HomedotMagisReflectionsMeeting People Where They Are

Meeting People Where They Are

small group meeting - image by Rosy from Pixabay

Editor’s note: Throughout July, we’re hosting 31 Days with St. Ignatiusa month-long celebration of Ignatian spirituality. In addition to the calendar of Ignatian articles found here, posts on dotMagis this month will explore the theme of “people for others.” This month marks the 50th anniversary of Fr. Pedro Arrupe’s famous address in which he challenged Jesuit school alumni to form what we now embrace as “people for others.”

I arrived early to my 12-step friends and family meeting. A few of the old-timers were already there setting up. After all these years, they are like family to me.

I was pulling chairs from the stacks and placing them around the circumference of the table when a middle-aged couple walked through the door. Newcomers are easy to spot. Tired-looking faces work hard to force a smile. One of our oldest members, whom I will call Sally, extended a hand, introduced herself by first name only, and asked the woman, “Is this your first meeting ever?”

“Yes, it is,” she replied.

Sally asked the woman to follow her as she went to get a newcomer packet that introduces the program to family members. The husband made a beeline over to me. “Hi, I’m John, and I’ve heard that this is a spiritual program, and I just need you to know that I don’t believe in God,” he confessed, looking uncertain.

John’s concern is one that we hear often in the rooms. Twelve-step meetings have no religious affiliation, yet they are spiritual in nature, so I said, “That is not a problem.”

Sally, overhearing our exchange, placed her hands on the back of the chair next to his wife and asked, “John, do you believe that this chair can hold you up during our meeting?”

He looked perplexed but replied, “Yes.”

“Then let that be your higher power for tonight.”

Members will often go on to tell newcomers that they don’t care who their higher power is, as long as it’s not them.

People that walk into these meeting rooms are usually at their wit’s end. They have tried everything that they can think of to help their loved ones. Yet they feel compelled to guard them from the stigma that addiction carries. They come in feeling isolated and lost. Walking through the door is the most courageous thing that many have ever done.

Instead of trying to fix or advise others, I accompany. Remembering the welcome that I received at my first meeting, I make sure to offer it back: a warm handshake, direct eye contact, confirmation that they are not alone, and a promise that hope is abundant.

When we accept new people, no-matter-what, we are sharing the unconditional love of Christ without saying a word. We welcome you. We hope to support you. We will tell you the truth, and we will love you, because we know what it feels like to be in your shoes. Our goal is not to convert you or fix you. Our goal is to be there for you as you find healing. What happens between you and your higher power is up to you.

At the end of the Spiritual Exercises, the Contemplation to Attain the Love of God begins, “Love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than in words.” (230) This is the sentiment behind Fr. Pedro Arrupe’s idea of being men and women for others. Talk, as they say, is cheap. Our actions speak our truth.

Over time, I would learn that if I loved my addicted loved ones right where they were, the love that I offer without condition or motive is what heals. I love because I am loved. After many years I can affirm that when I let go of outcomes, the result exceeds anything that I could dream.

The couple continued to attend our weekly meetings faithfully. Then almost a year after they joined our group, John told us that they were moving away, because he was retiring. He paused, emotional after sharing, collected himself, and continued. “When I walked into this room, I didn’t believe in God. But because of you,” he said, pointing to the person next to him, “and you,” pointing to the next person, “and you…” He continued all of the way around the room, pointing to each one of us. “I’m beginning to believe that there is one.”

When I let go of my will for others and lean into God’s will for me, I am offered a front-row seat of seeing how effective it is when I am a woman for others. Meeting people where they are is always an unexpected grace for me too.

Image by Rosy from Pixabay.

31 Days with St. Ignatius continues with Coming Down from the Mountain of Retreat by Gretchen Crowder. Even if you haven’t been following along all month, join in this last week of celebration with #31DayswithIgnatius!

Jean Heaton
Jean Heatonhttps://jeanheaton.com/
Jean Heaton is a blogger, writer, speaker, teacher, and a workshop and retreat leader. She is both the mother and the spouse of recovering addicts and has worked her own twelve-step program. Heaton is the author of Helping Families Recover from Addiction: Coping, Growing, and Healing through 12-Step Practices and Ignatian Spirituality.


  1. Amazing!! I felt the calmness of you welcoming John with everything he had. This made him feel accepted with his unbelieving in God, no judgement was past but only love. He felt love and I believe that’s how he saw God, as loving. Thank you for sharing


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