Small (Group) Wonders
- Wednesday, April 22, 2009
As soon as I'd said the words, I should have known I was jinxing myself. Oh, it's not like I really believe in jinxes. It's just that when I jokingly told the pastor who suggested I join a new small group that I'd consider it as long as it didn't wind up being five married couples and me, I should have known that's exactly what was going to happen.
Well, it wound up being four married couples and me, but still …
My pastor tried to find other singles to join our group, bless him. And Andy, my potential new small group leader, was all kinds of sympathetic when I mentioned my reservations about being the odd one out, especially in a group of people all right around my age. And all of them parents, to boot.
But something told me I needed to give this new group, an intensive training for new small group leaders, a try. I wasn't necessarily looking to become a group leader, but I was ready for a new challenge. The trials of the previous year had left me spiritually dry, a state I certainly didn't want to stay in. Maybe this new gathering was just the kick in the pants I needed.
And anyway, my reservations about joining this new group surprised me. In fact, it went beyond reservations to out-and-out dread as I dialed Andy to tell him I was in and as I drove myself to the first gathering. I didn't want this fear, or whatever it was, to paralyze me. And I had a feeling I wouldn't get to the bottom of this dread unless I showed up and faced it.
So I went.
And, unfortunately, that first night unfolded just about as I'd anticipated. When we went around the circle to introduce ourselves, all the married folk mentioned how amazing their spouse is, how lucky they are to be married to him or her. I was glad for all these happy couples. Really. But would you expect an infertile woman to sit there listening to a group of young moms wax eloquent about the blessings of motherhood?
I felt my pulse increase as it became my turn. I mumbled stuff about my job, some travels I've done, and my niece and nephew. I felt scattered and self-conscious and small. Not that I'm usually a paragon of confidence, but this wasn't me. Why was this group dynamic bothering me so much?
At the close of our meeting, all the women gathered around the baby one of them had birthed just three weeks prior. As if from the Young Mom Playbook, they started asking about the delivery and sharing their own labor stories. The men all gathered in the kitchen around the food, talking about life, work, sports, I don't know. And the kids were released from the basement, scattering around the living room and kitchen like happy little puppies looking for food and mischief.
I stood in this commotion not sure what to do with myself. I was pretty sure if I joined the mom-chat I'd start crying. I didn't want to meander into the guys' discussion and raise any hackles with the women. Sure, I anticipated getting to know these men and chatting with them in the future, but on this first week it just felt too forward to be like "hey, fellas … "
So I walked across the room to put my Bible in my purse. It was right by the door, so close to the escape I desperately wanted. Before I could shrug on my coat and slip out the door, Andy meandered over with one of his kids and started chatting with me. His wife, Lisa, joined our small talk shortly after. My job came into the conversation, which led to my singles writing, and that led to my singleness.
"You know, we need you here," Andy said. "We need your perspective." And I knew he was right. This group of potential new small group leaders would likely have singles in their groups at some point. Maybe I could help sensitize and enlighten them to the singles perspective. I knew I could certainly learn and grow in this gathering.
But I'd pretty much decided I wasn't coming back.
I said my "nice to meet you"s to Andy and Lisa, waved these sentiments to the rest of the group in the living room, and finally retreated to my car. As I backed out the driveway and started down the block toward home, hot tears fell down my face. I felt out of place and out of sorts. And silly that this was bothering me so much.
I switched off the happy song on my radio and said to God, "Well, I tried. Do I get credit for that?" A few more tears fell. "I'm sorry I'm such a wuss."
And then my cell phone rang. It was my friend Margaret. A doctor of psychology, a fellow singleton, a Christian sister who would totally get my emotional response. A friend who hardly ever called and who wanted to see if I was free for coffee right then.
Of course I was.
Ten minutes later we were chatting over warm drinks. I spilled my tangle of emotions, she listened and sympathized and asked good questions. Nothing profound was said, but something profound was taking place. I got the sense that God was saying, I know. I know it's difficult and uncomfortable. But trust me. I just might be up to something here.
So, I went back the next week. I put on my brave face as I pulled in the driveway and prayed for the spirit to match it. After the small talk and snackage portion of the evening, we settled in for a new ice breaker: an emotional check-in. Using the acronym SASHET—which stands for sad, angry, scared, happy, excited, and tender—we were to tell which emotion(s) we were feeling.
As soon as this exercise was introduced I knew my brave cover was blown. I was the second person to share, and I kept it brief. "I feel tender," I announced. "It's just not easy being here, being the odd one out. But I'm trying." There's so much more I wanted to say. That I know marriage isn't everything and that yes, it's better to be single and wanting to be married than the other way around. That I'm not being too picky in my dating experiences. That I do believe in marriage, that I'm not a commitment-phobe, that I haven't chosen my career over a family. That my discomfort is probably a cumulative effect of feeling like the odd one out in Christian circles for years. That I'm not as self-conscious and weird as I might be appearing to them all. That I know God should be enough for me in my singleness, but for some reason he just doesn't feel that way right now. That I'm apparently just in a tough singleness season and I know this will eventually give way to something better.
Instead I simply said I felt tender.
A few heads nodded knowingly, sympathetically. And I felt something inside me unclench a bit. I wasn't carrying all this discomfort inside me anymore, I'd just distributed some of this weight to these new brothers and sisters. Enlightening them and lightening my own burden. The rest of the evening was somehow easier.
Good one-on-one conversations about singleness followed our meeting. One of the men was in the middle of clearing our odd April snow off my car when I finally walked outside. One of the women called me later that week to see if I wanted to get together with her and her kids when they had dinner at the Einstein's down the block from my apartment. And I prayed for these new friends throughout the week.
Week three of our study was even better. I felt less weird walking alone into this gathering. The conversations flowed easier, the sharing was even more honest and vulnerable. We were becoming a community.
I still don't know what God's got in store for me in this new group. This could be the latest arena for me to arm-wrestle with him over my singleness. There could be lessons in getting over my pride or the importance of showing up. It could simply be a reminder that we aren't called to comfort and that the body of Christ is wondrously diverse. Or he could do something I can't even foresee.
What I do know is that I intend to keep showing up to find out what he's up to. And that this expectant attitude toward God is a new and welcome blessing. And that it, all by itself, just might be enough.
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