Wineskins Archive

January 23, 2014

John’s Support Group (Sept-Oct 1993)

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by Debbie Runions
September – October, 1993

18From the time I was a child I loved the story of Job. I felt that the much-put-upon hero of the ancient play was a kindred spirit. Oh, I wasn’t a king like Job was, nor was I rich, nor was I the greatest among my people. But Job’s favorite question was mine: “Why?”

Job’s questions were born after a series of personal disasters. In the span of a day Job lost his children, his servants, and his vast holdings of livestock. Shortly after that he was afflicted with a disease that was painful, contagious, and terminal. His wife suggested that he curse God and die. Job refused to sin. He did, however, demand that God come before him and give reasons for his suffering.

My questions came from a similar series of events. Job became my mentor as I tried to reconcile a holy God with a wounded world.

When my husband died in an automobile accident at age 32, I like Job said, “Do I have power to help myself…a despairing (wo)man should have the devotion of (her) friends…” (Job 6:13,14). I turned to the church that had been our religious home since we came together as a family.

However, my “support” was almost identical to Job’s. As I began to “speak out in the anguish of my spirit and complain in the bitterness of my soul” (Job 7:11), my religious kinsmen began to give me the pat answers that Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, had offered him. I was reprimanded for my questions, judged as one who was rebellious to God’s will and told that we suffer as punishment for sin. The least offensive insight offered the suggestion of Job’s youngest friend, Elihu: God sends suffering to keep you from sinning. My questions concerning the nature of God and good and evil were labeled blasphemy. I was warned that I was courting the Unforgivable Sin.

Like Job, I cried, “My brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams…(they) have proved to be of no help; (they) see something dreadful and are afraid” (Job 6:15-21).

Worse than being undependable, with the exception of a few bright and notable personal friends, church people were so abusive in their judgment, so harsh in their criticism, so unwilling to allow me to search for my own spiritual answers within their fellowship that, like Job, I pleaded, “How long will you torment me and crush me with words? Ten times now you have reproached me, shamelessly you attack me. Miserable comforters are you all! Will your long-winded speeches never end? You are worthless physicians, all of you!” (Job 16:2,3; 13:4). Then, in a straightening of my spirit’s robes, like Job I said to my “support” group, “If it is true that I have gone astray, my error remains my concern alone” (Job 19:1-4). And I left the church in search of healing.

No matter how hard life became I continued to probe God, to search for the answers to unfathomable questions. Job continued to be my way-shower.

My public relations company failed. I lost my house. My son took an accidental fall from a three-story platform during military training. Irreparable damage to his spine abruptly ended his childhood dream to make the Marines his life’s career. My daughter took a drug overdose and almost died. I became addicted to a man who so controlled my every moment of time, my every thought, and my every resource, that I was emotionally and financially bankrupt.

But I never lost touch with my source. He never took his eyes from me. And through his servant, Job, God began to teach me what a real support group would be like:

1) Taking cue from the dialogue of Elihu (the only friend of Job who was not directly reprimanded by God), the perfect support group would be all inclusive, recognizing that all people are the children of God by virtue of the common Spirit within them. “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). “If it were his intention and he withdrew his breath, all mankind would perish together and man would return to the dust” (Job 34:14, 15). “But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding” (Job 32:8).
2) A truly healing circle of encouragers would cast out fear with perfect love by recognizing that there is only one power. “He destroys both the blameless and the wicked…. If it is not he, then who is it?” (Job 9:22/24). By trusting that our sovereign loves us and wishes us well, we lay the foundation upon which we may surrender our will to his guidance. “You gave me life and showed me kindness and in your providence watched over my spirit” (Job 10:12). “You (God) will call and I will answer you; you will long for the creature your hands have made. Surely then you will count my steps but not keep track of my sin. My offenses will be sealed up in a bag; you will cover my sin” (Job 14:14-17).
3) The entry fee for the consummate support group would be an awareness of mutual suffering. “Men at ease have contempt for misfortune as the fate of those whose feet are slipping” (Job 12:5).
4) The goal of the group would be grace. Participants would be able to examine personal pain, explore the nature of God and discover the relationship between the two in an atmosphere of non-judgmental acceptance. “Have pity on me, my friends, have pity, for the hand of God has struck me” (Job 19:21).
5) Listen quietly. When the one who needs support and encouragement tells his story the ones who have the healing role of listening would do just that. “If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom” (Job 13:5). “Keep silent and let me speak; then let come to me what may…. Indeed, this might turn out for my deliverance” (Job 13:13, 16).
6) Those listening would encourage the healing of secrets by demanding rigorous honesty and strenuous personal integrity. In return, they would listen in humility and respond in trustworthiness. “As surely as God lives…. As long as I have life with me, the breath of God in my nostrils, my lips will not speak wickedness and my tongue will utter no deceit…. I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it…” (Job 27:3-6).
7) There would be a time and place to confess one’s sins without condemnation, for carrying something inside makes it darker and heavier. Speaking it into the light automatically removes some of the fear, shame, or guilt attached. “If I have concealed my sin as men do, by hiding my guilt in my heart because I so feared the crowd and so dreaded the contempt of the clans that I kept silent and would not go outside. Oh, that I had someone to hear me!” (Job 31:33-35).
8) The perfect sanctuary of healing would be a safe place in which we could question God and demand an accounting of our suffering. “But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell?” (Job 28:12). And when God speaks, when the spiritual physicians of the group perfect their practice of listening, accepting, allowing and loving, the place of healing will hear from the recovered soul, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…. My ears had heard, but now my eyes have seen…therefore…I repent”(Job 42:3,5,6).

The Book of Job ends with God granting Job’s request by personally appearing before him. With great eloquence he answers all of Job’s questions because, “These are my mysteries.” Then the Almighty chastises Job’s friends and exalts his servant. God says to Eliphaz and his two buddies that he is angry with the “support” they gave their friend and will not even allow them to sacrifice for their own sins, but demands that Job do it for them. God then multiplies Job’s blessings until they are greater than they were at the beginning of his tests.

The message that God delivers to mankind through the story of Job is that he is not threatened by examination. He is not angered by our questions. He will not visit his wrath upon those who dare to stand in his face and demand answers. Indeed, the opposite is true. God admires one willing to strap on the armor of a spiritual warrior and rewards the individual upon whom he heaps sorrows with wisdom and blessings.

Man has a dual nature. His body, mind, and emotions are human, but the spirit within him is divine. If he cannot find a place within the church to feed his spirit, to accept his humanity, and heal the wounds created by the chafing of the two pressing against each other, he will seek or create such a place for himself outside. That’s how the 12-step recovery programs started. And that’s where I found my healing.FREE Access!

Debbie Runions

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