"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you" (John 13:34 ).
"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15).
"Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2).
A few weeks ago our small-group leader began the group time by asking how our week had been. He suggested we go around our circle of 12 adults. The first person said, "Good", and looked at the next person who said, "Fine." "Good" and "fine" went around the circle like lightning. The pressure mounted as my moment approached.
My wife and I are in the midst of a severe trial which has lasted almost a year now. We've often shared our situation and struggles with our small group, and they have encouraged and blessed us in many ways. We had had another very difficult and trying week. I said, "Okay," and my wife followed suit. Then our leader asked us all if we were being honest. Silence ensued until my wife confessed, "We're not doing well."
Understand Fear Pleasant, comfortable, and uninterrupted lives may hinder authenticity, but pain can create a hunger for authenticity. So what kept me from being honest?
Fear. I fear it won't matter. I'll pour out my heart and nothing will happen. My trial is still fresh every day but by now the group is familiar with it. I'm tired of talking about it and I wonder if my group is tired of hearing it. I'm aware we are on a schedule. I'm afraid of making myself the focus of the evening. (As a small-group leader of many years, I admit a loyalty to the clock and only grudgingly allow someone's heartaches to usurp my agenda.) I'm also weary of being "solved" by well-intentioned people. As a pastor I've "solved" other people and their troubles for years, hopefully in love. I've never known until this past year how annoying, humbling, or hurtful it can be to be honest about your sorrows and trials and then quickly get diagnosed by another Christian. Then there is the added pressure of "getting better" and "gaining the victory" so you don't disappoint the person who solved your problem the next time you see them.
But my wife did the right thing. Pride is a part of these fears. Pride can be a strong barrier to giving people a chance to love you, rejoice with you, weep with you, and help carry your burden. The urge to seek the help and comfort of my small group is as great as the urge to hold it in. I know I need their fellowship to pull me through. There may be no loving response when we are honest, but pride should never prevent us from fulfilling the law of Christ.
Be Ready I've heard it said the life of a police officer is 98 percent boredom and two percent pandemonium. But an officer has to be ready to respond when pandemonium strikes. As Christians, and especially as Christians in a small group, we have to be ready to respond in Christ's love when people let their hidden joys or sorrows out.
Recently a co-worker walked into the break room and announced to a couple of other men and I that his wife had just asked for a divorce and was ready to move out. He was on the verge of tears. I had a great opportunity that day to listen to the man and pray with him. Authenticity happens whenever and wherever it happens.
We can't make authenticity happen, nor would we want the power to do so. But we can create the atmosphere for people to fulfill the law of Christ. We can pray and encourage others in the group to pray for people to be able to rejoice and weep with one another. This includes prayer both before and during small group. We have to be authentic in our families and with our closest friends. We can't suddenly try and be authentic when small group begins. Relax and rejoice in the man or woman God has made you to be. Don't let fear or pride beat honesty down.
The joy and freedom of authenticity is the byproduct of people loving the Lord with all their heart and loving one another as they love themselves.
—David Winters, copyright 2008 by the author and SmallGroups.com.