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The Power of a Few to Help Lighten Your Load

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Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow finds that 37% of us have recently had serious conflicts with a spouse or partner, 36% are moving past something painful in our upbringing, and 32% face serious conflicts at work. Most of us (60%) are trying to forgive someone else and nearly half of us are trying to forgive ourselves. In other words, we Americans are carrying a lot. As it turns out, those who seek help in groups do better than those who try it alone.

Without the support of a group, you miss the opportunity to gain new perspective through the experience of others.

This article appeared in the Summer 2001 issue of Spirituality & Health. For the past several years I have been studying small groups — especially Bible study groups, prayer fellowships, and other kinds of support groups — to see whether they encourage forgiveness and help heal relationships. While “small groups” may not be a phrase you often hear, they have been popular throughout our nation’s history. From the Methodist class meetings that began in the nineteenth century to the sewing circles and book clubs that grew during the twentieth century, small groups have provided people with opportunities to meet their neighbors and talk about common interests and concerns. In recent decades, twelve-step groups (such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon), encounter and peer counseling groups, and home church fellowships of all kinds have flourished. Nationally, my research shows that 35% of the adult public say they either attend a “prayer group meeting or Bible study group” or are involved in “some other small group, such as a self-help group, support group, men’s or women’s group, or Sunda …

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