we are not alone, that we are understood and accepted, that we are loved—in spite of and because of all of the doubts and fears and hopes and dreams inside of us that make us who we are.
In many ways, our lives are defined by the longings of our hearts, and if we are willing to take a brave look at how we respond to those longings, they will point us to the deepest desires of our hearts. If we long to be restored, we might pursue perfection here on Earth. If we long to be loved at all costs, we might be willing to morph into whatever form it takes to get love from someone else. If we long for peace, we might choose to fade into the background of our relationships, hoping not to cause any trouble or rock the boat. If we long for passion, we might search out things that give us a temporary thrill orexcitement. If we long for acceptance, we might become workaholics to gain approval and appreciation.
Our hearts are complex places, and at times our longings can seem overwhelming and even consuming. But God Himself formed our hearts and our minds and gave us complex emotions and thoughts. The longings themselves are not bad; in fact, they are beautiful, for when we take a prayerful look at the deepest desires of our hearts, we find that everything our hearts long for can be found in God.
God can use the deepest longings and groanings of our hearts to point us back to Him and His love.
Read the following verses. What does each have to say about how God meets the deepest desires of our hearts? (Day 5)
* Ephesians 1:3-6
Thoughts: God has given us life; He has brought us into His family.
* Zephaniah 3:17
Thoughts: He delights in us for who we are—His creation, His children.
God, our Creator and Father, has given us life and brought us into His family. He has focused His love on us, adopted us, and given us indescribable mercy and grace, lavishing His love over us and delighting in us. How amazing to know that every desire of our hearts is fulfilled through Him!
In Closing (5 minutes)
As you close your time together today, lead your group into a time of quiet reflection as you read aloud the following verses, pausing after each one to give participants time to reflect and pray:
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24
[God's] divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness. 2 Peter 1:3a
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.... Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. Psalm 107:1, 8-9
Close in prayer, thanking God that He is more than enough to satisfy our hungry hearts. Ask for God's gentle voice to speak into each heart and to reveal the ways in which we seek to find our source of love and acceptance in anything other than Him. Pray that through this study we would learn how His perfect love and grace can fill our hearts and our lives with peace and joy.
If You Have More Time (30 additional minutes; use before In Closing)
Choose from the following:
Invite participants to talk more about their expectations for this study.
* Discuss: What do you think it means to be loved and accepted? What do you hope to learn or gain from this study?
Explore how we can find comfort in God.
* Note that when Martin Luther was discouraged, he would say, "Come, let us sing the forty-sixth psalm." Have someone read aloud Psalm 46 and discuss how it teaches us to take comfort in God when everything around us seems dim and threatening.
* Discuss: Do you pursue peace, rest, and stillness in your own life? If so, how? If not, what takes precedence over those things in your life? How are those priorities affecting your life? What do you think God means when He tells the psalmist to "be still, and know that I am God"? (Day 2)
Talk about times when it seems that God is silent.
* Read aloud: As Mary Katherine's decision to join the church weighs heavy on her, she begins to doubt that God is listening to her. Like Mary Katherine, we may sometimes wonder if God is silent because we are doing something wrong or because we don't have enough faith to warrant His attention. But Scripture repeatedly tells us that God is listening and that He hears the cries of His children. He will not leave us stranded and alone. He is committed to our good, and He desires for us to follow Him.
* Discuss: What do Psalm 34:17, 1 John 5:14, and Hebrews 13:5 say about God's attention toward His children? (Day 4)CHAPTER 2
Week 2 The Wounded Heart
Note: This week's discussion about woundedness and hurt can be a heavy and complicated subject. As you discuss the subject matter for this group session, be sensitive to participants' emotions and responses. Don't be afraid of silence or strong emotion, but strive to maintain the most safe and supportive atmosphere possible for your group. This is not a time and place for airing grievances against others. If the conversation verges into gossipy territory, redirect the group gently.
Getting Started (10 minutes)
Ask the group one or both of the following questions:
* Are you reading (or have you read) Her Restless Heart? If so, what do you like most about it? Which characters do you most connect with?
* What is one of your favorite childhood memories?
Open with prayer, asking God to bless your time together.
Excerpted from Her Restless Heart by Barbara Cameron. Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Women. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Women.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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