With Bryce not attending church with me, one of the questions I've often asked myself is whether it would be a good thing for me to join a small group ... Or not, given my circumstances.
Like many churches, mine has a home-group scene where people meet weekly at each other's homes. The idea is they build connections, care for each other, encourage each other, and have stimulating discussions.
It sounds great, but I can already hear a collective sigh here because it's usually not so simple for us.
First, these groups are either full of couples, or full of singles, and we struggle to fit. Second, our spouse might feel we're already leaving them on a Sunday, and now we want to leave them for an additional evening each week. That's in addition to all the other time we spend on our faith activities.
In fact, years ago when I asked Bryce if he'd mind me attending a small group it turned into one of the worst conversations we've had. He expressed very clearly that yes, he would mind very much!! I wrote about that story recently, it was not a good day.
Difficult as it is, we do need to be with believers regularly, we do need to build Christian friendships, and we do need to fight for that. The reason we need to fight is that our spiritual survival hangs on it. That said, church community can take many forms and a 'small group' may or may not be the right format depending on where things are at in our marriage. A regular coffee with two other Christian friends might be just as good and easier to fit with your spouse.
When I joined my new church last year I was invited to a small group and, despite all the past conversations between Bryce and me about this issue, this time it seemed right.
By then Bryce was no longer appalled by the idea. I'd worked hard over a number of years to balance church and our marriage and he, in turn, had done some thinking. He didn't miss the opportunity to tease me when he heard it was a 'small group' but I said "I love you", gave him a kiss and off I went.
So now we get to me ringing the doorbell and arriving at said small group ...
The door opens, I step in, and I get hugged by everybody: Eight couples in their fifties and sixties and one other lady on her own. There is tea, coffee and food. Yum! I'm keen, but I do wonder if I'll cope being around couples. I'm not sure if I'd have coped with this until now, in fact.
Armed with our tea, and now sitting, we start to talk about Sunday's sermon topic using discussion questions. Now I'm loving it because all I want is to talk about faith, all the time, and I'm always in need of this!
That was the first taste, and I didn't fall over from 'Coupledom misery'. But over the weeks, hearing about their faith lives in detail, I did begin to see just how different a SUM walk is to a couples faith walk. It is different.
I would find myself driving home thinking two things. (1) "I'm more intense than they are because of the SUM." And, (2) "I don't fit."
Still, I continued, and the 'not fitting' became a lie I needed to dispel. Why? I am part of the Body of Christ. I fit.
As the months went on, I actually found surprising treasures. For one, I loved getting to see guys' faith. And, second, I noticed how different the gifts and experiences within this group are. That part broadened my view, and I began to feel I was understanding the Body of Christ better... Simply by sitting with people who are different to me.
My verdict? Being part of a small group has been beneficial and I will continue, but it's worked because the timing and fit was right. I guess, as with anything, we just have to pray about it and always follow God's lead about what's right for our circumstances.
There's part two to this story, next. Hold onto your hats:
Christmas rolled around, it was time for the group's Christmas dinner, and up came this offer "Please do invite your husband, we would love to meet him!" What happened next I will share next time...
Do you go to a small group, or have you done? I'd love to hear.