The Power of Small Groups
Updated: Sep 6, 2020
The Winnie-the-Pooh stories have been favorite nighttime reading in our house since my kids were old enough to listen quietly. In one story, Pooh and Piglet follow Rabbit up into the wood and they all get lost in the dense bracken. They keep making big circles, getting nowhere, with Rabbit refusing to admit to being worried, forging ahead, and periodically exclaiming loudly to know exactly where they are and that everything is fine.
Eventually, Pooh says that maybe they should stop trying to find their way home as, perhaps, in not trying, they might actually find it. But Rabbit is unconvinced and, saying how foolish Pooh is, he goes off on his own.
When Pooh and Piglet are alone, Pooh says, “Now then, Piglet, let’s go home.”
“But, Pooh,” cried Piglet, all excited, “do you know the way?”
“No,” said Pooh. “But there are twelve pots of honey in my cupboard, and they’ve been calling to me for hours. I couldn't hear them properly before, because Rabbit would talk, but if nobody says anything except those twelve pots, I think, Piglet, I shall know where they are calling from.”
And then they quietly make their way back home.
This week, listening and sharing with you all in the small groups, the start of which has felt like stars blinking on in the darkness of the night sky, I have been thinking about all of the impossible situations in which we find ourselves.
Some of us are dealing with irreparable tears in the fabric our families and wondering if and how we will ever be reconciled. Some of us are dealing with loved ones waiting in detention or in other countries and it feels like an impossibility that we will be reunited. Some of us are completely overwhelmed by this puzzle of parenting-teaching-working during the pandemic and have no idea what to do about sending kids back to school. Some of us are carrying burdens from our past and it seems like we will never be free from under their weight. Some of us are thinking with dread about the election and the future of our country in the face of so many challenges.
Sometimes I hear the Rabbit in my head practically yelling at me all day long that everything is fine and I know the way, so don’t worry. I can handle this. I just need to make a better list. I just need to think harder. I just need to get up earlier and work a bit more. I just need to have a better plan. I can fix all of this suffering!
But when we try to act on our own we often end up going the wrong way or focusing on the wrong things or trying to hide our increasing despair underneath the facade that we are perfectly fine. And it is so easy to wear ourselves out with our striving, our running around in circles.
Instead of doing, we need to first listen, to first be in God’s presence and then, allow God to act through us. We wait and we listen and then we can be guided by God’s quiet voice that we can’t hear when we are busy running around and shouting (or being shouted at).
In John 15, Jesus is teaching his disciples using a metaphor of a gardener and a vine. God is the gardener. The vine is Jesus. And each of us are the branches. If we separate ourselves from the vine, we can’t produce fruit and we will wither and die. If we allow ourselves to stay connected to the vine then fruit is produced through us.
When we live in the illusion that we can make things happen on our own, we are disconnected from God. We can’t hear well. In order to stay connected and hear God’s voice, we need to practice stillness in the chaos.
Prayer is one way that we can pause in our striving and instead listen to God. We can read scripture, especially with others. We can listen well to God talking to us through others. We can allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable and ignore the voices telling us that we should be ashamed of our imperfections or that everything is fine. And we can create a safe space for others to be vulnerable, which helps us all hear better.
And these are the things that I saw happening over and over again in the small groups this week. Our small groups have provided a space where we can use the power of community to listen better. We recognize that we can’t solve any of these problems that are weighing us down. Hacking our way through the undergrowth is a delusion. But we can meet together in fellowship and pray and listen and be present. And then we can stop going in circles. Then we can find our way back to the vine and find our way back home together and allow God to work through us.
by Dianne Garcia, Pastor of Family Ministry