To Go Deep

To go deep: To get to a place of spiritual and emotional transparency with a group. “Going deep” is often characterized by new and life-changing interactions with the Bible and with each other that result in feelings of deep friendship and intimacy.

“I thought it would be different by now,” she tells me as we drive. We are talking about our small group, which is on a bit of an unplanned hiatus while we regroup for summer. She shifts in her seat, sticks her fingers out of the cracked window.

The day is fading pink around us and the fields are glowing with it. Sometimes I forget how close we are to country. This suburb I live in is sort of a border-town, the far end suburban sprawl. Go a few miles north, and developments fade into fields and woods and strange little grocery stores with faded signs.

“I don’t know,” she says after a long pause. “It’s been three years. I thought we’d be at a place by now where we could go deep,” and I recognize in her phrase my own vague desires. I too have longed for this nameless place where suddenly, things change, suddenly, you are safe.

We sit cross-legged on someone’s living room carpet week after week, Bibles in our laps, and it seems like all the ingredients are there. Scripture is spoken into the room, and you’d think that it would work like a key, unlocking our deepest selves.

I once believed that to learn these soul-truths together, in a small circle of believers, would be like diving to the bottom of the lake. I imagined it would feel like water, thought that I’d be surrounded by it, suspended and weightless and held.

For me, this has been one of the hardest parts of faith: how often I am beached in the shallows of church life and Christian-talk, how utterly dried out I feel sometimes. We gather, we talk, we tell our stories, and still, deep is a place that we can’t seem to find, a world hidden somewhere beneath us.

But then I think about this group of women.

We have emerged, piecemeal, from this church. We are so different, like the five points of a star, connected by thin, fragile lines, by mystery and Light.

We trickle into each other’s homes, still carrying all the weight of the day on our shoulders, and it’s easy to feel like we’re missing it in all of this talk of children and housework and Pinterest. At face value, this looks like the shallows, the verses we read, the study we follow, the way our answers fall awkwardly onto the floor.

But of course, that’s not true, because all of it matters. The complex and the simple, the beautiful and the mundane, the thrilling and the commonplace – all of it is connected. Each loose thread pulls at the deep truths of our hearts.

And maybe deep is less of a place we get to than a way we choose see each other. A kind of intent listening. A way into love.

I’m starting to believe that knowing each other’s darkest secrets is not, in fact, what makes us deep. It’s being faithful with the details we do know, choosing to believe that the little things are the big things. It’s holding carefully the pieces of one another’s lives in the open palms of our hands.

It’s not Biblical knowledge or understanding the word in it’s original Greek. The right study will not get us there, the right format will not do it. It’s not information that heals us of our deepest hurts, it’s love. And love is always a choice.

It is all so close. We are driving, and everything is overlapping, the borders blurred. One moment a Target store, and then, suddenly, cows tucked into a hillside. It’s country and suburb, field and city, quiet and loud, deep lakes, wide fields, and all of it matters.

Look closer. Every blade of grass is charged with holy light.

37 thoughts on “To Go Deep

  1. I’ve often thought about this question with the word “authenticity.” It seems like that term has become synonymous with telling dark truths about how we have been abused or taken advantage of. Or how we have some gigantic sin struggle.

    But what if our lives have been actually blessed beyond our understanding? What if not telling those stories isn’t being inauthentic, and isn’t avoiding going deep, but is just what our lives are actually like?

    I had some difficult moments in childhood, for sure. And the premature birth of my son was not an easy experience either. And I struggle with sin, comparison, and questions about my identity just like anyone else. But for the most part, my life has been happy and good. I am so so grateful. Yet, sometimes I don’t feel like I have permission to talk about it, for fear of being “inauthentic” or “not going deep enough.”

    Will you ever run out of these terms to analyze? You always make me think, Addie.

    1. I agree, Stephanie. True “depth” or “authenticity” can’t just be about the darkness, it also has to be about the light. It has to be about the small annoyances as well as the big struggles, the small victories alongside the big ones.

  2. This single passage is charged with revelation and light: “knowing each other’s darkest secrets is not, in fact, what makes us deep. It’s being faithful with the details we do know, choosing to believe that the little things are the big things.”

    But then I stumble to the end, “Look closer. Every blade of grass is charged with holy light.”

    Thanks for today’s gems, Addie.

  3. I echo Ray’s thoughts. That is what stood out to me. I think the idea that we are to be emotionally naked with many is a 21st century fallacy of the church. Love deeply but trust carefully. I think of Mary’s words of “Pondering all these things in her heart”. If anyone had a need and right to want deep it was her. But faithfulness to the details we know is huge. I remember thinking after a dark period in my life that when someone’s outside behavior doesn’t match what you know of their life then be willing to realize there is way more going on, and accept that we may never know but can still offer love and faithful friendship. Thanks Addie.

