— by Daniel Jenkins, Ph.D.
Jenkins is a licensed clinical psychologist at The Center for Enriching Relationships in Mission Valley. He is also a professor at Point Loma Nazarene University. Learn more at www.enrichingrelationships.org.
“If we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other.”— I John 1:7
My wife has a brother, Steve, who has been an alcoholic for most of his life. Given that he is 56 years old, his alcoholism has spanned decades. The good news is that he has broken the chains of addiction and is now more than six months sober.
During the last few months, he has reached out to family and re-established relationships. We thought he was a lost cause, having reached out to Steve many times in the past, so you can imagine our surprise when he made a move in our direction.
He came to stay with us for six weeks. During this time, I saw him go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings once or twice a day. He would often pedal his way to a local meeting on a bicycle while my wife and I were at work. I was amazed at how many AA meetings were available to him within our community. This time, he was determined to make his recovery successful.
After all the research conducted by psychologists over the past 20 years on human addiction, impulse control and recovery, nothing has been as successful in helping alcoholics stay sober as AA.
I called Steve and asked him what the secret was to his success thus far. He said that like-minded friends who provide support, honesty and accountability have made this process much more bearable.
“We do life better because we are doing life together,” he said.
How true! The power of small groups, where you are able to be open, honest and accountable, is synergistic. I have the opportunity of facilitating several small groups as a professor at a local Christian university and as a clinician at a private practice. In both venues, people benefit from being connected and accountable.
If we were to be analyzed from space by an alien sociologist, he would describe human beings as creatures who cluster together in groups. From the nuclear family to large metropolises, humans need each other to function at maximum capacity. In fact, to not have this need is abnormal enough to warrant the diagnosis of Schizoid Personality Disorder.
No wonder the church is described as a body of believers who interact together (I Corinthians 12:12). When churches create small groups where individuals can find safe relationships, and trust is built on honesty, then these individuals are “doing life better.”
Unfortunately, there are those who prefer to avoid connection and the risk of being known by others (see Hebrews 10: 24-25). They can cite the ills of “organized religion,” but often this is simply a cover for a deep fear of emotional intimacy that has resulted from wounds inflicted upon them in the past.
The best way to overcome any fear is to face it again—but not alone this time. Do it as part of a team of like-minded friends who have the same goals as you. If you meet up with friends once or twice a day, like my Steve, or just once a month, and listen to what others are sharing from their lives, you will gain clarity, new insights and sharper perspectives on just about any topic.
When you add in the guidance and wisdom from God’s Word, you add another level of synergism.
Once he gained sobriety, brother Steve has reached out to his family. This was a frightening, huge step for him. More importantly, he has also reached out to God and is now trying to grow in his faith. In addition to AA meetings, he is now going to church and he is learning what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.
Likewise, may you find connection in small groups with others who are also fixing their eyes on Christ (Hebrews 12:2).
Try it and see if you will be “doing life better.”