Category : Friendship

Leaders guide and 3 copies of Continuing the Journey
Book, Conversion, Evangelization, Faith, Friendship, Life, Small Faith Sharing Groups, Spirituality, Transformation
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5 Keys for Effective Faith Sharing Groups

Adults crave quality connections with other adults, where we can have good conversations about the things in life that really matter.

For a variety of reasons, we don’t always have the opportunity to do this; to have these quality connections and conversations. Our schedules become busy with kids, work, commitments, activities, sports, responsibilities, and so on.  We often find ourselves socializing with the people who keep similar schedules in similar spaces. We talk about the things we do or the things we see, but not always what’s going on inside our hearts.

Sharing the yearnings of our hearts–our hopes and dreams, our joys and sorrows, our brokenness in pain and suffering–takes trust, vulnerability, and love.

Trust, vulnerability, and love aren’t characteristics easily found in today’s impersonal, fast paced, technology dependent world.

This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)

Yet trust, vulnerability, and love are at the heart of true spirituality, discipleship, and Christian community. Or at least, that’s what Jesus had intended, that’s what St. Paul wrote about, and that’s what Acts of the Apostles describes.

Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. (Acts 2:46-47)

The experience of quality conversations and connections is invigorating; these moments fill our hearts with love, peace, and joy. When the topics touch upon spirituality, discipleship, and Christian living, these conversations are evangelizing–kindling our passion for God.

So when, and where, and how can we find quality connections and quality conversations with other adults?  In today’s Church, we can certainly find this within small faith sharing groups.

My last post explained what a small faith sharing group is.  This post begins with a vision for what kind of experience we want (quality conversations and connections) and will focus on How to implement small faith sharing groups.

Five Keys For Small Faith Sharing Groups

Just because you get a group of people together and give them a topic does not mean you’ll get these fantastic evangelizing conversations and quality connections.  Have you ever been part of a never-ending meeting that goes nowhere?  Or one that devolves into either a therapy session or venting and complaining?

Beyond the logistics of who, where, when (and what to discuss), there needs to be a great deal of attention dedicated to how. I suggest Five Key C’s to cultivating evangelizing conversations and quality connections:

  1. Confidentiality – the atmosphere of the small faith sharing group needs to be one of trust, vulnerability, and love.  Whatever is shared in these conversations must not be repeated in any other context.  This is a confidentiality based in agapic-love, willing of another’s good… the only exception to confidentiality is if someone’s life is in danger.  Care and concern for the well-being of another always takes precedence when someone’s life is in danger.
  2. Conversation – participants enter into small faith sharing groups with the expectation of conversation.  Good conversations extend from mutual respect.  To get to a place of mutual respect, sometimes “ground rules” need to be made explicit, such as:
    • encourage laughter and joy… but never at the expense of another.
    • express concern for one another… but not by offering advice, criticism, or judgment of others.
    • recognize and validate emotions… but resist the temptation to counsel, advise, or solve problems (unless specifically asked for).
    • honor one another’s time with both brevity (when sharing) and patience (when listening).
  3. Coordination through Facilitators – a good facilitator is a good listener and servant/leader.  More than a host or a coordinator that plans the meetings, a good facilitator knows how to:
    • invite everyone’s participation in the conversation… but not force it; no one has an obligation to share.  Some folks are natural talkers who easily share; others are introverts that need time to think and process.  A facilitator’s job is to prevent “conversation ball-hogs” by making sure that everyone has a chance to speak and contribute.
    • be patient as participants share their stories… but also be attentive to staying focused on the discussion topic and keeping the discussion within the time allotted.
  4. Conversion and Application to Life – it is easier to talk critical analysis–what you think about a topic–than it is to consider how the material applies to your life.  It’s easier to talk about concepts or other people’s stories than it is to consider how the wisdom of Scripture and Tradition is personally calling you to conversion in your own life.  Faith sharing group discussions are concerned with:
    • How you currently experience [the topic] in your life – whether with success or struggles.
    • Ways in which you feel [the topic] is calling you to live your faith differently or better… a call to action of sorts.
  5. Centered on Prayer – Faith sharing groups always need to be centered on our Life-giving, Loving God.  We need to remember to:
    • begin by inviting the Holy Spirit into the discussion.
    • choose discussion material that helps us focus on how the wisdom of the Christian Tradition applies to our lives today.
    • pray over, for, with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling through difficult times… even if it is in the middle of the discussion.
    • end with a prayer of thanksgiving and/or petition.

One last thing to keep in mind when working with adults in a faith sharing group setting: busy adults don’t always have the time to read and prepare.  Or sometimes they do read and prepare, but then time passes, life happens, and they forget.  In a classroom setting, it makes sense to emphasize coming to class prepared.  In a faith sharing group, the focus is on evangelization; quality connections and conversation about faith and life.

Catechesis is an essential “moment” in the process of evangelization (General Directory for Catechesis, 63).

