For almost a decade, I’ve been meeting with a group of women once a week. The members of this group have changed here and there, but the core has stayed the same and the values, philosophy, format, and purpose have always – and continue to be – the same.
I get a lot of questions about this group, especially the specifics of how we function. Because I deeply believe in the healing capacity of a group, and because it seems people (many of you) are consistently having less-than-ideal experiences within groups, I thought I would do a mini-series here explaining the specifics of My Group and how you might replicate a similar group in your own community and context.
At any time, if you have any questions you’d like me to address within the series, please feel free to leave them in the comments section, as I would love to make sure I’m covering all the useful details for you.
Years ago, I wanted to find a group of women that I could intentionally walk through life with, a place where I was seen and a place where I would be given access to others’ lives and souls. I had been in groups where we tackled a set of curriculum or study materials, and while I always learned and was typically challenged in some way, I couldn’t help but feel like there was never time or space or opportunity in the format to talk about real life. We were answering questions together, but were we really, truly sharing the deeper waters of our soul?
I decided that I wanted to start a group that would have no curriculum, no reading list, no study materials, no homework. At the time, and even during some seasons since, this felt like a risk. A group that functions more as a process group is not always valued by everyone. Mainly because “progress” can seem un-measurable in the short run.
I want to be clear: I find great value in groups that go through books, groups that study the Bible, groups that are meeting in order to learn a body of knowledge together. Totally. I absolutely believe these kinds of groups are valuable. I also believe that we can “hide out” in life—behind material, information, learning—and we miss out on what it means to truly be vulnerable in front of other people. I am not saying that material, information, and learning aren’t valuable. I’m simply saying that they’re not enough. Especially if we are people who desire transformation in our lives. Because, as we’ve all heard before, information is not the same thing as transformation.
In addition to hiding out behind curriculum, some of us hide out by always being the leader. We are the “one who knows,” safely distancing ourselves from the pack so that we don’t have to practice what we’re asking the others in our group to practice. This is no good. If we are not the actual leader, then perhaps we have become the implied leader, the one who offers advice to the other members of the group. Again, no good.
In the kind of group that I’m going to be talking about there is certainly a person who initiates emails, who does the housekeeping, and probably someone who has brought the group together in some way or another. But this person remains a part of the group. In every way, shape, and form. There isn’t someone coming to the table with answers. We all come to the table equally—seeing and being seen.
Years ago, when My Group first started, I hand picked women who I believed could come to a table and talk about their souls: what was really going on for them, what they were really struggling with, the kinds of larger questions and values they were wrestling with, their perceptions of God in the midst of the trenches of life, how they viewed themselves, where they were feeling overwhelmed, where they were celebrating.
Not everyone wants to be in this kind of group. People might even tell you that they want to be, but I have found that not everyone (even those who like this kind of group in theory) is ready to sit down and let themselves be exposed. Not everyone is ready to really listen to someone else and validate that person’s feelings instead of trying to fix them or their problems. Not everyone is ready to tolerate three hours of messiness around a table with, possibly, no real resolution at the end of the night.
So, if you’re thinking about starting a group like what I’m describing, it’s important to think about people who you believe are ready to allow for the mess of real people’s real journeys. It’s important to think about people who are able to tell you how they’re really doing, people who are willing to let you see them in need. Those are the kind of people you’re looking for.
That’s a good place for you to start thinking . . . WHO are these people? AM I one of these people?
I am going to write a few more posts about group life. We’ll talk about the format of each evening (what prompts have been helpful in teasing out people’s souls), the values that My Group has agreed to, and some of the barriers to trust within a group. The going in assumption to all these posts is that you believe (or you are willing to consider) that you would be better off kept company than in control.
My prayer for this mini-series is that you would be able to collect a community around you that helps you feel seen, heard, and loved. Looking forward to diving into this further with you,