I hate you, and I never want to talk to you again.

Those words can cause you to question if you made the best or the worst decision regarding a student in your life. Today, I want to tell you the story of the first time they were said to me, and the steps of how I engaged as an SGL. While what I did is not perfect for every scenario, these steps provide a basic framework for those tackling similar situations. (Disclaimer: All names have been changed.)

When my “few” were beginning High School, my friend Kelly called to tell me some hard news about Abby. Abby was my “rebel,” and seemed to thrive on being defiant while maintaining a smile. She had recently started dating an older boy. Kelly relayed that the night before, at a ministry in which Kelly volunteered, Abby had pulled one of the senior girls aside and confessed she was scared she might be pregnant. The senior girl handled the situation with maturity and brought an adult leader into the conversation. However, Abby went home insistent she was going to handle it on her own without the involvement of her parents.

I hung up the phone and took a deep breath. Then I cried. Then I took another deep breath and prayed.

I asked my “boss” for help. I love the wisdom given in Lead Small, where it says, “When one of your few is being hurt, hurting others, or hurting themselves, it is your responsibility to guard their heart by seeking the help of someone in an authority position… They will help you figure out the next steps based on their knowledge of the situation as well as the church’s policies. Then you can move forward as part of a qualified team to help the individual.”

Talking to our family pastor helped me set aside personal feelings and look from a rational perspective. I needed someone to help me dissolve my emotionally-driven responses in exchange for a plan that would protect the hearts of the individuals involved.

I began a conversation immediately. That afternoon, I texted Abby to say that I was going to drop by after school. Abby reluctantly agreed to talk, but had little to say other than, “This is none of your business,” and “Jake and I can handle this on our own.” I have never seen such furious anger in a student. My heart broke. She was so young and had thrown herself into an adult world too soon. Eventually, Abby agreed she should tell her mom and asked me to be part of the conversation.

Abby’s parents are wise, compassionate people. Abby’s mom patiently listened to her daughter explain her concern that she was pregnant. Mom and daughter both cried, but the conversation was composed. Then Jake and his mom showed up. What had been a calm conversation turned to tumultuous drama.

I didn’t back away. In the middle of the scene, Abby looked right at me and said those words, “I hate you, and I never want to talk to you ever again.” When the time came for me to leave, she refused to look at me. The last thing I said was, “I know you don’t like me right now, but I still love you, and I’m on your side. When you’re ready, I’ll be waiting.”

Later that week, the doctor confirmed Abby was not pregnant. Her mom asked if I would be willing to spend time with Abby over the weekend. She knew Abby would be resistant, but thought if I joined forces with Abby’s best friend, I might have a chance. The three of us did hang out that weekend and ended up having a lot of fun, the first step in the healing process. 

I stayed invested for the long haul. In years to come, Abby became my ally in encouraging honesty within our small group. She would say, “You can trust Steph. She’s cool.” To this day, Abby remains a rebel, which is by far my favorite thing about her. She speaks her mind regardless of what others think, challenges tradition, and does things her own way. I hope for years to come, Abby holds on to the words, “I still love you, and I’m on your side.” After all, that’s what protecting the heart is all about.


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With over a decade of experience leading students and volunteers, Steph now spends her days investing in church leaders and families as part of the Orange team—primarily as the Editorial Alignment Manager for Orange Books. She lives in metro Atlanta with her husband, Tim, and their son, Landon. Steph is a co-author of The Volunteer Project: Stop Recruiting. Start Retaining. You can read more of her thoughts at stephwhitacre.com.

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