To help adults focus their conversation, it’s always a good idea to offer a summary that reminds participants about the key points in the material before opening the discussion.

Faith Sharing with Continuing the Journey

You know what material easily lends itself to small faith sharing group discussion?  That’s right!  My book, Continuing the Journey: Cultivating Lived Faith.

Even more, you know what will help with the Five Key C’s of cultivating evangelizing conversations and quality connections?  My brand new Leader’s Guide.

LeadersGuide_BookCover
I believe so strongly in the value of small faith sharing groups that I am offering the Leader’s Guide as either a free PDF (click here), or a hard copy can be mailed to you for $5.99 with free Prime Shipping through Amazon.

Note: all Amazon links include my affiliate link, which means Amazon gives me a couple of extra pennies from your purchase.

Go forth and share your faith!  And let me know if I can be of any help in the process.  In addition to these resources, I am available to offer trainings and workshops for small faith sharing group facilitators.  Just email me!

Blessings and peace as you continue your journey!

Love Julie



Sign-up now and receive the 68-page PDF Leader’s Guide to Continuing the Journey.


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Unconditional Love
Friendship, Love, Love and Relationships
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I love you just the way you are.

Love one another as I have loved you.  (John 13:34)

Unconditional agape love.  That’s how God loves us; that’s how we’re called to love one another.

To be honest, that’s hard.

Consider that line from that Billy Joel song: “I love you just the way you are.”  Think about the people that you love, whether it’s your romantic love interest, children, siblings, parents, friends… Consider whether you can truly say, “I love you just the way you are.”

Because that’s how God loves us.  Just the way we are.  We do not have to be perfect for God to love us.  God loves us just the way we are.  And there is tremendous freedom in that.

Spiritual teacher and mystic Anthony de Mello, S.J. (1931-1987) wrote a beautiful parable on this in The Song of the Bird.

I was neurotic for years. I was anxious and depressed and selfish. Everyone kept telling me to change.

I resented them and I agreed with them, and I wanted to change, but simply couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried.

Then one day someone said to me, Don’t change. I love you just as you are.

Those words were music to my ears: Don’t change, Don’t change. Don’t change . . . I love you as you are.

I relaxed. I came alive. And suddenly I changed!*

De Mello concludes by asking: Is this how you love me, God?

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Rubber-boots-in-the-water
Divine Providence, Faith, Friendship, Grace, Scripture
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Seek and You Shall Find

Last week, during heavy rains and flash flood warnings, my living room flooded.  The exterior drain got clogged and water seeped in, drenching the carpet and padding.  I only discovered it because a meeting I was supposed to be preparing for got postponed. So while the kids took care of their afternoon responsibilities, I emptied the dish-drying rack and tidied the kitchen. When I walked along the far side of the living room to place a special platter back in its display holder, I felt the squish of puddling water in the wet carpet beneath my feet.

My first call was to my husband (the iPhone tells me I made the 16-second call at 3:23pm).  His office is a mile from home, so he arrived within six minutes. In that time, my boys and I grabbed every towel in the linen closet to sop up the mess.  That’s when I texted my network of friends.

Flooding Texts

Flooded-Carpet-and-PorchWithin moments of texting each request, different friends responded telling me they had what I needed.  Within 90 minutes of discovering the flooding, I had everything I needed to fix the problem, including a neighbor who came over to help my husband snake the exterior drain–all without spending a dime.

In response to this situation, I had a choice.  I could either focus on the frustration of the flooding or I could be amazed by how quickly everyone responded.  I could be annoyed by the clogged drain or touched by the outpouring of kindness, generosity, and availability of the friends in my community.  I could obsess about the potential for the problem’s recurrence or I could be grateful for every aspect of the solution.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)

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Friends
Friendship, Love
3

Friends

I love my friends.

They know me through-and-through and love me all the more.  Their genuine care and concern for my well-being is as warm as their hugs.  I delight in their presence, savoring the moments of quality time, the great conversations, the honesty, the fun, and the laughing.  The laughing is the best.

Can you relate?

Friendship has lots of categories: good-friends, old-friends, Mom-friends, family-friends, work-friends, Facebook Friends… and they’re all good.

Let’s take a closer look at “Facebook Friends.”  Facebook has helped me reacquaint myself with a slew of old friends from different points in my life, especially since I’ve moved around quite a bit.  In addition to high school and college friends, I’ve even reconnected with my best friend from childhood.  Some “friends” from Facebook are just in the social network, more akin to friendly acquaintances.  Some offer a lot of “water-cooler-didja-hear-about” conversation, which as a work-from-home-mom, I totally appreciate and enjoy. Though, I think the thing I enjoy most about FB friends is the way in which we know about what’s going on in each other’s lives.  When someone shares joy, I smile with them.  When someone shares pain, I gather them in my thoughts and prayers.  And how about the birthday-love from FB friends?  It’s certainly a different version of friendship than my grandmother experienced, but it’s community all the same.  At least it has the potential to be…

Whether it’s online or in-person, friendship is about community.  It is a community with whom we have fun; it is a community who challenges us, comforts us, supports us, and cheers us on.

