Today is Part 3 of a series of posts I put together about a group I’ve been a part of for almost a decade now. I believe people are looking for meaningful ways to connect with each other and meaningful places where they are seen and validated instead of scrutinized. So, I thought I’d write about one of the ways that’s happened in my life.
Part 1 is about the background, impetus, and initial forming of the group.
Part 2 is about the idea of sitting with people and listening to them and encouraging them instead of fixing them.
Today, I’m talking about the nuts and bolts of getting started.
When the group started all those years ago, I had brought together a group of women that didn’t necessarily know each other all that well. We were not all in the same life stage, were not all the same age, and did not even have everything in common. I knew them—in varying degrees—and had invited them to come together because I had a hunch that they all wanted to share life deeply and intentionally. That’s really all you need in common, frankly.
On the first night we met, we did collages as a way to introduce ourselves. We each had small white poster boards and magazines and glue and scissors and we cut out words and pictures and colors and textures that would help others get to know us on a soul level. What am I passionate about? What am I struggling with? What are my priorities? What makes me angry? What inspires me? That kind of thing.
I recommend something like this as a way to begin. We made the collages and presented them to each other. And we were off to the races.
Then, we took a full night for each woman to tell her life story. You think you can shoe horn more than one story in each night, but we usually couldn’t.
One woman would tell her story and the key was to share things that were formational to who she is today. We don’t need to hear every single detail. We don’t need to know about every aspect of your high school extra-curricular activities, for example. We need to hear the pertinent details. So, every woman would share both the high points and low points that formed who she is today. One way to do this is to have everyone share a high and low from each decade of their lives. Or, you can make it much more fluid than that.
After the woman tells her story, she is then on the “hot seat.” The rest of us get the opportunity to ask her questions about her story. Not passive aggressive questions like, “Don’t you think you should get some therapy for that thing you mentioned?” But more like, “I can’t imagine going through that at such a young age. What was that like for you?” Etc. The key with life stories is to pass along information but also emotional truth. Events, but also how those events have affected you.
So, you see, everything is about getting to a deeper place with each other. We don’t remain on the facts and information level. We try to peel back the layers a bit, as we are able. We try to be brave and let people in a bit more deeply.
At some point in all this, perhaps after collages and before life stories, we need to commit to a set of values and we need to commit to the term that we’re meeting. This is hugely important. Groups need to have beginnings and ends and people need a chance to bow out gracefully if something is not working for them and they also need—as clearly as possible—to know what they’re committing to.
So, we spent a bit of time developing some values and everyone weighed in on that list (which I will share with you in my next post). And we also said we’d be committing to a fall semester with each other, Aug-Christmas, and then we’d have a chance to re-up again. And we’d take it like that, one semester at a time.
Certainly, at some point, it all gets a bit more fluid than this, but this is how you need to begin. With this kind of clear communication. What am I committing to? How long am I committing?
We all agreed on the values and the term of meeting, and then it was time to go!
From there, we got together weekly, for about 3 hours. We agreed that everyone would bring both a food/drink offering and a soul offering. We fill the table with random drinks and snacks and we pull up a chair and the first person starts.
Usually each person needs to keep their sharing to about 15 minutes. At times, we’ve had to literally pull out a stopwatch to keep ourselves accountable so that the group didn’t start drifting into 11:00pm each week.
Some weeks we’ve used prompts. Some weeks we’ve taken turns bringing the prompt for that week. We’ve gone through long seasons where there was no prompts and it was about showing up and “bringing it” and sharing what you know you need to share. That’s it. Lately, we’ve used this little acronym that’s been good: S.C.A.N.: Stirring, Celebration, Affirmation of yourself, Need.
Pretty amazing what emerges from people when they just share those four things.
Often, if there’s going to be a specific prompt, it needs to be emailed out ahead of time so people have a chance to chew on it and determine what they need to share. Most of us—introverted or extroverted—won’t offer our deepest truth on the fly. It’s best to have some time to think it all through.
After someone has taken their 15 minutes of sharing time, that women can invite advice, clarifying questions, concerns, comments, etc. Or she doesn’t have to. She gets to say what she needs. “I need prayer.” “I just need you guys to listen tonight. I am not ready to process it any further yet.” “I need you to text me this week and make sure I make the phone call.” “Ok, ask me anything. I need help processing this.” And, “You guys, what should I do?”
As I said in my last email, unsolicited advice is what can be so damaging. I think solicited advice can be a really helpful thing—pooling experiences, ideas, input. But only if that person is ready and asking.
My dear friend Joanna came up with a great response to each woman after she has shared. Sometimes there’s an awkward silence, and you want to jump in and say something, but you don’t want to fix or advise. You just want to let the person know you’re in it with them, you see them. Joanna suggested we say to each other, “I see you. I hear you. I love you.” Those have been crazy powerful words to speak to each other. Sometimes we add “And I’m with you.” or our physical touch people will add, “And we touch you,” which makes everyone laugh.
These are all just things we’ve found to be helpful in the moment.
As always, the presupposition going in is that group members WANT to be a part of a group like this, they want to share what’s really going on in their lives, and they are seeking growth and intimacy with others.
I hope this puts some flesh on the idea of starting a process group/life group.
My next post will be outlining the values. And I’ll probably also need to talk about what happens when groups go through difficult seasons and how we’ve learned (often the hard way) how to begin again with each other.
S.C.A.N. can be a great thing to practice with yourself as a way to get used to sharing from your soul. Perhaps as you prepare for the Lenten season, you might want to take yourself through S.C.A.N. as a spiritual practice and pay attention to how that feels for you.
With love to you today,