Read Galatians 6:1–5
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
It’s almost 10:00 p.m. as I write this. I’ve just returned from a meeting of the 12 Step group that meets at our church. I was inspired to visit in part by Philip Yancey’s visit to the recovery group at his church described in What’s So Amazing About Grace?
I love these groups. For one thing, they’re such a great example of carrying each other’s burdens. No one’s judged for being an alcoholic, addict, whatever — in fact the meetings start with introductions that go like this: “Hi, I’m (name), and I’m an alcoholic.” And everyone responds in unison, “Hi, (name)!” It’s the kind of transparency that should be born of grace.
When it was my turn to be introduced, I said, “Hi I’m René and I’m a churchaholic,” and everyone laughed even though I wasn’t really joking. I don’t blame them, though, because it did sound kind of funny coming from a pastor. But as I already described, for years I was addicted to what I call “Churchianity.”
Anyway, at every 12-step meeting a group member shares, and that night a woman about my age told her story. She said I could share it here. You might relate.
Sexually molested repeatedly as a child, she made pacts with God: “If I promise to behave, you will make this stop.” Only it didn’t stop.
“I thought I obviously wasn’t perfect enough, because if you’re good, then life gets good, right? So I tried harder,” she told the group. “Then I gave up because it was too hard, and I went the other way, into sexual promiscuity. Since the pressure of perfection was too much, why bother even trying?”
She was a pregnant teen and “completely lost, when someone invited me to church and told me about Jesus. I said I could never come to Christ because of how bad I was. But this man said I could just come as I was — and I did, and found unconditional love for the first time in my life.” She discovered amazing grace.
I wish I could tell you that her story after that was a long ride into the beautiful sunset, enjoying God’s love every step of the way. But that’s not how it was. A few years later at that same church she found her life’s purpose through being a foster mother. Starting in her twenties, she helped raise nineteen kids that way — tough kids the system had almost given up on. Most turned out okay but, when a few remained troubled, she blamed herself.
“Again I figured if I were a better Christian, I’d see better results. I had never worked that out, so I translated every message I heard at church and every verse I read in the Bible as ‘Be Better!’ I thought if I was only better, then everything would be blessed.”
Over the next twenty years she slowly forgot God’s grace and became performance-oriented again. Eventually this pressure contributed to a nervous breakdown, and a wise counselor suggested she try the 12 Step group. “I thought, ‘What do I have in common with a bunch of drunks?!’ I’m a good church person!” She came reluctantly, agreeing to a six-week commitment. That was over two years ago and she and her husband attend every week now. She says, “In the group I never feel I have to pretend to be someone else, someone better. I’m more at home with the alcoholics and addicts than the ‘good’ church people now!” Funny, that sounds a little like Jesus to me.
She not only rediscovered grace, she discovered how important it is to experience what you could call group grace — grace in community. I think it’s possible for everyone in a church to express the same kind of honesty and care that the people in her group do. It is risky, though, and that’s why people usually shy away from recovery group-style honesty. But some things are so awesome they’re worth the risk!
At the conclusion of her story she shared with the group some truths from the book of Lamentations that have helped her daily bathe in God’s grace:
The LORD’S loving-kindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22–23
Can you relate to the woman’s story? In what way?
What was the flaw in her “religious” thinking — what did she believe about why good and bad things happen?
Why do you think 12 step groups have a level of honesty that “normal” church small groups can sometimes lack?
Ask God to help you plug into a small group community — maybe a recovery group or a small group or a friendship circle — where you can find, and help build, an unconditionally loving “group grace” culture.