Doing life together is the mantra. It’s one that you hear in most churches like the ones that we’ve attended over the past decade. I know what it means. I know that it works. But it’s incredibly tough to get everyone to buy into it.
When Jo and I moved to Wilmington in 2005 we knew that we wanted to get into a small group as soon as possible. It had been vital to both of our walks in college and we knew that it was quickest and most effective way to plug in and make friends. Most of our friends from college were gone by this point, so it was effectually as if we’d never lived there and were starting over.
We had both been in groups through Intervarsity and had both been leaders. The groups then were usually really social with some decent bible study, but generally never too intense. We didn’t really dig too deep with what was going on in the lives of everyone. Besides, we were all going through essentially the same things; studying a lot, going home on the weekends, and trying to stay out of trouble on the weekends when we didn’t go home.
Those were the single days.
We had gone to a Life Group through The Cove our first year of marriage and it was somewhat like what we’d experienced before, but it seemed more sectioned off, mainly by marriages, or by people who’d known one another previously. People had their own lives. They had things they were hiding and trying to get through without sharing. The conversations were surface and ran off on tangents about things that had nothing to with the study, but never really about life and marriage. It was fluffy.
Our first meeting in Wilmington was at a small house down 23rd Street. We knew no one. The first meeting was, and still is, nerve-wracking. When we first walked in a loud guy came up to me and said, “WHOA!! Goldberg!!” And since I never really get to know anyone on a first meeting because I’m too busy analyzing everything and everyone, I steered clear of this one. People were really friendly. The leader automatically wanted to know if I could get him onto the golf course where I was working. His wife was warm and inviting. They were in their forties and had four kids, 3 of which were in high school. He was a Christian counselor and it was obvious from the outset that this wasn’t their first go at leading a group. Some of the couples, on the other hand, were obviously new Christians and this was definitely their first group. There was no precedent for them on how this whole thing went.
I’ll skip some of the details, but Jo and I were slightly in shock after only a couple of meetings. This was different. It was raw. People shared freely. Of course, the more we knew one another and built trust, the more open it got. People were blunt. There were arguments, occasional tears and couples on the verge of splitting, all within the first year.
Some random topics that came up over two years: an admission of pretty fierce racism, fights over bathroom space, pornography addictions, financial problems galore, not feeling in love anymore, a pawned wedding ring to pay the bills, faltering business plans and Jesus. Almost every week brought some level of intensity. If there were no marriage issues, someone would bring up politics. People just weren’t afraid to lay it out.
Don’t think that it was all drama. There were couples that seemed like they really had their stuff together and seemed to never fight. Two of those couples were newly married, so we were dismissive and waiting on them to blow up, but from what I know of them now they still seem the same, even keel. In the midst of it all were Kim and Troy, our leaders, who constantly prayed for all of us and gave each of us more godly advice than we could have ever asked for. Troy gave me more than I asked for, but all of what I needed.
Looking back I feel like I was the most stubborn of everyone.
In the midst of the intensity were times that we hung out outside of bible study time, either for lunch after church, for paintball, dinner on Friday nights, coffee with a couple of guys on Wednesday mornings, and steaming oysters and beef once it got cold. Those times were good, and were the times when Jo was able to connect best with the girls.
I connected with the guys in varying degrees. I worked for a while with one of the guys, so my relationship with him was a little different. Per the usual with me, the more I know someone the more off color I am, which allowed us to connect more.
As an aside, I’ve gotten myself into trouble with that with some guys. It’s taken a little age and experience to understand that for some guys that’s off-putting. Not every man is quite as rough around the edges as the dudes I’m really tight with.
But that’s for another day…
We knew tons about one another, even if there were things I personally was holding back. We shared life with one another. I struggled in front of some guys. Some of the guys shared their struggles with me. Some of the women helped carry the burden with Jo as our marriage began to crumble.
Fast forward to right now. We struggle to find something that’s relatively comparable. We had a group kind of like that for a year or so. Jo and I were the catalysts for opening up, and eventually some of them started to make themselves vulnerable as well. But it dissolved after several sets of unfortunate circumstances.
So the search goes on.
We still love those people in Wilmington, even after the group slowly pulled apart and ended 5 years ago. I know there’s another group somewhere that’s capable of making itself available to the great things God can do. I know there are people needing community as badly as us.