Reflections on the Group Process

By a new millenium group

As we drove up the winding, snow covered road we marveled at the beauty of God’s creation. The directions were precise and the lodge was easy to find. We were greeted by Henry and Eva Villarreal. The entire lodge was beautifully furnished and immaculately kept. A warm fire was going and we were shown to our room. It looked comfortable and homey and our every need had been anticipated. We felt right at home. We soon met part of our group as they arrived from the airport. They were friendly but seemed a bit nervous, just as we were. We sat down to a light supper of soup and salad followed by general orientation. Our hosts made us feel comfortable and everyone seemed to relax a bit. The rest of our group arrived after dinner. We introduced ourselves and spent our first evening getting to know each other.

The first morning of group therapy was tense for all seven of us. Dr. McBurney asked us to begin by sharing about ourselves and telling what brought us to Marble Retreat. I was frightened as I began to pour out my heart to total strangers. I cried, and some of the “strangers” passed me tissues. When we stopped for a mid-morning break many of the other participants came to hug me and offer words of encouragement. We were on the road to these strangers becoming friends and partners in restoration.

Group Process

A major concern of mine was knowing that I would not only be sharing a house with total strangers but I was expected to share my deepest pain and fears with these people.

After the first few sessions I began to open up and to my amazement I was loved, understood and encouraged to continue down the path of healing. Together we laughed, we cried, and we saw in each the same fears, insecurities, pain and desperate need to receive grace from God and each other. In the end we made dear friends, received healing in places we never knew we hurt. All of us were better men and women for it. We left with a deep sense of the call of God on all of our lives and felt better equipped to pastor the churches God entrusted to our care.

Group Dynamics

After the first two days of group time when everyone had shared their stories, we found we could identify with each others struggles. We were the same — hurting and in need of the grace of God. The walls began to come down. The barriers shattered one morning when one of the wives shouted and cried in anger for the pain her husband had caused her. We all felt her pain. Her vulnerability drew us all out — including her husband. Day by day we each had a chance to explore the issues that burdened us. Everyone joined in asking questions and offering insights.

Then we watched God work as we continued to wrestle with our pain, insecurities, differences, defenses and hopelessness. Healing came to each one of us. Reconciliation of relationships, strengthening of resolve, burying past hurt and heading toward the future with hope.

A Personal Story

Beverly and I had reached the point in our marriage where, despite the deep love we had shared for many years, we became locked in a series of destructive behaviors which were having a devastating effect on our marriage, our children and our ministry. We sought out a counselor who helped to some extent, but we continued down the road we had began several years before.

Finally the head of our association suggested (well, actually he more than suggested) that we go to Marble Retreat for an intensive two-weeks of group and individual therapy.

Presuppositions! We all have them. My presupposition was that practically nothing could be a greater waste of time than group therapy. There was no way in this world that I was going to bear my soul, share my pain, reveal my anger and more importantly, be transparent about our marital problems in front of strangers. Yes, I really looked forward to the individual counseling sessions with the McBurneys, but the group therapy sessions were simply a waste of time that I would be forced to endure. At least, that was my presupposition.

It’s funny how presuppositions often prove not to be true. I had never been involved in group therapy, nor for that matter had I ever known anyone who participated in group therapy. Still, I was deeply entrenched in my presupposition.

Group therapy started slow. Thank God! There wasn’t much I could see in the other participants that related to our problems. Their stuff seemed so generic, ours so specific, all of it unrelated. It was amazing how fast all of that changed. Each day I became more transparent. We all began to see how God had orchestrated our time here at Marble. I have never doubted the sovereignty of God, but it seemed as if He had personally invited each of us to meet with Him in the Rocky Mountains at this particular point in time.

It became quickly apparent that we shared the same struggles, had the same pain, same fears, same insecurities. Yes, they manifested differently in each of our lives, but the similarities were astounding. Things I could not see in myself, I could see in others. It was almost like looking in a mirror and recognizing myself! “I felt like that.” “I react the same way.” “ Those feelings are my feelings.” “Those fears my fears.”

We laughed, we cried, we encouraged each other. We ate together, played together, and yes, we even skied together. After all, we were only an hour from Aspen, it was winter, and all the therapy was exhausting. Everyone needs a little R and R!

In the end we shared our lives, made new friends, and became better men and women for it. We all faced issues we had never recognized before, received some needed healing, and became better equipped to pastor the churches God has entrusted to our care.

Beverly and I left a lot of stuff in the mountains at Marble Retreat. Among them was one of my many presuppositions. It wasn’t a waste of time for me or Beverly or for that matter all of the other men and women who spent two weeks there with us. That’s the truth…so much for presuppositions!