I just got back from camp in the mountains of northwestern North Carolina, where I helped out teaching music to a bunch of great kids between the ages of 13 and 18. And I’ve been thinking about how much I love going away to serve at camp, and how much the students loving coming to camp. And I’ve been thinking about how everyone who went is pretty much bummed out when they have to return to their normal lives in the “real world.” And then I was wondering, why is life so great at camp, and is it possible to make life in our real world that great? And while I still am not sure of its practicality, here is what I’ve figured out:
1) Camp is awesome because you’re in a new environment. While camp days have their own routine, it is different from what you’ve done for the previous 51 weeks of the year. Breaking out of one’s routine is such a good thing, and so healthy, and – frankly – invigorating because new neural connections are being made (plasticity!), motivating you to seek out do more new things (which is fun and exciting – as life should be!). Plus, cool, novel things can happen at any moment (unpredictability = dopamine!). You could have a great conversation over lunch with someone you’ve never talked to before. You could excel at a group activity you’ve never heretofore tried. You could smile at a pretty girl who catches your eye, and she could smile back. All these things seem to happen so much more readily at camp.
2) Camp is awesome because you don’t have any normal responsibilities or stresses to deal with. Your parents aren’t fighting within earshot, you’re not worried about making money or having money at the moment, you don’t have to make your bed or clean your room or help with chores, you’re (hopefully) not dealing with drama from friends back home (if you are, put down your phone!), and you can just be you and do the things you love to do. Normal life isn’t like that. Normal life unfortunately involves doing a lot of things that admittedly are good for us, but that we kinda sorta wish we didn’t have to do.
3) Camp is awesome because, as a spiritual mentor once told me, geographical change leads to spiritual change. It feels like when you’re away, you’re much more primed to hear from God (in your heart, or through the words of others), or see Him at work in your life or the lives of those around you. And since normal distractions and responsibilities aren’t there, you can be more receptive and open to it. You don’t dismiss it as quickly, and move onto the next thing on your to-do list. You don’t rationalize it away, because there’s something almost magical…almost transcendent…about being away at camp – and there He seems and feels even more real and present than usual. Plus, camp days are full, and you’re exhausted most of the time because you’re either running around all day with various activities, or soaking up as much time with new friends as possible that sleep gets neglected. But when you’re wiped out, you are just more sensitive to His whisperings. To me, it’s like at camp, I get a whole lot closer to my heart. Or, put another way, it sort of gets bigger inside of me, it enlarges and I just feel it and its longings and desires and hopes and aches so much more deeply. And we believe the Holy Spirit lives within us, and so this “centering” helps me to be so much more nearer to Him.
4) Camp is awesome because you don’t have to prove anything. Well, at least not as much as we feel like we have to prove in our normal lives. At camp, we can just be. We can just exist. We don’t need to be beautiful, or perfectly stable, or have it all together. We don’t need to excel academically. We don’t need to push and grind and try to make things happen. And we don’t need to hold our families together. We can just let life happen to us, and trust that everything will be fine around us. We can just believe that camp is going to be good and just live it out. I wish I could live every day of my normal life like that – not trying so hard to always be better, or always demonstrate that I am competent, or always be working towards the future, or always exhausting myself trying to do everything right.
Now that I’m back home, in my normal routine, and camp isn’t going to happen again until next summer – what do I do now? It was a mountaintop experience, as it always is each year, but I’m back on flatland and the euphoria has been replaced with a mixture of wistful resignation, contemplative sadness, and a hint of discouragement. But I don’t want to live in this place. And I know it is all about the attitude of my heart. I feel incredibly alive at camp – as do the rest of the counselors and helpers, and of course all of the kids. And I want to live fully alive not just at camp, but all the time. It reminds of me John 10:10, when Jesus says that He came to give life, and life to the FULL. I want life to the full, every single day.
So I’ve decided that I’m not going back to my normal routine, and that I’m going to shake it up a bit. While it’s easy and familiar and comfortable to do each day what I’ve always done, I’m trying to be more spontaneous and free instead of meticulously scheduling how I’m going to spend my morning, afternoon, and evening. I’m also going to intentionally try a lot more new things. For example, I haven’t blogged in 2+ years, but I’m giving that a whirl again starting with this blog entry. I’m starting new exercises as well to stay in shape. I’m experimenting with new ideas in my work. And I’m going to try to be much more intentional about believing for and seeking out unique moments and connections and experiences. They don’t have to be big in the eyes of others, or even worth sharing in an Instagram post – they just have to be different and new. I think that will help me.
I’m also going to make more time to do things I want to do simply for the well-being of my soul, even if they don’t contribute to the “bottom line” or improve my future. For me, this includes more writing, reading, travel, and handstands. I really want to do more handstands. And I’m going to not worry about things I can’t control just like I didn’t do at camp. At camp, I trusted Him to do all the things I couldn’t do – like take care of my family, and work in the background to provide opportunities that I was hoping for, because I wanted to spend all of my energy focusing on the people I was there to serve and because I believed He wanted me to do just that and not have my mind spinning in a hundred different directions. And He took care of everything. Nothing fell apart. Good things happened in my absence. I need to remember that God held my life in His hands while I was away, and He still holds my life in His hands now that I’m back. I really need to trust Him more, and not think that all of that stuff is solely on my shoulders. Much of it I can’t control anyway. I really should know that by now!
And finally, it’s going to be very hard for me to stop grinding so hard all the time, because I’m just so accomplishment-oriented. But when that is at an unhealthy level, I don’t really feel free. And I really want to feel free, like I do at camp. Oh man, it’s so freeing to feel FREE. It’s like the best feeling ever, it’s like, wow, this feels right, this feels like how life is SUPPOSED to be. And so I am going to be super mindful of when I start to get off-kilter (I definitely know when it’s happening), and take a gigantic step backwards when necessary. I do not need to prove anything to myself, or anyone else. I really do like what He’s making of me, and the way He is constantly shaping my heart. And I am fully secure in His love for me. And those two realizations are all I will ever need. The “summer camp mentality” – that’s what I’m going to call it. And I’m going to adopt it all year long.