I had the opportunity to teach at a teen retreat recently, and a number of us staff were concerned about one of the youngest teens who seemed to have difficulty integrating into the larger group. The teen was shy and withdrawn, and didn’t come to activities. When they did, they would read a book rather than participate. We tried talking and listening to them and encouraging them to join in. When this met with some resistance, we simply accepted the teen and did our best to let them know they were welcome to be part of the group as they were. Other teens also reached out in different ways to help this teen feel connected.
As the week went on, the teen seemed to feel more comfortable joining in some activities and seemed to be less isolated in the big group. Then at the closing ceremony of the retreat, teens were invited to stand up, come into the center of the circle, and share something with the group. This teen, who at the beginning of the retreat appeared quite awkward and ill at ease, walked slowly to the center of our circle and shared very clearly and with great dignity that the retreat had helped them a great deal, they had learned important things, and they would be taking all of us with them after it ended. Then even more surprisingly, after the closing circle, this teen - who had spoken very little to others that whole week - stood at the door offering free hugs to anyone who wanted them!
The power of a group of people practicing sincerely together is enormous. Things that have not been possible for us up until then become possible.