I recently checked an item off my bucket list that, truth be told, was never actually on my bucket list. For the first time ever, I went to a church camp. I was assigned a 14-year-old junior leader, given an un-air conditioned cabin and entrusted with the well-being of four 10- and 11-year-old boys. I spent three nights in the woods hustling from one activity to the next, eating thoroughly mediocre camp food and hoping that these boys were hearing messages that might change their lives someday.
It wasn’t an easy time. By the end of our stay, I was exhausted. My tolerance for pre-teen boys was sapped, and I used up every bit of extroversion that this introvert could muster. I needed alone time to recharge my batteries. I needed sleep. And I needed a shower.
Although camp came with some challenges, it was also very rewarding. One of the boys in my cabin was my son Alex. He’s the main reason I signed up to be a leader. I trusted this would be an experience that neither of us would ever forget. I wasn’t disappointed.
As I look back over the days spent at camp, there are a few ideas I want to ensure I remember:
1. Say “YES” to discomfort. When my wife first mentioned the possibility of being a leader at a church camp, I came up with all kinds of reasons why I shouldn’t do it. Taking off three days of work was at the top of my list. But I’ve learned that the most meaningful experiences in my life have occurred when I stepped outside of my routine and took on a challenge that I didn’t want to take on. Comfort is the enemy of change. The four days spent at this camp were void of the comforts that I cling to in life. It was awesomely uncomfortable!
2. Be more childlike. Children possess some wonderful qualities that most adults have had wrung out of our lives. It wasn’t so long ago that I was a carefree boy, but seeing the contrast between these kids and myself reminded me of some traits that I’d like recapture. These boys haven’t set in concrete their opinions and prejudices. They were goofy. They made friends almost instantly. When they got upset at something or someone, they forgot about it 10 minutes later. I want to be more like them.
3. I need more silliness in my life. One of my favorite parts of camp happened each night when we retired to the cabin to wind down. Each kid retired to his bunk with snacks in hand, and pre-lights-out silliness ensued. They goofed on each other. They made up names for each other. They talked about how awesome they were. And we laughed — a lot. It reminded me of when I was a kid. It also reminded me that silliness helps to lighten our load. It is good for the soul.
In the days leading up to this camp, I was dreading my decision to go, but in the days after, I found myself smiling at the memories. It affected me, and I trust that it affected the kids as well. I formed some lifelong memories with my son, and it sure beat sitting in front of a computer at work. If you’re ever given an opportunity to do something like this, fight against your desire to say no. Step out on a limb. Get uncomfortable. Get dirty. Get tired. Get blessed!
James Willoughby is a regular contributor who writes about marriage, family, and faith. He lives in Tipp City.