The Power of Spiritual Support Groups


For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will gather you.
(Isaiah 54:7)

written anonymously

One of my son’s has OCD.  It’s not the kind that people who keep their kitchen cabinets organized say they have – but the kind that sometimes makes it impossible for him to get out of the house because of rituals.

His wife lives with bipolar disorder.  Likewise, it’s not the kind that people who feel moody or sometimes have too many thoughts at once say they have – but the kind that often freezes her with anxiety and drags her into suicidal spirals.

Talking about how heartbreaking, overwhelming and financially destructive this has been for me as a parent isn’t my favorite conversation.  Some people ask if my daughter-in-law has tried yoga or if my son still eats gluten.  I know they’re trying to help.  And maybe their suggestions have merit but it’s as hard for a parent to hear quick fixes as it is for a person to hear about a painful situation.  Feeling helpless is the same regardless of which side of the fence you’re on.

The truth is that until I found out about the Spiritual Support Group at the church, I didn’t have a clue about how to make this more bearable myself other than by praying for a miracle to cure the pain my family feels.

I’m a ridiculously self-sufficient person who at birth picked the card that said My Job is to Ease the Burden that Other People Feel.  I actually appreciate the self-appointed mission 99 percent of the time because I’m pretty good at it and it makes me happy.  But when my children’s challenges escalated and they came with their children to live with me a few years ago, I hit what I now call a forced surrender, also known as Overwhelm with a capital “O.”

I had never been to a support group before I showed up that first Monday night.  The room was filled with people who were either personally or by association challenged by a mental illness.  I really had no idea how I could contribute.  I knew how hearing quick-fix suggestions affected me and yet all I wanted to do was what I knew how to do – to try and fix it for everyone.

Lucky for me, the Spiritual Support Group facilitators had superpowers that enabled them to create an environment that evoked a sense of belonging rather than one that evoked a need to be fixed. In fact, one of the group’s ground rules is that everyone can speak only from their own experience rather than give anyone else advice.

Instead of being a place where people complained and blamed, it was a place where we laughed and sometimes teared up but always left feeling a little lighter.  After all these years, I still feel better on my way home.

In addition to understanding what support feels like, I’ve learned an enormous amount about self-compassion from this group.  I’ve also learned how to see things a little differently at times because of the love that keeps the candle in that room burning.

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