    1. Thanks, Marilyn. I love that word “faithfulness.” I almost feel like we have to earn the right to each other’s deepest places by being careful with the small details. Sometimes I think that the church and small group structures don’t account for that. There’s this sort of notion that if it’s a spiritual group, you should be able to skip all that and just go immediately to the hard stuff. But that’s not how we’re built.

  4. “Deep” has come to represent the disgruntled Christian for me. People who, like me, who want to be perceived as mature, but are heart-disabled. So when confronted with self we deflect to the safety of information exchange. And we reserve the right, when severely preyed upon by penetrating truth, to call the teacher/preacher shallow, “…not feeding me” in order to avoid self-examination and relational vulnerability.
    Friends who have chosen the history and geography of the Bible like a wall around their heart, guard themselves from themselves, and, as a consequence, from me. As you point out, “deep,” like “love,” is a choice, ironically, to risk one form of aloneness for another. Not loneliness, but aloneness. I’m safely alone in my head with fellow-Christians and Bible facts. Or I’m alone in feigned community with fellow-Christians who all hope to convince one another we’re a little better than we actually are. The risk is to let the Bible violate me, and risk your thinking less of me than I actually am.

    1. So much in this response. I especially love this line: “The risk is to let the Bible violate me, and risk your thinking less of me than I actually am.” Thanks Neal.

    2. That’s a really good and perceptive comment Neal. We are hurting, and because, like most everybody in life we have been hurt by other people, even sometimes by friends and family and people who are close to us in someway, we stop responding to their love, we don’t let anybody in; we stop taking a risk, and life is in someways, and faith is, risk; we take a chance on God all the time; it’s all on trust.

      And you wrote: ‘As you point out, “deep,” like “love,” is a choice, ironically, to risk one form of aloneness for another. Not loneliness, but aloneness.’ Not loneliness but aloneness. How very perceptive my friend. I never heard a truer statement. We can be surrounded by people, but we can be supremely alone, not connecting, not responding, caught up in private worlds and private whims, not letting anyone in; what’s the answer? I don’t know but we need to debate it that’s for sure.

      1. I think we simply need to be the ones with the courage to dive in. Debate (and I know you used that word as in “dialogue…keep discovering”) keeps us at a theoretical level right? No relationship. But when I dive in, take the risk of being known, then in the short run I may suffer the loss of relationship. Those committed to self-protection and surface gliding will reject me. Ah, aloneness. But maybe, just maybe we’ll stem the tide and dig a new channel, slowly bringing the currents of real relationship into the family of God.

  5. Beautiful. In fact, I read this just after listening to Gungor “Beautiful Things.”

    Overly busy and stressed out parents in the 1980s and 90s spoke about spending “quality time” with their children. That meant carving 15 or 30 minutes a few times a week out of one’s career pursuits to have significant and memorable engagement or conversation with one’s offspring. I never figured that out. Maybe I never read the right books on how to make the most of your quarter or half hour quality times with your kids. Instead, I tried to spend as much time as I could with my kids, putting them ahead of my career ambitions. An on occasion there’d be a flash of quality time, so deep and stunning that following no guidebook could have manufactured it. They say that sometimes when we are only entertaining strangers we are in fact entertaining angels incognito. By hanging out with strangers we can be there when God sends his messengers to us. By spending quantity time with my kids I was able to be there when the quality times appeared. I suspect it is the same with small groups.

    1. Thanks Eric. What a great analogy. This is one of the hard things about small groups in today’s busy world. We meet once a week for an hour or two and expect to become instantly “deep” with one another. Quantity time, like you said, is essential to developing relationships.

  6. I could write pages in response to this lovely post, Addie. I’ve been there, I’ve tried to be the change I want to see, I’ve left, I’ve tried again. And now I’m readying myself to join a small group at my new church.

    But really, it comes down to these lines: “It’s being faithful with the details we do know, choosing to believe that the little things are the big things. It’s holding carefully the pieces of one another’s lives in the open palms of our hands.”

    Yes, yes, and amen.

  7. Thank you for this. I’ve begun to wonder (and this gets into the painful parts of my memories) whether my terrible experiences with Bible studies were more an issue of me seeking after a kind of depth which did not exist in the form I wanted. I have had the privilege of, as you say, “holding carefully the pieces of one another’s lives in the open palms of our hands,” but never in the formal Bible studies where I would expect such openness and depth to take place. Speaking evangelical is still hard (though it’s my first language!) because my expectations of drawing near to God in the company of other women in Bible study never actually came true.

    I might need to mull over this more.

