We gathered under the trees and around salads and grilled kebabs and before prayer, our host said, “Be thinking about how to answer this question: why did God put you here in this place and time? What were you born to do? We’ll talk about this later in the evening, so this is your heads-up.”
Then we ate wonderful food and cuddled the baby and stirred the fire and talked on high for hours. We were seven people joined by common experiences and passions, and there are always stories to re-tell and howl about, and new parts of our lives to share, and there is never silence between us. When the darkness settled and the children were put to bed, and the coals glowed, I thought it was time to wrap up and leave, but our host brought up his question: “What were you born to do? We’ll go around the circle and hear from everyone, and I’ll start.”
The fire became an altar, and the circle a sacred place, and time stopped while we heard each other’s dreams and goals and affirmed what we heard.
“Yes, you ARE a shepherd. Hey, I want to tell the rest of you about the time he was a shepherd to me.”
“The way you love on troubled children is the way you show them Jesus. You WERE born for that!”
I was the only single among the three couples, and they prayed for a husband for me, and we prayed for each other’s visions and unanswered questions and quests. Sacred is the only word I can use to describe it, and even the next day I still felt hushed in wonder at the beauty and power I’d witnessed.
This was one of several small groups I’ve been part of. Various times and incentives shaped the groups. Similar interests. Common training. A work team. Sitting at the same table for supper in the cafeteria.
The synergy that rises out of asking questions and brainstorming and bringing one’s whole self to a group energizes me for several reasons.
- It is an adventure, because there is no predicting what will happen.
- It is empowering to be heard, to be given space and time where your voice matters.
- It provides shared experience that becomes a reference point for further interaction.
- Life and death are in the power of the tongue.
Sometimes a group has to wrestle with a dilemma that has no easy way forward. If one person were alone in a room wrestling with the sticky problem, they would get tired and despair and make a bad decision. But in a group, with more ears tuned to what’s being said, and more than one heart engaged with the issues at hand, good and beautiful things happen.
What happens in group is not limited to the time in the circle.
Sometimes Often I perceive or say things in the moment that I would see differently if I had time to mull over it. But it gives a starting place for more thought and change. Group work also pushes me to ask God for the most pressing need of my whole life: wisdom.
Here are some life-giving words I’ve heard in group:
“When you said that, I got this picture of…”
“I really like that idea!”
“Can you tell us where those tears come from?”
“You’re being quiet over there. What are you thinking?”
“What would happen if…?”
“I see your point, but what about…?”
“That took some courage to say.”
One group was so sacred that I can’t talk about it here except to say it involved snowballs in the dark, and honesty and anger and courage shimmered around us in a way that would hardly have happened had we stayed around the table in the dining room.
So setting is important. A bonfire helps. Or a chalk board. And snacks–at least chocolate.
There are no guarantees for resolution, and there is always risk. Risk that my words will be misunderstood. Risk that I’ll fall apart. Risk that I’ll walk away with fewer answers than I want. Risk that my heart will break.
But risk is the price you have to pay to keep walking toward wholeness and a full life.
I am deeply grateful for the groups I’ve been honored to be part of. They shape me into a person I could never become if I would try to wing it alone.