These past two weeks have been pretty hectic for me. I managed to find myself on not one, but two camps leading high school kids with about 18 hours in the middle to come home, sleep and pack for the next round. And from the get go, I was recognising that to get through it all, I would have to rely on God. Yet, looking back on the last day, exhausted, I began to wonder if He had been there at all.
For two weeks, all I could see was trials.
I went to the first camp expectant but hesitant- I finished year 12 last year and here I was leading on a HSC study camp. I felt inexperienced and unqualified, not to mention I knew I was younger than a lot of the campers, while other leaders were high school teachers in their early twenties. I felt out of place and I had no idea what I was doing. To add to it, one of my fellow leaders was a girl I’d gone to high school with, so overwhelming feelings of nostalgia flooded me, and nostalgia of my year 12 experiences wasn’t pleasant. It took a few days to settle in, to find a rhythm and I got a few people to pray for me. In the end, it was my discussion group co leader sitting down with me, after I admitted I wasn’t okay, and talking through everything. He read 2 Peter 1 with me, which talks about not being ineffective, and so I finished that evening feeling really good. I made some friends, found some people to sit with.
But, just as I started to get up, I got knocked down again. A girl who I’d been sitting with, and making friends with, turned on me. She started to say horrible things and push me around, and all of my doubts came flooding back. And it’s here some Christians would point to something working in the supernatural. Ephesians 6:12 says “for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” And that’s what it felt like. I’d just started to see God, to get some strength for the days ahead and feel like I could do it, when again, almost immediately I was knocked down.
So, I did what every little girl does and I called my dad. And he calmed me down, as I wept, afraid and alone. Why was this happening? Why would she do this? And where was God? And he said to go and talk to the directors, and that he was so sorry he couldn’t just wrap me up and hug me, and finally that, if I wanted, he could come and pick me up tomorrow. I just sat there for a few minutes, before getting up and washing my face. As I looked in the mirror, I wondered what was going on. My face set, I went and dealt with it. Apparently the girl had no idea how much damage shed caused and was just horsing around, and it made me wonder. It hadn’t seemed like that in the moment, and yet, once I’d decided to push through, it was all resolved, as if her entire demeanour changed. I just had to keep pushing.
And then the next camp. Almost straight away, I was tired. I took a few hours during one of the games to sleep, exhausted and overwhelmed. I knew I had a finite amount of energy and that was either to be spent having fun or being a leader, and, as I do, I decided to be a leader. I made sure kids were in bed, I made sure to put 100% into everything and to do my best, I roused on kids when no one else would and I sacrificed having fun. I just kept pushing.
And then, on the last morning, when I didn’t feel well, I kept pushing. I went to band practice, I wrote my cabin letters, I sat in on discussion, and I tried to go and supervise the games until finally, I ended up on the bathroom floor calling out for a nurse. Miraculously (not a word I use lightly, given the two weeks I’ve just had), the nurse was in the cubicle next to me. For the next few minutes, I was caught between being conscious and in an immense amount of pain, and unconscious with someone trying to wake me up. And all I could think was, God make it stop. Not now. I’m so close to the end.
At some point, someone took my watch off, which is on my left wrist. Under it, I had tattooed “pray”, to remind me even in the tough times to turn to God. And I realised that every person trying to find a pulse, every person taking blood, every ambo and nurse would have seen that tattoo. When they didn’t know what was wrong and called an ambulance, one of the camp nurses called out for a team to just sit and pray for me. When I turned on my phone, I had been flooded with messages from people telling me they were praying for me. People had prayed. I had prayed. And yet it seemed like God was so distant.
I waited in the hospital alone, wishing I had someone with me while I waited for my parents. I had heard them ask if I was 18, and I guess being an adult they let me go alone, but I wasn’t awake enough to beg them to let me bring a friend. And so I ended up in a room, by myself, silently crying. Not out of pain, although I hurt. Not out of sadness, although I was disappointed I hadn’t made it to the end. But out of too much. Too much emotion, and lack of someone to comfort me. So I turned to God. And he was quiet.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about things since then. A lot of time spent in bed, a lot of time waiting and half sleeping. The thoughts even seep into my dreams.
When do you stop pushing? They needed leaders, so I put my hand up. I had chances to go home, and stayed. And yet, I may have been able to handle the pain better if I hadn’t been so exhausted. I was passing out because my body couldn’t handle it. Getting up that morning, I had consciously thought “mind over matter”. It turns out sometimes you just can’t push through.
For every one sermon I hear on rest, I hear dozens on keep pushing, keep trying, roll up your sleeves and get involved. For every job I do, there seems to be ten more that need doing.
Coincidence that I end up on two consecutive camps? (No, I didn’t actually plan it.)
Coincidence I end up leading on a HSC camp when I’d been running from year 12?
Coincidence that the day I start to feel better, a girl turns on me?
Coincidence that I stay and get to see a girl I’d been praying for turn to Christ?
Coincidence that I stay at the second camp and see a girl turn to Christ?
Coincidence I get sick on the last day?
Coincidence help is in the next stall?
I don’t know.
But, talking to a friend of mine, he asked how I would feel about this tattoo on my wrist if I did lose my faith. After all I’ve been through, prayer has been constant. And, after all I’ve been through, I’m still here. And I choose to believe, through it all, God is here somewhere too.
Having doubts doesn’t mean you’ve lost your faith. And doubts tend to be easier to have when you’re tired. And God, I’m tired. Sometimes you need to stop pushing. But sometimes, like I think with my faith, maybe you just need to keep on.
“When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.” -William Temple.