    1. Thanks Hannah. I’ve noticed the same disconnect: the places where I truly “go deep” with people are never church programs or small groups. It makes you wonder if those sorts of things are really the best vehicles for transformation.

  8. I think this is one of my favorite Addie writings. 🙂

    Thank you for this. Speaking of “Going Deep,” I have a film recommendation for you. If you can find a way to watch it sans kids, you should: It’s called “The Big Kahuna,” and it features Kevin Spacey, Danny Devito, and Peter Facinelli. It most definitely “goes deep,” and it will stay with you. See it. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the kind words and the movie rec! I’ll definitely add it to the list. 🙂

  9. I’ve had so many of those same doubts about small groups I’ve been in. I leave the gathering feeling like I should feel different—refreshed, shaken, or maybe even raw in some way—but I feel pretty much like I did when I arrived. Maybe just a bit more weary. I wonder, What are we supposed to be accomplishing? Is this worth our time and effort? Or are we just awkwardly skating around on the surface?

    Your post gives me a new framework for understanding the “point”—especially this:

    “And maybe deep is less of a place we get to than a way we choose see each other. A kind of intent listening. A way into love.”

    1. Thanks, Kristin. I feel like I’m very much in flux with all of this…just trying to reconcile my own desires for a “small group” and for “community” with the reality of it. I’m trying to figure out how to cultivate love when it doesn’t feel like I think it should feel. It’s always nice to know that other people struggle with the same questions and tensions.

  10. I am here from Alise’s weekend roundup and I’m so glad I came. This is beautifully written and so very true. We need to be there for and with one another through all the bits and pieces of life – not constantly searching for the soul-baring. Soul-baring can be a good thing, in the right context and at the right time. But sometimes I think the onslaught of reality tv and the ease with which people can share incredibly intimate details with others has actually made ‘going deep’ harder to do. It takes time, commitment and faithfulness to really know another human being and too really be known by them.

    And in my own experience, most of the groups that I’ve been a part of that produce that kind of connection are not necessarily traditional ‘small groups.’ One was a group of women who got together to celebrate one another’s birthdays. The birthday girl shared her story of the past year over breakfast or dinner and the rest of us listened/asked questions. For the first couple of years, we never even prayed together. And we never did ‘Bible study.’ But that group continues to meet 20 years later – we’ve taken retreats together, we’ve walked through parents’ deaths, children’s wanderings, job losses, joy and heartache with one another. I can only join them once or twice a year now as I live much further away – but it’s a priority for me.

    God will show up and God’s people will show up, too. But we can’t always plan it. In fact, we seldom can. Thanks for this good, provocative, thoughtful writing. Glad to have found your place.

    1. This is a really good comment Diana. You wrote: ‘most of the groups that I’ve been a part of that produce that kind of connection are not necessarily traditional ‘small groups.’ One was a group of women who got together to celebrate one another’s birthdays. The birthday girl shared her story of the past year over breakfast or dinner and the rest of us listened/asked questions.’ Is this a women-thing, or a Christian-thing or an American-thing?! Where I come from people just don’t do this sort of thing; I wish they did, but alas… sometimes it’s pointless wishing for things that won’t be…

      1. This particular ‘thing’ was the product of the active imagination of the most right-brained person I’ve ever met in my life. She happened to be married to our then- pastor and her own spiritual journey was very, very different from my own. She came to me and asked me to help her find a group of a dozen women to meet together irregularly to celebrate birthdays. That’s it. I have no idea if it’s American or Christian – but it was a woman’s idea and it is a women’s group. I think it might be called an ‘affinity group’ today, but we did a little bit of steering to make it happen. Many affinity groups come together around a profession or a special interest – and that is kind of a universal thing, I think. Curious as to where you are located in this world – something about your comment makes me think you might not be in North America?

        1. I’m in England Diana. I tend to think that people here are more apathetic for some reason, whereas Americans seem more pro-active; you seem to want to get involved in things like that. But I might be wrong, after all! I’ll pray about this tonight anyway. Thanks for the reply!

    2. I love that tradition too, Diana! What a cool idea. I’ve found this so true: “Most of the groups that I’ve been a part of that produce that kind of connection are not necessarily traditional ‘small groups.’ I wonder why that is. Makes you think that maybe the structure is not conducive to the desired result…

      1. During my years as a staff pastor, it most often fell to me to try and organize small groups for our community. I tried all kinds of things – some took, some didn’t. And I would say those that ‘succeeded’ were, more often than not, more loosely structured than those that fizzled. Go figure.

  11. Dear Addie,
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful post. In Jeremiah the people of Edom are told to “dwell deep.”
    Donna

    1. Lovely. Putting the word “dwell” with it adds a whole new dimension, doesn’t it? Thanks for pointing that out!

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