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The first time I was asked to join a small group, I said no.

The second time I was asked to join a small group, I said no.

The third time I was asked to join a small group was my last year of college. I was chronically overextending myself, both academically and socially. I was fitting three semesters of college into two and had a part-time job. I couldn’t imagine adding one more thing to my already overflowing plate.

The third time I was asked to join a small group, I said yes.

I spent a lot of my college years asking those questions all cradle-Catholics come to face at some point — am I Catholic because it’s what I know, or am I Catholic because it’s what I believe? I asked the questions, sure, but I didn’t pray much outside of Mass, and I never really looked for the answers. I’d like to give myself an excuse and say I didn’t know where to look, but in truth, I was embarrassed to ask such seemingly fundamental questions about faith at the not-so-ripe, already-Confirmed age of 20.

So, I looked at a women’s small group and I saw a safe space to empty the doubts and fears of my heart, free of embarrassment or judgment.

This small group was just four people: two other women I didn’t know, a leader I did know, and me. We met weekly in a variety of Grand Rapids coffee shops and we discussed certain Bible verses or reflected on how God was moving in our lives each week, how certain challenges or joys presented opportunities to draw closer to him. But no matter what form our meeting took from week to week, we always shared open and honest conversations and a deeply personal investment in one another that was rooted in recognizing the Godliness in each other.

Small group was always a place I could bring my full, honest, broken, joyful self, no holds barred. 

Joining this small group gave me a new set of responsibilities, and a new set of people to pray for. I felt empowered, like I’d been given an assignment from God to pray for my small group, and I was so proud to see it through. My assignment drove me to adoration. I’d accompanied my mom to adoration as a child a few times, but I’d never taken the initiative to go as an adult until now. As I sat in the green room-turned-sanctuary of on-campus adoration, I prayed for my small group, and I marveled as, for the first time in ages, I truly quieted my mind and listened for the Lord. I’d looked for him in books and in music, both things I love dearly, but I’d never heard him as clearly as I did sitting alone with the Blessed Sacrament.

The energy and grace and peace I experienced in adoration prompted a snowball effect of discovery. I started reading Jacques Philippe and C.S. Lewis, and about the lives of saints. I tried to spend more time in silence. I went on a retreat for the first time since Confirmation classes. And I was thrilled to bring all this discovery — and all my new questions — to my small group.

So many of the questions on my heart were answered in the models of discipleship my small group companions were. By making the time to worship Jesus, young women who once were strangers to me quickly became confidantes with whom I broke bread, sipped coffee, laughed, cried and shared in the vulnerable grace that is a spiritual life and a spiritual community.

The spiritual community that small groups offer is not just skin deep. It is a come-as-you-are, intentional, invested relationship with people who gather for a common cause, help one another get to heaven, inspire one another to recreate heaven on earth. It’s a tacit reminder to be your best self, rooted in the love and image of God. It’s a not-so-tacit reminder that God wants you to bring your full self to him too with every problem or joy that’s on your heart; nothing is too big or too small.

As time went by and graduation neared, my small group waned away; weekly meetings became monthly, then eventually just once in a while, and then we eventually parted for good, but the impact of months of strong and focused relationship in Christ with other women just like me has followed me for all these years. The way my fellow small group members demonstrated the love of God in action inspired me to discover how I could be like them, how I could embody this mission and how I could surrender myself to the Spirit’s movement, so that I could provide for other women the same environment of love, support, and accountability they provided me.

Coincidentally, I find myself writing this after closing the first meeting of my Lenten women’s small group — which I lead! As I prepared for our meeting, for the opportunity to meet five new women and embark on this season of spiritual regeneration with them, I reflected on that very first small group. I asked the Lord to help me create a welcoming and supportive space for any young woman on my Zoom call, and I thanked him for all the graces he gave me when I finally abandoned my stubbornness and said yes to joining a small group. Sign up to join or lead a small group and begin building your intentional community with others.