Ah, the season of fresh starts, new beginnings, and well-intended New Year’s resolutions.
As the 2019 calendars get posted, men and women all over the world are looking for ways to be healthier and happier in the new year. For many of you reading this blog, that fresh start might include jumping into a Pure Desire group—The Conquer Series, Seven Pillars for Men, Betrayal & Beyond, or Eight Pillars for Women—for the first time. This journey with a small group can be truly life-changing. But just like any life change we seek to make, the journey can be marked with struggle, difficulty, or a sudden desire to give up.
So how can we start our new group well in 2019?
In the eight years that I have led and participated in Pure Desire small groups, here are the top five keys to succeed in your new group.
Make every effort to be at every group meeting. Every time.
I know, seems kind of obvious, right? But have you ever been to a gym at 6:00 a.m. on a Monday morning in January, and then again at the same time on a Monday in May? Big difference, right? Why is that? We have a tendency, as human beings, to start well but not necessarily follow through. This temptation will strike us as we begin any new routine. For the first few weeks, we are motivated and excited to get going on this path to freedom and joy. But then life happens: kids get sick, work hours pile up, and our favorite team is playing on TV. When we are feeling the need to miss group “just this one time,” we need to fight it and go to group. The group experience is most powerful and effective when we make our participation the top-shelf priority in our lives.
Think of it this way: our group experience is intended to enable us to sustain a life of healthy sexuality and rebuild honest relationships marked by true intimacy. If this happens, could anything be worth more? We might be tempted to think, “Oh it’s just a small group—it’s really not that big of a deal!” But instead, what if we thought, “My life and my marriage are on the line. I am going to group.”
Are there legitimate reasons to miss group? Sure—unavoidable work travel, a family emergency, and personal illness are part of life. But everything else should come after our group commitment.
For me, one of the biggest differences between small group participation in the past and my Pure Desire group is the expectation of weekly work and processing outside of group. Half of the healing process is what we do in group. The other half—and just as important—is what we do on our own. If we come to group without our work done, we are giving in to a belief that showing up to group is what changes us. Does stepping in the door of a gym change our health at all? No—we have to do the work. The “work” of a Pure Desire group is the exercises, tools, and reading we do during the week.
I have found that many men, in particular, get very anxious about the idea of “homework.” The word homework conjures up fears of past failure, judgement, and mistakes. But in a Pure Desire group, we are not simply doing busy work to bring back for a grade. We are engaging in a process of self-awareness. Taking the time to answer every question and complete every assignment is what brings us the self-awareness we need to make lasting change.
So, as far as you are able, do all your work. Every piece—every assignment—is in the workbook for a reason. (And if you’re not sure why, reach out and ask your leader!)
At some point in your Pure Desire group, you will reach a part of the study that doesn’t make sense to you. Or feels unnecessary. Or is either too hard or requires too much honesty. Do it anyway. The group resources and materials have been developed over the last two decades, being refined continually for effectiveness. Wise mentors and experts in this field have carefully crafted lessons to help you find healing, peace, and joy.
Then we come along—I know, because I did this, too!—believing that we know a better way. We see a question or an assignment and decide we don’t need it. We dismiss a tool because we believe it will not help us in our situation. And in so doing, we may toss aside the very instrument that God can use to change us in a deep way. I am so, so thankful that my counselor saw this tendency in me very early on. He saw me trying to minimize or skip through assignments I deemed less important. His words, “Trust the process,” would become a pillar of change for me. When I would feel my skeptical, critical side rearing its ugly head in protest to a lesson, I would find myself saying out loud, “Trust the process.”
Not every lesson or assignment will make sense to us. But remember—we are all here in a group because we need input and expertise from outside of ourselves to find freedom! Trust the process and keep going.
At first, I wanted to title this section, “Expect Setbacks,” but I don’t think that planning to fail is a wise starting point. What I mean to say is that just because you started in a recovery group and feel like your life is headed in the right direction, doesn’t mean that you will become perfect or superhuman overnight. You are battling pathways in your brain that have developed over many years, if not decades. They won’t go away easily.
As we journey through a group, we may find ourselves battling the very patterns that motivated us to get into a group—lust, anger, and isolation are companions we have become all too familiar with. When they sneak back into our lives, even in a small dose, we might beat ourselves up or feel tremendous guilt. This is not wise.
What we can do instead is to prepare for these moments. Write out our personal guardrails, and what steps we can take when we face temptation. Have a Recovery Action Plan in place so that if a relapse occurs, we know what to do. The more prepared we are ahead of time to deal appropriately with setbacks, the more likely it is that any “setback” can become part of our growth and healing. I have seen in my own life and in the journey of countless others how God has used our mistakes—even in recovery—as “aha” moments of revelation and change.
When we start a group, our ultimate goal is usually health, sobriety, or to fix a broken relationship. We might not even know entirely what we mean by these words, but we have a destination in mind of what life will look like when we get to some imagined finish line on this journey. Most people in group, however, find that this “finish line” is further than they first imagined, and they easily become disillusioned along the way.
So, make sure to celebrate every victory, no matter how big or small.
Here’s a perfect example: many times, I have received a call from a guy in my group, calling to confess a relapse. He is usually pretty guilt-ridden, wondering how he could fall back into the very behavior he is working so hard to change. At this moment, I like to ask, “In the past, did you reach out to a friend like this, confess what you had done, and ask for prayer?” Inevitably, their response is the same, “Well, no. I never would have done this.” Then I make a clear point to say, “This is growth. I know this doesn’t feel good right now, but this is SO good that you are learning to recognize your pattern, and reach out for help instead of isolating. Celebrate this victory, even while you recover and make changes after this relapse.”
What are the victories that you can begin to celebrate on your journey? If your spouse offended you, did you manage to talk it out rather than shutting down for several days? Victory! If you had a relapse, did you avoid further binging over a couple of days like your past pattern? Victory! Are you being more mindful of what you watch on TV or how much time you spend on Facebook? Victory! Are you making an effort to connect with your group between meetings? Victory! Each little victory has a way of fueling us with courage and moving us another step down the road toward lasting health and freedom.
Diving into anything new can be difficult—let alone joining a group to work on sexual integrity and healthy relationships! But these five keys to success will carry you through to the kind of change and transformation you have been wanting all along. The journey can get difficult, but one worth taking.
I pray that 2019 is a year of incredible growth and healing for you, and for those you love who are on this journey with you. Grace and peace.
Nick is the Executive Director of Pure Desire Ministries. He has been in leadership for 15+ years. He was in Pastoral Ministry at East Hills Alliance Church in Kelso, WA for 14 years. Nick is the author of Setting Us Free and Safe: Creating a Culture of Grace in a Climate of Shame.