Acceptance Celebrates Differences
Fourth in a 5-part series about building intimacy in your small group
Personal walls are the greatest barrier to building strong, close relationships within a small group.
People build walls for various reasons, as we learned in our previous two articles. Mike longed for intimacy, but he built walls because he did not know any other way was possible. Allison built walls when she mistakenly believed she was not valued. Both began to tear down their personal walls as they experienced commitment and honesty in their small group.
Walls stay in place because people work so hard to keep them there. Likewise, walls can be torn down when people face the truth about themselves and experience acceptance. Take Joelle, for instance. She rarely developed close relationships. Instead, she cultivated perfectionism and expended energy maintaining her façade. Others saw her as smug, arrogant, and self-righteous. Joelle was afraid to accept herself – and others – because in doing so, she would have to shatter some myths she’d wrongly believed. But as Joelle experienced authentic acceptance, she began to face truths and her walls came down.
The Mistake We Make About Acceptance
Our culture says “there is no free lunch” and “you get what you pay for.” acceptance
Jesus modeled this kind of unconditional acceptance when He washed the disciples’ feet. They saw the Messiah serving them. “You shall never wash my feet!” Peter declared to Jesus. To which Jesus responded, “Unless I do, you can’t be a part of Me” (John 13:8-9). In one simple act the disciples faced the truth about themselves: they needed Jesus’ acceptance, though they were not entitled to it. Once Peter accepted his own need for the Savior, he was able to take what Jesus offered.
From a consumer standpoint, that kind of acceptance is radical. It requires that we receive something we did not pay for, not as an entitlement but as a gift. That is why we struggle to get our minds around undeserved forgiveness … God’s free gift of salvation … even our small group’s simple acceptance of who we really are.
Different Means Distinct, Not Better
Joelle set about trying to impress her small group with her credentials but came face to face with unconditional acceptance. To her surprise, members did not ask about her job, her MBA, or her awards at work. The group simply accepted Joelle without knowing who she was or what she did for a living. Her small group modeled the love of Christ.
In her group, Joelle saw less-educated members who made less money exhibit an ease she did not possess. They are not ashamed of their jobs, Joelle thought in wonder. They have respect for each other, even those who are unemployed. One member used his tenacity to motivate young athletes in a recreational tennis league. Another had a sunny disposition and routinely saw struggles as opportunities. Still another performed menial tasks at a local retirement home, yet spoke with compassion about her patients.
As Joelle spent more time with her group and delved into the scriptures, she came face to face with the One who accepted her unconditionally. Soon, Joelle’s inflated self-image transformed. She slowly realized that she had based her value and the value of others on personal achievement. She came to recognize that group members were different from her … not better, not worse, just distinct.
Joelle had believed the myth that performance creates human value. When she took a step in facing the truth of her imperfect self, her wall started to crack. As she accepted God’s love and then begin to love others, her walls fell down.
Acceptance Celebrates Differences
Paul wrote, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7, NIV). If we fail at acceptance, we lose the ability to go deeper with God and deeper in our small group relationships.
But when we personally experience Christ’s merciful love, like Joelle did, we can accept ourselves, accept others, and even celebrate our differences rather than judging people on a sliding scale of value.
It is then that our small group relationships can move to an incredibly deep richness and build a blended whole … one stronger than we ever dreamed possible.