Today, I’m wrapping up this series on starting and maintaining a meaningful group. I get a lot of questions about the group I’m in and I thought it would be helpful to outline some of the guiding principles and the nitty gritty of a process-based life group.
If you’ve missed the first three parts of this series, you can read them here:
Part 1: the background of my group, including the impetus for starting
Part 2: the imperative of process over solutions, validation over advice, and how we’ve built trust with each other
Part 3: ideas for getting started, nuts and bolts, prompts
Today’s post is mostly about values (and what happens when we deviate from our values) and how important it is to name values at the outset of a group and to make sure everyone has buy in.
Here are the values of my group, in no particular order:
1. authentic participation Being a member of the group means agreeing to openly, honestly, and consistently journey with the other women in the group. We value sharing with forthrightness, offering information or feelings without having to be pressed. Often authentic participation requires (1) courage to share what is difficult, (2) thoughtful reflection (taking the time to bring something meaningful and meaty to the group), (3) willingness to grow in our trust of each other, (4) inviting each other in to the places where we need help, advice, accountability, ideas, support, prayer, and insight.
2. confidentiality G14 Classified. What happens at Group stays at Group. Each individual can share their specific update with whomever she chooses, but we are never to share each others’ updates with anyone else, including spouses. In addition, group members are not to discuss other group members in their absence.
3. process Process matters more to our group than following a set curriculum. Sometimes this format makes the group direction feel nebulous, inefficient, and unfocused; however, we don’t want a strict curriculum to dictate how we share our lives with each other. We prefer to create an environment with enough time and space to allow each others’ true selves to emerge. This format requires each woman to commit to “bringing it” every single week.
4. communication Email/text communication is an important part of our group culture. Though never mandatory, we value consistent check-ins (especially when absent), mid-week updates on something that was shared at group, words of support, and ongoing dialogue.
5. transformation We believe change happens in each of us as we submit to participating in and receiving from the group. This transformation comes directly from God, and we are here to help each other look for it, lean into it, and celebrate it. Pursuing transformation often requires (1) investing time with an “expert” (i.e. pastor, counselor, spiritual director, intentional program), (2) facing reality, (3) naming areas where we feel stuck and choosing to get help in those areas, (4) conversations with God (prayer, Scripture, nature, etc), (5) desire to become whole and well. Transformation is seen and measured over time, not something we can usually see from week-to-week. We take the time to look back periodically and celebrate where we’ve been and where God has brought us.
6. support What is more powerful than feeling seen, heard and loved? True support is (1) validating feelings instead of explaining them away or trying to create disingenuous resolution, (2) affirming instead of advising, (3) listening without interrupting, (4) investing in each other through generous praise, and (5) offering truth when appropriate and when invited.
7. grace We all have enormous demands on our time, gifts, energy, and souls. We give each other freedom and understanding, knowing that life is full.
These values are deep and wide and require each of us to really show up. So, what happens when things derail, get off track, or we don’t feel like the group is really living out these values?
Recently, My Group went through a season where we needed to refocus. We had been through significant amounts of transition together, wave after wave of it, including my family leaving to live in the Middle East for almost two years and then returning.
All of this left the group a bit beat up and adrift. There were tears, some underlying anger, some disappointment, and even the desire for some to leave the group.
As painful as seasons like this are in a group’s life, I think this is part of the cycle of being in a committed relationship with 9 people. There will be hard times. There will be unmet expectations. There will be discontent.
The key—as it is in all relationships—is not so much that we have these hard times, but that we choose to turn toward each other and work through the hard times.
We had a “come to Jesus” meeting where we were all able to go around the table and talk about what we needed, what wasn’t working, and what we wanted going forward. It was a very hard night. But at the end of it all, we went back to the values and we talked about how we had become lax in our sharing, how we had become lax in our attendance, how we had become lax in our support of each other, and how this was all affecting the group.
Here were the high points:
The group is not an entity that exists outside us, carried on by inertia. We must come and make it happen every week. It’s up to us. Each one of us. We must make the investment.
And, if it wasn’t the right season or the right time, and someone needed to say goodbye, we left room for that too. That’s grace and that’s being adults: allowing people to make choices for themselves. In the end, we all decided to fight for what we have together and we decided to stick it out.
I think that’s been what saved us. Everyone recommitting—to each other and to the purpose and values of the group. Everyone recommitting to authentic participation. And that right there has made a huge difference.
Here’s one very real statistic: We have 15 children among us, the oldest of whom just turned 6. That alone is a very real dynamic. We also have graduate school, global-scale initiatives, more-than-full-time work. We have spouses in the ministry, the military, and the music biz. We have had night shift and we even have someone who serves delinquent teenagers.
So all that adds up to a hundred reasons why this group would never, ever be able to actually get around a table together and talk. Somehow, against every odd, it happens. Three weeks on, one week off, every month.
One of the real stumbling blocks has been how much actual life we are able to do together outside of group, given life, family, work, spouses, etc etc etc. This has been an area we’ve continually had to navigate as everyone comes to the table with different expectations. My only real insight here is to keep the dialogue going about what people need and expect and, also, what people can realistically offer.
I hope these four posts have started you thinking about the people in your life that you’d like to know in a more intentional way. I hope you pray about a handful of people who you might reach out to and gather together in the hopes of bearing each other’s burdens, listening to God together, and cheering each other on.
Believing in you as you seek out your very own band of gypsies,