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Nicole Johnson reveals how a challenging situation led to an unexpected lesson on the quality of her prayer life.

I was well aware I was not cut out for this role, but it was one of those “we have too many kids and not enough help” kind of situations. And my kid was one of the too many. How could I say no? 

I had taught religious education many years ago when my kids were young enough to still be intrigued by their faith and came to class with open hearts and curious minds. That was right up my alley. Fast forward ten years and those kids were now in the “I’m only here because my parents are making me come and if I had my license I’d be down the street grabbing a burger and shake until class is over” stage. It’s not that I didn’t get it. I was once their age and I may or may not have tried to climb out the bathroom window with my friends during class. 

I was asked to be a small-group leader and was assigned a group of six high school-aged girls. There would always be a teaching for the group as a whole and then everyone would break into small groups for discussion. I fully expected the first class to be a bit awkward and quiet as we all adjusted to one another. I tried not to let the obvious energy and comfort of the other groups discourage me; the seemingly easy conversation, laughing and all-around great time the other groups were clearly enjoying. Things would get better, I told myself. 

They didn’t.

Get better, that is. Like, not even a little. For some reason, this group of girls just preferred not to talk. I tried everything: asking open-ended hypothetical questions, asking pointed questions, even sharing about myself in hopes that it would spark some sort of response, something along the lines of conversation.

No such luck.




2 bored teenage girls


I began to look forward to going to class about as much as I wanted to squeeze lemon juice on a paper cut. Actually, if I had to choose between the two, I’d have chosen the latter, as the discomfort would have been over quickly rather than being dragged out over 30 painfully quiet minutes. I’d fantasize that the next class was sure to be the breakthrough I was waiting for. We’d all suddenly become engrossed in this amazing conversation and each leave better humans just for being a part of the sharing. 

Is it me? I wondered. It must be me. Do they not trust me? Do I look scary? Is it my fashion sense? This experience was doing little for my self-confidence. I would have fared better in a room full of screaming infants. The silence was physically uncomfortable.

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In this season of Lent, I’ve been challenged to consider how often I stop and have a conversation with God: not just wrote prayer, but actual conversation. #catholicmom

The last time we gathered, all of the leaders were asked to pray individually with each member of their group. The kids were spaced throughout the church and we were supposed to kneel next to each one of our students and ask them if we could pray for them and if there was anything specific they wanted us to pray for. 

“Dear Lord,” I thought, “will the discomfort never end?”

Being asked to do this would have been outside of my comfort zone even if I had developed tight relationships with my group and had somehow been welcomed into the inner circle of all things teen girls. As I made my way around to each group member and asked if I could pray for them, something entirely surprising happened. Not only did they allow me to pray for them, most asked me to pray about something specific, trusting me with vulnerable bits and pieces about their lives. It turned out to be beautiful and humbling. 

In thinking about this whole experience, I realize I could switch the characters from teen girls to me and the group leader from me to God. In this season of Lent, I’ve been challenged to consider how often I stop and have a conversation with God: not just wrote prayer, but actual conversation. I know He is sitting there waiting and probably wondering from time to time, “Is it me?” 

Every one of the girls in my group was truly something special. Each one had a lovable personality, a beautiful heart, and, at that point in their lives, were simply trying to figure out how faith fit into their world. I do wish we could have shared more, but certainly don’t fault any of the girls for holding back. In the end, maybe I wasn’t there to teach them anything, but to learn from them. Challenge accepted, God. Thanks for the lesson.


2 young girls talking with a mom

Copyright 2022 Nicole Johnson
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