Tania sat down in a chair in the corner. She watched everyone else in the group laugh, chit-chat, and generally have a good time. She wanted nothing to do with whatever they were doing though. She crossed her arms and legs and tried to look the other way whenever Saul, their youth group leader, turned in her direction.
The youth group was a new thing at her church this year. The education leaders were trying to find ways to bring the kids together more than just two hours each week. They said they wanted the kids to be friends, make memories with once another. All the while having fun and doing good for the world.
This was the fifth meeting. So far, they’ve already went out and volunteered at an animal shelter (Tania had to admit that was fun. Who didn’t want to spend the afternoon playing with dogs and cats?), they hosted a get-together for their church, they’ve gone on a field trip to their local bowling alley, and the rest of times they’ve stayed in their classroom – or “meeting room” as Saul liked to call it (it was the classroom they had Sunday school in each Sunday for church). Whenever they stayed in the classroom, they sometimes played games or they sat in a circle and talked.
Tania couldn’t complain too much. They were little work involved unless they were volunteering, but she didn’t mind that at all. She just didn’t want to be there. She already had to spend two hours every Sunday morning with these people and then sit in the church service with them for an extra hour. She didn’t want to be here for an hour on Saturday. She was in her church far too many times during the week and she was surrounded by these people too often.
She was only grateful that Saul didn’t constantly talk about God and Jesus. He mentioned them a couple of times, but ultimately, he said, “This youth group is a safe space for us to get to know each other, hang out, and have fun.”
Um, isn’t that what she had friends for? Friends who were seeing the latest superhero movie right now that she wasn’t able to go to because she had this youth group thing. Friends who didn’t understand the youth group either and kind of made fun of her for going to do it. It’s not like she had a choice though, but her friends didn’t really care about that.
Tania resented her mother for making her go to this. It was bad enough that her mother made her go to Sunday school but now her mother thought the youth group was the best idea in the world. Her mother thought she’d make friends with some of her Sunday school classmates (again, she already had friends. Why did she need to hang out with her Sunday school classmates?) and her mother also thought she’d learn a lot. Tania was in school Monday through Friday and then Sunday school on Sunday. Now youth group on Saturdays. Why was it that she needed to be in a learning environment for every day of the week? It wasn’t fair.
Tania cast a glance back over to what the group was doing. They were awfully loud. They were split into two teams stacking cups or something. She didn’t pay attention to the directions when Saul explained them because she knew she wouldn’t be participating. As soon as Saul split them up, explained the game, and shouted, “Go!” all the kids began to play and Tania turned away to sit in her chair in the corner. She was pleased Saul left it there for her from last week instead of putting it away at the end of each meeting like he used to.
Since she looked over at the group playing the game, Saul caught her staring. The moment they locked eyes, Tania snapped her gaze away. She knew it was too late though. She had a feeling Saul was walking over toward her right at that moment. She heard a chair sit beside her and she rolled her eyes. Great, he brought a chair to sit beside her. This wasn’t going to be a quick chat, he was most likely going to lecture her.
He didn’t say anything though.
Tania peered over her shoulder just a little. She didn’t want Saul to notice and assume she wanted to talk. When she looked at him, he was casually sitting back in his own seat watching the other kids with a dopey smile on his face.
Out of all the places in the classroom, he had to watch them from right beside her? And he wasn’t even going to talk to her? Why? What was the point?
Tania ignored him for a little longer but finally she snapped. “Are you just going to sit there and do nothing?” she turned to him.
Saul twisted his neck to look at her. He seemed surprised she had spoken. “Are you?” he countered calmly.
Tania narrowed her eyes. That wasn’t fair. He couldn’t throw that back in her face like that. This was her spot. His spot was over with everyone else.
Saul didn’t speak again after that. That bothered Tania. For some reason, this was worse than a lecture.
“You’re annoying me.” Tania said bluntly. She didn’t mean for it to come out that way, but… well, she guessed she had this building up inside her for a long time.
“Am I?” Saul replied.
Tania scoffed. “Aren’t you going to do anything about it?”
Saul shrugged. “To me it sounded like you were just stating a fact. You didn’t ask anything of me.”
Tania narrowed her eyes and glared at him again. Oh, this man was good, she had to admit. “Do you have to sit right here?”
“No, I suppose not.” He replied.
Tania groaned. Apparently, she needed to be specific with him. “Then can you please move?”
“I appreciate the politeness and I’d love to oblige, but may I ask why?” Saul replied. He was still so calm. That was bothering Tania even more.
“No,” Tania said sternly.
“Because you don’t want to explain or because you don’t have a reason?”
Tania opened her mouth but only a small squeak came out. She didn’t have a good response to that one. She just wanted him out of her way. But she was starting to think that wasn’t going to happen.
“I’ll leave you alone if do one thing for me.” Saul said.
Tania threw her head back with a thunk against the wall. “Oh, so you’re bribing me now?”
Saul raised an eyebrow. “No, think of this more as a negotiation.”
“Is the hour over, yet…?”
“I’ll leave you alone for the rest of the hour – hey, maybe I’ll talk to you mother and let her know how unhappy you are here.” Saul stated his terms.
That got Tania’s attention. She looked at him. “You’d really talk to my mom and me not coming anymore?”
“I don’t want you to be unhappy. That’s not what this group is about. This group is here for you to make new friends, try new things, and feel comfortable. If you’re not getting that, then you shouldn’t feel trapped here.”
Tania’s eyes grew wide. He had just expressed everything she was feeling. She wasn’t sure how he knew (okay, maybe it was because she always sat in a corner), but she was impressed that he was spot on. She was surprised, in fact, that he had paid so much attention to her even though she never participated and never spoke or engaged with him or the her classmates.
“Three weeks,” Saul held up three fingers, “I want you to try. I want you to engage with your peers and participate in the games. I want you to share how your week was or share a story during our discussion time. I want you to try to get to know at least one other person here.”
Tania scrunched up her face in disgust. “That seems like a lot of terms…”
“You have three weeks and if you’re still unhappy, I’ll have a talk with your mother. All I’m asking is for you to try.” He explained.
Tania sighed. Alright, she knew she wasn’t able to argue with that one. He brought up good points and she had never really given the place a chance. She still hoped she could get out of it, but trying for three weeks wasn’t so bad. It was only an hour, after all.
“Okay, fine. Deal.” Tania said with a nod. “Does this start next week?”
“How about today?”
Tania grinned. She had found a loop-hole. “How much time is left?”
“Oh, about…” Saul checked his wrist watch, “45 minutes.”
Tania’s jaw dropped. “I’ve only been sitting here for 15 minutes?!”
Sault stood up and motioned to her classmates. “Time does fly when you’re having fun. I promise.”