I ’d like to share a little about my experience joining a Beta Group.
I grew up in the North Shore of Massachusetts in a family that had a respect for religion, yet kept it at a distance. Though I was baptized in the Episcopal church, I had not been brought up with religious faith. This started to change a year and a half ago, when a friend of a friend invited me to a community group that was just starting at Redeemer, and I eagerly accepted. At the time, I had recently graduated from NYU’s Gallatin School, but I was experiencing a great deal of anxiety about the future and depression as well. I didn’t know how to make sense of my life. I grew increasingly more apathetic about the direction of my life, and going out all the time wasn’t helping me. I was pretty lost.
Looking back, I never thought I’d be a ‘believer,’ but I wanted to know what being Christian was. I had a pretty negative, cynical impression of Christian community, seeing Christians as brainwashed, unquestioning idealists. But I was raised to believe that feelings alone weren’t grounds for belief in anything, so I decided to find out more. I started reading books about Christianity, even venturing into the Bible. Though I found the books persuasive, I still had a lot of questions, so when my new friend brought me to her community group in Chelsea it was a game changer. Instead of reading about faith, there I experienced thoughtful people living it, and struggling in it ... and doing so with Hope.
They welcomed me and made me feel appreciated, even when I tried to make them uncomfortable with blunt questions and attitude. A few weeks in, my fear and prejudices still had a hold of me and I found myself thinking, “Well, they must be hiding something. Wake up, Isabel, don’t let your guard down.”
So that night I asked the host of the group what I knew was a tough question, thinking his answer would reveal some incriminating truth. He thought for a moment, then explained that what I asked, “was hard for him, too ... but even in his struggle to understand he couldn’t demand full understanding from God as a prerequisite to belief. Complete understanding lies with God alone, he explained, and though it could be challenging, he trusted in the goodness of God through these challenges and moved forward in faith.” This touched me. I had expected him to give me impersonal, memorized answers, but instead he told me the truth, which was more complex. I was immediately embarrassed by the fact that I had challenged him about something that I’d given almost no thought to, but which he clearly had, and (through this) he continued to show me respect and compassion. The kind of friendship I saw between people in the group kept me coming back and slowly something began to seep into and change my life.
All this happened before I’d ever attended a Redeemer service (or heard a Tim Keller sermon) but when I did attend for the first time, as intimidating as it was, seeing my friends from community group helped. While I couldn’t claim Jesus as my Lord and Savior yet, I thought and spoke about Jesus very differently now and I felt called to keep searching.
In addition to the community group, Redeemer created other spaces for people like me where it was safe to doubt and explore. I attended Questioning Christianity and this brought comfort to a lot of my intellectual unrest. I also met with a pastor and his wife several times, who fielded my questions with humility and transparency.
Pretty soon I was able to stop fighting and let my guard down. It was then that I was able to ask God to look inside my heart and take over. I know now that Jesus was behind each event last year, and that it was his Spirit at work drawing me to him.
I am so grateful that he broke through the walls that I had built around my heart and I’m amazed that, in his gentleness, this mighty God used community to move me toward him. I look back on who I was before I became a Christian and I see someone who found no meaning in her life. Christianity was just a label to me, my future an impersonal dream, and my time filled with empty conversations and superficial distractions. At Redeemer, I found new community, a renewed heart, and a new life through Christ.