Do it NOW!
Start a writers group, the still, small—but very persistent—voice said for the hundredth time.
And for the hundredth time, I said, “No.”
I’d been hearing this suggestion in my head for well over a year. Each time I heard it, I recited my list of excuses as to why I couldn’t start a group like this.
First of all, I didn’t have the time—my daughter was getting married soon and I was busy with wedding preparations.
And having people in my house makes me nervous, because I feel like everything has to be perfect. When I envisioned hosting the group, I saw myself frantically cleaning the house on meeting day every week, and then not enjoying the meeting because of all the effort it took to get ready for it.
But the thing that was really holding me back was this: I just didn’t think I had anything to offer. It’s true, I love to write, but I’ve never taken any writing classes—I simply write from my heart and hope that what I have to say will resonate with readers. I assumed leading this group would mean teaching other people how to write, and I certainly didn’t feel qualified to do that.
One of the pastors at my church had asked me several times if I’d be willing to lead a life group: a small, weekly home group meant to promote community and friendship within our large, urban church. I made the mistake of telling her my idea for a writers group. She thought it was a great idea and now she was pressuring me—in the nicest way—to make it happen.
And the voice—acting as if it hadn’t heard all my objections—continued pressuring me too . . .
Start a writers group.
My church, City Life Philly, has all sorts of life groups—hiking groups, bible study groups, men’s groups, mom’s groups, a brunch group, a chat and chaya group, and the list goes on and on—but we’d never had a writers group. The voice was asking me to be the person to begin one. To humor the voice, I looked online for a curriculum for a faith-based writing group. I found nothing.
“See,” I said, “I wouldn’t know how to lead a group like that.”
Then the voice, which now seemed more like a thought, applied a new tactic. It began reminding me of the frustration I had felt a few years earlier, when I had countless ideas for stories in my head, but no outlet for those stories—no one to read them. The voice reminded me of the way I begged God to tell me what to do with what I was writing, and how I’d had a sudden urge to call an old friend I hadn’t spoken to in a long time. The voice reminded me of that phone call: how I had poured out my heart—not knowing that the non-profit organization my friend runs wanted to include a blog on their website, but had no one to write for it. I remembered all of that: how with one phone call (and some sample writing to show I could do it), I went from being someone with stories in her head, to someone with stories on a website—someone with an audience.
Now the voice was asking me to pay it forward.
Start a writers group. Do for others what your friend did for you.
But I still dragged my feet. It was not a good time for me to be starting something like this. My daughter’s wedding was coming up in a few months; I had too much on my plate and too much on my mind.
“Maybe I’ll do it in the spring,” I said.
By now, the still, small voice wasn’t sounding quite so still or small anymore.
Do it now!
And all of a sudden (How could I not have seen it sooner?), it dawned on me that this wasn’t just a thought in my own head . . . God was asking me to do this!
And so I did. I emailed the pastor to let her know I’d be starting a new life group. I hit “send” on that email and instantly the fear about leading this group was gone. In its place, an amazing sense of peace came over me. I didn’t know how the group would run, or who would sign up, but I felt the calm that I’ve learned often comes with obedience.
Life groups at City Life run in semesters. We have set start and end dates so people are able to enter and exit groups easily. I had a few weeks before the fall semester began to make plans for the group. As I sat with my coffee one morning, ideas for the agenda for our first meeting began filling my head. This is how it would go: we’d have 15 minutes to get a snack and allow time for latecomers. Next we’d sit around the dining room table, open with prayer, and play an icebreaker game—one that would help us learn each other’s names. Then, although this wasn’t going to be a class, to get people started writing, we’d read several short, one-page devotionals, discuss what goes into writing one, and ask each writer to craft one to share with the group the next week. Finally, we’d take prayer requests and pray a closing prayer.
I didn’t worry about what would happen the second week. It had become apparent to me that God was in this endeavor, and so I believed that, week-by-week, I’d know what to do.
As the day of our life group launch party neared, people began approaching me at church, saying, “I’m so excited about your group! I’m going to sign up!” I was astonished. I had assumed that a handful of women in my age bracket might sign up, but no, this was going to be a richly diverse group! Both men and women joined, with ages ranging from mid-twenties to mid-seventies. I hadn’t seen this coming, and now I was getting excited.
From the first night we met, I could see that this group would be something special. And it has been. A bond of camaraderie and friendship has developed as we’ve gathered around my dining table, week after week. Writers who were timid about sharing their work in the beginning, now seem to feel a sense of safety, knowing that they’ll receive encouragement from the group, and that any suggestions for edits will be made with kindness.
The creativity that is shared here never ceases to amaze me: from the devotionals we started with, to inspirational stories, narrative poetry, fairy tales, mini-sermons, urban hip-hop poems, even a hilarious love song inspired by World War II. From one Thursday evening to the next, I never know what I’ll hear. And I love it.
Leading this group has been really good for me.
I’ve learned that I am a nurturer: I never knew this about myself. As I look at the faces circling my table, I find myself feeling protective of them, as if they were my family. I want to help them pull their talents to the surface, shield them from discouragement, help them grow in confidence, and ultimately find places to publish or perform their works.
I’ve gained confidence in my ability to lead as a result of starting this group. Things that worried me at the beginning— like being able to rein in the overly talkative, deal with sensitive or opinionated personalities, keep meetings on track and on time—all these things have worked themselves out naturally and easily. (Well, fairly easily!)
And, most importantly, I’ve learned that when that familiar, still, small voice tells me to do something, I should listen carefully, comply quickly . . . and let the adventure begin.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katie Lerro is a happily proclaimed “Late Bloomer”—only finding her passion for writing upon hitting her middle years. She lives in South Philly with her husband, Bill, where she enjoys gardening in their tiny concrete yard, taking long walks around the city, and spending time with daughters Alexis and Alison.