The Teen I (Almost) Asked Not To Come Back

Paul showed up for a Life Teen mass and Life Night in March about two years ago. He was a tall kid who looked like he should be in college. Okay, not really in college, but he looked older than the rest of our teens. He had on plaid pajama pants and a beer shirt of some kind.

Paul had just moved in with his aunt, and one of the stipulations was that if he was going to live there, he had to go to Life Teen. I don’t remember the topic of the night, but I do remember it was a rather serious night.

Paul ended up in my small group (let’s be honest, I put him in my small group because I wasn’t too sure about him, and I didn’t want him freak out any of the other leaders). It was interesting to say the least!

The other kids in my group were well groomed church kids. Not Paul, he was brutally honest about how foreign this all was to him, and about every third word started with F. I think the reason I don’t remember what the topic was that night, my mind was so busy thinking, “This is the wrong place for this kid! He looks 21, talks like a sailor and doesn’t have a clue how to act at youth group!”

I was trying to figure out how I was politely going ask him not to come back. He just didn’t fit into the mix and I really didn’t want him to destroy all the progress we had made with the rest of the group. I decided I would wait till the end of the night and just talk to him privately and explain that this may not be the best place for him. Clearly he had already assessed that he was different than the others in the group so I didn’t see that this was going to come as a huge shock to him.

And right about now, I know what you are all thinking: Who is this woman? And why would anyone in their right mind hire her as a youth minister?

In retrospect, I’ll admit that this was not one of my finer moments! But thankfully, somewhere in the back of my brain was this little voice that said, “Girl, are you crazy? If you aren’t providing a place for teens like Paul, you have no right being here and doing this!. Paul is exactly the kind of teen I came to save!”

And that voice just got louder and louder: drowning out my own thoughts and helping me see Paul through different eyes.

I did take Paul aside at the end of the night. I told him how great it was that he was there, that I appreciated his honesty and that I looked forward to seeing him again soon. I might have also encouraged him to watch his language or I would have to hurt him!

I am sure you can guess where this is going: Paul has become a staple in the group. He has since graduated high school, and moved out of his aunt’s house, but he still comes around pretty regularly. In fact, just yesterday he was in the church kitchen washing dishes at a funeral lunch with all the old ladies!

I still have to remind him to watch his language now and again, and it is not unusual for him to show up with a shirt he needs to change, but what a joy to see how God has transformed him. He experienced people who reached out to him, embraced him, loved him and challenged him, despite his rough edges.

The question is, who is your Paul? Who is it that doesn’t quite fit into the group or makes the leaders uncomfortable and how are YOU going to love and embrace him and all his quirkiness? How are you going to show him the love of the One you work for?

Claire Bondy

I've been a happy Catholic youth minister at a small, rockin' parish in Southwestern Ontario for the past 14 years. I have 3 grown children and my husband is one of the best volunteers I have - making my job a whole lot easier. Teens used to scare me, now they just challenge me! And who doesn't like a good challenge?

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