Dynamic Transformation: I Get by with a Little Help from My Friends

by Diana Glyer

Prayer groups. Home groups. Discipleship groups. Kinship groups. In college and in church, small groups play a key role in our spiritual life. And one of the most basic goals of such groups is change: change in our outlook, our habits, our sense of connectedness, our intimacy with God. But what brings about heartfelt transformation in these small-group settings? How can we help one another toward that goal of change?

I have been grappling with these questions over the past few years as I have studied a small group of Christian men known as the Inklings. When C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were recent college graduates and young faculty members at Oxford, they began to meet together each week to talk of many things, of departmental politics, local gossip, great literature, and questions of faith.

As their friendship developed and their level of trust increased, they began to share drafts of their poems and stories with one another. Other Christians joined in: philosopher Owen Barfield, physician R.E. Havard, historian Warren Hamilton Lewis, novelist Charles Williams<, and playwright Nevill Coghill. The group grew strong, and they continued to meet together for nearly two decades to support and challenge one another. Here are some of the ways in which they interacted.

Encouragement

Although the members of the Inklings were dynamic and highly creative, they often found themselves discouraged and riddled with doubt. When C.S. Lewis was working on Perelandra<, he hit writer’s block and worried, “I may have embarked on the impossible.” When Tolkien was drafting The Lord of the Rings, he floundered and admitted that he was “dead stuck.” Lewis and Tolkien opened up to their small group. Words of praise and encouragement helped these writers to renew their vision and stay the course despite anxiety, insecurity, fatigue, impatience, and despair.

Accountability

Accountability often proves to be exactly what we need in order to take concrete action and put feet to our dreams. We need others who will remind us, “Last week you said that you were planning to take action: to start, to persist, to get the job done. Well?” We need friends to ask us, “Hey, is that manuscript still sitting on your desk? Is that email still languishing in your inbox? Did you ever get around to making that phone call? Have you scheduled the time to get that painting done? How is it going? What’s happening with that?” Accountability can be gentle or it can be fierce. Week after week, Lewis turned to the Inklings and said, “Well? Has nobody got anything to read us?” and the Inklings reached down and pulled fresh manuscript pages from their satchels and read.

Modeling

There are times when we know where we want to go, but we just do not know what it takes to get there. Warren Lewis had been writing all of his life, but he did not publish anything until he started spending time with the Inklings. Breakthrough may come for us when we spend time with others who are already skilled at the thing we want to do – whether it is revitalizing our prayer life, mastering a new fingering pattern on the guitar, learning to craft an annual report, or responding sensitively to others in times of grief and loss. A single example often teaches us far more than a thousand words of instruction. Correction

When the Inklings got together, “praise for good work was unstinted” and “censure for bad work was brutally frank.” In their small group, criticism helped to hone writing skills, polish rough ideas, and refine critical thinking. In our small groups, any number of wrongs can be righted and weak places made strong if our compassion is deep enough to include loving confrontation.

Practical Help

Acts of kindness can make all the difference. When Charles Williams first moved to Oxford and did not have any office space, C.S. Lewis opened his office so that Williams would have a quiet place to read, write, and reflect. When Lewis had trouble finding a publisher for his first novel, Tolkien wrote to his own publisher on Lewis’ behalf to help him make the sale. When Tolkien was struggling to keep track of the geography of Middle-earth, his son Christopher, who was also a member of the Inklings, drew the detailed maps that helped him stay the course.

Sometimes we need hope, sometimes we need accountability, sometimes we need a living example, sometimes we need a nudge forward, and sometimes we just need a little help – simple, concrete, practical help – from our friends. C.S. Lewis found these things in the context of his small group. Tolkien did, too. And faithful interaction in that small group helped each one of them to accomplish the “big things” that God was calling them to do.

Diana Glyer, Ph.D., professor of English, explores small-group dynamics, transformation, creativity, and more in her recent book The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community. Her book received a coveted Hugo Award nomination. Husband Mike Glyer, editor of fanzine File770, joins her as a fellow honoree. They exemplify Glyer’s premise about writers in community. Winners will be announced at the 66th World Science Fiction Conference in August; for additional resources. dglyer@apu.edu

Modeling

There are times when we know where we want to go, but we just do not know what it takes to get there. Warren Lewis had been writing all of his life, but he did not publish anything until he started spending time with the Inklings.Breakthrough may come for us when we spend time with others who are already skilled at the thing we want to do – whether it is revitalizing our prayer life, mastering a new fingering pattern on the guitar, learning to craft an annual report, or responding sensitively to others in times of grief and loss. A single example often teaches us far more than a thousand words of instruction.

Correction

When the Inklings got together, “praise for good work was unstinted” and “censure for bad work was brutally frank.” In their small group, criticism helped to hone writing skills, polish rough ideas, and refine critical thinking. In our small groups, any number of wrongs can be righted and weak places made strong if our compassion is deep enough to include loving confrontation.

Practical Help

Acts of kindness can make all the difference. When Charles Williams first moved to Oxford and did not have any office space, C.S. Lewis opened his office so that Williams would have a quiet place to read, write, and reflect. When Lewis had trouble finding a publisher for his first novel, Tolkien wrote to his own publisher on Lewis’ behalf to help him make the sale. When Tolkien was struggling to keep track of the geography of Middle-earth, his son Christopher, who was also a member of the Inklings, drew the detailed maps that helped him stay the course.

Sometimes we need hope, sometimes we need accountability, sometimes we need a living example, sometimes we need a nudge forward, and sometimes we just need a little help – simple, concrete, practical help – from our friends. C.S. Lewis found these things in the context of his small group. Tolkien did, too. And faithful interaction in that small group helped each one of them to accomplish the “big things” that God was calling them to do.

(Diana Glyer, Ph.D.) [/faculty/dglyer/} professor of English explores small-group dynamics, transformation, creativity, and more in her recent book The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community Her book received a coveted Hugo Award nomination. Husband Mike Glyer, editor of fanzine File770 , joins her as a fellow honoree. They exemplify Glyer’s premise about writers in community. Winners will be announced at the 66th World Science Fiction Conference in August; for additional resources