Long ago, I was a member at a small, urban congregation that didn’t have a lot of money. There was a group of young women, ages 13 to 17, who came to church because their mothers sang in the choir or they were friends with some of the girls.
Given their backgrounds, the pastor thought they would be at risk for teen pregnancy, violence, drug use and the host of social problems that kids in those circumstances face. He also thought that as a middle-aged man, he wasn’t going to have anything in common with them. So he asked me to do an eight-week Sunday school class on values, faith, being safe and topics like that–just for the young women (no boys allowed). I said I wasn’t qualified, but he convinced me to try.
The first two classes were a disaster–they would not talk! They sat with their arms folded and gave one-word answers when I asked questions. I needed to think of something that would help them engage in discussion. I had an inspiration. You can decide if it was the Holy Spirit or the result of being young and goofy…
I asked a bunch of my college pals and work friends to give me any bottles of nail polish they didn’t use anymore. Soon I had a big bag of polishes in all colors. I bought some nail files and some hand lotion and polish remover.
The morning of the third class, I told the group that we were going to discuss dreams and hopes for the future–what they wanted their adult lives to be like. And then I announced that we were also going to do our nails, and I spread out the polishes and supplies on the table. The young women were stunned. They didn’t see that coming. They were giggling like crazy. I told them to pick a color and get started.
So we did our nails together and I asked some questions. Every single girl talked. They relaxed and talked about the future and their dream jobs (or boyfriends). Once they had something to do with their hands, they could open up and have real conversation.
We did our nails every week. We talked about God and self-image and setting goals and being safe and substance abuse and family strife–heavy topics. But they kept coming back and eventually brought friends from school. At the end of each class we prayed together while our nails were drying. I don’t think God minded.
Years later, one of the young women came back to visit. She was in a Navy uniform and proudly told us that she was trained in a technical field and had a wonderful husband and new baby. She was so poised and seemed really happy. She said she came to visit the church to say thank you to the congregation for believing in her.
I once heard someone say that sometimes “your brain is better if you let your hands do the thinking.”
How about you? Have you had the experience of talking freely because your hands were occupied? Maybe it was knitting, or making a quilt or chopping vegetables, but while working on a project with some other women, did you find yourself sharing your life with them?
Kate Sprutta Elliott is editor of Lutheran Woman Today magazine.