I go to a youth group at my church. That probably isn’t very surprising, as I am a Catholic teenager, but Catholic youth groups aren’t known for being very exciting. I am going to be very honest, our youth group used to be bad. It was poorly structured, no fun, and weakly led. This year though, my priest got some college kids to lead our youth group, and it is a totally new place. We play games, eat dinner together every Sunday night, and I actually love going. It is far from perfect, but it has become a place were we can actually talk about our faith in a comfortable atmosphere. I have a few friends there, but I don’t really know most of them. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that our youth group is like a little baby and isn’t really great yet. So I have friends but our group needs to get a little stronger before my friendships get a little stronger. That said, you now kinda understand how I feel about my youth group.
In our group, we have a basic layout for every Sunday night. We eat dinner, play a game, talk in our group about a set topic, and praise and sing worship – but the order changes every week. I like that we do all of those things because it gives the night a good variety of activity. A few weeks ago we all got together and ate dinner like normal, and then went on to talk about theology of the body. One of the girls had brought her boyfriend to the group that week, but I don’t remember his name so let’s call him Jacob. Jacob actually ended up asking a lot of questions that I didn’t even realized needed asking, and was a really interesting guy. It was a very constructive discussion that day, and I say that because I don’t always feel that way about our discussions. I think it was because of Jacob’s input. I think Jacob was awesome and all, but the part of this night that I really want to tell you about is the game we played after the discussion.
Normally, we play an upbeat game. Something like Ninja or Trainwreck to get all of us excited and laughing. This night our leader, let’s call her Georgia, had us arrange our fold-up chairs in a circle facing away from the center. We were all pretty convinced that we were going to be forced to play musical chairs to some old worship music, but that isn’t what we played. Georgia had all of us sit down in the cold chairs while she turned off the lights. Then she explained that she was going to whisper in the ear of a few people and they would then stand up and wiggle into the middle of our chair circle. Then, according to the trait and descriptor words that Georgia was going to say, they would tap the shoulders of the people they thought represented those words. The rest of us still sitting had to have our eyes closed the whole time, which was pretty pointless with the lights turned off and our backs to the circle, but whatever. We started. You have probably heard of this game before, because everyone I’ve told about it so far has, but I had never played it before. Apparently, it’s called The Affirmation Game.
I couldn’t see who was tapping me, but for nearly every set of people that stood up, I was tapped for a word or two. I knew that I got more taps than friends I had at the youth group and that was really encouraging. I know that the real focus of this game is to feel good about yourself due to the words other people find that describe you, but that isn’t exactly what I took from it. I am one of those really doubtful people. It has always taken me a long time and a lot of effort to really, truly believe something I am told. I still have moments when I question if my friends really like me or if my parents are actually proud of me – not to mention if I believe in God. I am constantly wondering what other people think when they meet me.
Am I giving a good first impression? Am I talking about an annoying subject?
And I let my mind lie to me and tell me the things I am talking about are stupid or worthless.
Surely he is tired of hearing about the book you are reading right now. Really? You think he wants to hear about your new blog? Of course he doesn’t! He is dying to stop talking to you.
It isn’t that I really want to think those things, but they pop up in my brain like a reflex when I start having a conversation with someone. This anxiety runs deep, but I will save that story for another day. The point is that I was genuinely surprised by the amount of people that tapped my shoulder during the affirmation game. I didn’t think that all of those people liked me or enjoyed my presence at youth group. It gave me a confidence boost to be around all of them, even if we weren’t close friends.
When it was my turn to tap shoulders, I carefully picked shoulders for words like “intelligent” and “inspiring.” Then Georgia said, “asks good questions” and I knew immediately that I needed to tap Jacob’s shoulder. As I did, I wondered who’s shoulder he tapped. I didn’t know anything about him really, and I was tapping his shoulder. I wondered if he picked up on anything I did and knew he needed to tap my shoulder immediately even though he probably didn’t even remember my name. I won’t ever know, but that’s what I thought. The game we played really made me feel good about the people in my group. It made me feel good about myself and the impression I was giving to people I didn’t even know. I left that night excited for the next week because I knew I was liked. I knew that they didn’t find my words stupid and annoying. I wish I hadn’t needed the affirmation game to show me that, but it did and I am really glad that Georgia had us play it.