And within this community of friends, different people have different roles.

Beyond the “BFF” label (meaning “Best Friends Forever”and yes, Mom, that was for you), there are certain people in our lives that are part of our “inner circle.”  These are the close friends you appoint to a place of honor in your life.  I once knew a woman who called this group her “Personal Board of Directors.” (My husband refers to it as “The Brain Trust.”)  These are the folks who we tend to check in with regarding our life decisions and the ones with whom we cannot wait to share any “big” news.  We may not always agree with the counsel offered by members of our Board, nor do we always follow their advice.  However, we certainly listen to what they have to say – good or bad – because we value their input.

  • Who have you appointed to your own Personal Board of Directors?

The friendships filled with philia love can touch us so deeply that they may even bring the Divine Presence into our lives.  In Touching the Holy, Robert Wicks identifies four different kinds of friends that it is important to have in our lives.  (Though Wicks notes that it’s certainly possible for one friend to have multiple roles).

[Note: I also recommend The Work of Your Life: Sustaining the Spirit to Teach, Lead, and Serve, by Catherine Cronin Carotta (Harcourt 2003), which offers a summary of Wick’s four friends, presenting them in the context of discerning one’s calling.]

  • The Prophet  This is the friend who points out the truth.  “Prophets challenge us to look at how we are living our lives” (99).  Prophets prompt us to examine whether we are listening to God’s voice and following our values or if we are being swayed by “other” voices.  When the prophet-friend asks, “What’s that about?” it makes us think. This is the friend who will speak the difficult truth (with love), despite discomfort or pain.

Many friends have been the “prophetic voice” in my life, but Theresa and Stacey stand out as examples for me because of how and why they speak the truth.    

  • Who are the Prophetic Friends in your life?

  • The Cheerleader  We all need people in our lives who offer the cheerleader’s unabashed, enthusiastic, unconditional acceptance.  This is the person who helps us see the reflection of the loving face of God more readily in ourselves and others.  When we’ve had a difficult day, this is the person we turn to for loving support and encouragement because they say just the right thing to nurture our own self love.  The cheerleader is the friend who offers the presence of God’s mercy and love.  This is the friend “who gets joy out of seeing the footprints of God in our personality” (102).  “Warm friends represent the incarnational love of God in our lives” (106).

My Grandpop was perhaps the greatest cheerleader there ever was.  I’m proud to say that my Mom and my sister, Laurie continue Grandpop’s  legacy of enthusiasm and acceptance.  I can’t wait to share news with them because they triple my own excitement.  When I need affirmation, I call them.  In their love and support, they remind me of God’s goodness dwelling within me.   

  • Who are the Cheerleader Friends in your own life? 

  • The Harasser  This is the friend who helps keep us from taking ourselves too seriously.  The harasser makes us laugh – especially at ourselves.  Through friendship with the harasser, we avoid emotional burnout and/or unrealistic expectations of ourselves.  “This type of friend helps us regain and maintain perspective.”

My husband, Peter takes the cake on this one.   Probably because he enjoys mocking… Nevertheless, he helps me laugh at myself, especially when I’m being completely unreasonable or unrealistic.  April stands out as another great example of a good harasser friend, especially when she’d pull out the Yiddish.  

  • Who are the Harasser Friends in your own life? 

  • The Spiritual Guide  “We will never cease to need an array of spiritual guides to help us deal with our unrecognized and unnecessary fears, to help us appreciate the need for proper detachment, and to lead us to a sense of enthusiasm and perspective in a world strained by anxiety and confusion” (109).  This friend helps us identify our deepest fears, soulful longings, and treasured values.  This is the person who helps us process experiences in our quest to make meaning of our lives.

At different times in my life, different people have served in this role.  In high school, the adults and leaders in my youth group (Antioch) were my spiritual guides.  In college, it was Karl.  In grad school at Boston College,  I found spiritual guides in Theresa, Andrea, Kyle, and Jerry.  My friend Julie is a good spiritual companion.  Sometimes I looked to counselors and spiritual directors to fill this role.  I also turn to good books and special places to  nurture and challenge me spiritually.  I don’t necessarily talk with the friends whom I consider “spiritual guides” on a regular basis.  But when we do talk, we speak with ease and with depth.  

  • Who are the Spiritual Guide Friends in your own life? 

Wicks points out that these four friends help to balance each other out.  Too much cheerleader and not enough prophet might make a person a bit full of themselves… too much prophet and not enough cheerleader might make a person down on themselves… So we need all four kinds.

Which is good, because I have each of these friends.  Moreover, I want each of these friends in my life.  I am a better me because of these friends.  And I want to be this kind of friend to others.

This is what I mean when I say: I love my friends.  Can you relate?


“Friendship © Depositphotos.com/Hannamariah”

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