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Don’t Drown: The Small Groups Life Raft

“Help me, I’m drowning! Can anyone hear me? Can anyone help me?” This is a cry from my heart to yours, so please listen. I try to believe the lies I tell myself: “I’ll be fine in a little while”, “If I ignore it, it will go away”, and “No one understands what I am going through.” If those things sound familiar to your own thoughts about your loneliness, stress, and trials, then maybe we can dive into the deeper issue together. I am in desperate need of community, relationships, to know and to be known. Unfortunately, my heart fights against seeking community and I hide from it. I flail my arms and legs as I try to save myself in these depths. I can sense someone close to me –  “Maybe they can save me!” I think to myself, and I see that it’s you! The only downside is you’re drowning, too. I do not know what is weighing you down and pulling you away from me – your busyness, family, work, sickness, anxiety, or your pride – I only know that they are drowning me. So here we are, both drowning, both knowing that God can save us from our loneliness by using us in one another’s lives, and both still fighting against the lifeguard saving us. Help us!

Social situations have not always gone swimmingly for me. I’m awkward, anxious, self-reliant, and selfish. Since my teenage years, I have felt different from my peers as though I do not belong with them; therefore, I told myself that I had no need for them. They were popular, weird, extroverts, makeup-wearers, and we did not care about any of the same things. My parents forced me to attend small groups at the church we attended, and even though I was surrounded by peers who did not care about soccer or know what it was like to be homeschooled, it was in those groups that I learned I was needier of others. As desperately as I tried to isolate myself and be a loner I kept needing my peers: their prayers, insights, ears, stories, and their hugs. Through depression, anxiety, loss of loved ones, college decisions, and illnesses, my leaders and my peers in my small groups were with me in prayer and in person. I needed small groups growing up; otherwise, I would’ve sunk into myself so deeply I never would’ve been seen again. This is why I so desperately want your children, the youth in Huntsville, to join small groups. Our youth are being water boarded by bullying, expectations, and social media. They need small groups filled with other young believers who can urge them to see Jesus.

My need for life-giving community did not end there. Andrew and I learned quickly as we moved to Huntsville that our lives required more people than just us. A newly married couple, both in school and working, away from all family, and with no friends, it was apparent that we needed to find community and we needed it fast. As we both started to collapse under the flood of work and school, I began drowning in tears of loneliness. There was a deep need inside of me for community, but on the surface, I did not want any. I was tired of being with people all day long, of talking, of caring, and of using so much emotional effort in everything (even grocery shopping in a new store was exhausting). When small group sign-ups at Southwood started in the fall of 2017, Andrew suggested we get involved. I’m not sure what I said in response – probably something like “Yeah, that’s a good idea,” but what I felt was something more like “Please, no more strangers!”

Joining a small group feels like being hit by a tidal wave. You think for a minute that you are going under the wave of new names and faces and that this may be your demise, but then you come up on the other side laughing – because hey, you survived! We were invited into our leaders’ home and given a place at their dinner table. I needed that. I needed someone to tell me that they wanted me to be involved. I needed someone to ask me for my story and not settle for the two-minute version. I needed someone to invite me into their home, but more than any of those things I needed to be invited into someone else’s story. The Southwood staff invites you to be a part of our story, but our church needs you to invite others to be a part of yours. I urge you to join a small group. Mine would invite you, but our row boat of people who were dying for community might start to sink if we add too many more. I encourage you to reach out your hand and hold onto the one that extends to you pulling you out of your busyness and pride and into the safe haven of gospel community.

It is gut-wrenching and terrifying to watch a small child go into the deep end of a pool without the appropriate floaties; this is also how it feels when I watch our congregation greet one another on Sunday mornings. It is terrifying because I do not know if any of us really know how to swim, I mean, have meaningful relationships in the one minute of interaction. This is why I am convinced that you, yes you, need to be in a small group or at least a Connect Community. As much as I need you to help me when I am feeling overwhelmed by work and discouraged by sickness and family problems, you need me, too. You need a group of believers who will sit down with you. You need to hear their stories and their insights. You have so much to learn from them and from God as you spend time together reading Scripture and discussing life (Acts 2). Your small group is there to encourage you; they want to be your people so that when you walk into Southwood on Sunday morning you see a familiar face that you know goes along with a kind and caring heart. Your small group should be a group of people who encourage you, who admonish you through God’s Word, and who will pray for you (and if you are in our small group, you will definitely be forced to play games and maybe even try banana balls). I apologize if this sounds harsh, but I just cannot bear to watch us keep doggy paddling and thinking we’re fine in the shallow end when we all truly desire a deeper connection. You need me – or at least a small group. You need to know how to swim before going deeper, and in order to learn, you need practice and people who will teach you.

It was dark and silent. I couldn’t breathe for what felt like hours but perhaps were only seconds. I struggled and tried to free myself with all of my might, and finally I made it out from under the canoe that had capsized. The sunlight never looked so beautiful, and I had never felt more alive. I want to tell you that your small group will make you feel alive and so much more, but that is up to you and the Holy Spirit. You should know that small groups are not supposed to be clinical. You should not walk in with a problem and think that you will walk out with a prescription. Nor should anyone go into a group trying to fix others rather than listening to and loving them. Southwood is not a Starbucks – you cannot come to our pastors requiring a small group that fits all of your tastes perfectly. That is no excuse to not join one. Your leader is not there to be your travel agent telling you how to live your life; they are more like your raft guide, knowing some of what might be coming, but they are going through life’s rapids with you (Derrick’s illustration). Your small group is likely to be a group of sinners and failures who are in desperate need of a Savior and a friend, and that is exactly what you need. At its best your group will be focused on Jesus and be able to be a group of honest, open, vulnerable listeners. At its most heavenly it will be like the early church in Acts 2 who were devoted to God’s Word and to fellowship, praying, sharing everything they had with those in need and “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47). They sacrificed their agendas and their budgets and even their lives – what are we willing to sacrifice for communal life?

My head has gone under, my breathing is frantic, my thoughts are screams of terror, I am dying. I feel an arm around me and I begin to struggle even more, “What if it drags me down? I have to save myself, or I will surely die!” Why do I fight against the one trying to save me? We know we need each other, so text the person who’s on your heart as you read this. We know we need to be in a group of people who live like the early church, so sign up for a small group or invite others into yours. I know that I need Jesus, so why do I fight Him? He doesn’t text me “Have a good Monday.” He doesn’t hold me when I cry. He doesn’t eat dinner with me. He doesn’t play games or laugh with me, and I need someone who will. He already did and continues to do much more than these things. He gave me life when I had drowned in my sin. He gave me hope when the waters started to rise again. He gave me peace when I saw the sea was beyond my control. He showed me love by never giving up on me. He gave me purpose to know others and to be known. He gave me a small group where I can feel His presence and experience His grace. He gave me the opportunity to be with others and express His grace in countless ways. So, please let yourself experience this soul-saving relationship with Him and the life-saving relationship with a small group. Help is here.