I’m standing in the middle of the room, seven girls in bed around me, reading 1 Corinthians 13, and one makes a farting noise with her mouth. I ignore it and continue. Another girl [her friend] calls out that I said something that sounded like a swear word. I’m about to raise my voice when I realise the line I just read says “love is not easily angered”. But she always interrupts me and never listens! “Love does not keep a record of wrongs.” I sigh, continue and say good night.
It is my belief that God has a sense of humour.
I’ve just gotten back from leading my third camp, and it’s left me with a lot to think about.
My main thought being, how do you love someone when it’s hard to?
In day to day life, you can avoid people you don’t like, which makes “loving your enemies” a lot easier. You can avoid them, and be kind for short spurts of time before running off and having a sob to God. But when you are designated to show the love of Christ to a group of kids that might have never have experienced that before, how do you continually love when all you meet is resistance?
Sure it’s easy to love the kids who make you smile.
The kids who grin at you and tell you you’re a good singer; the kids who write notes during the talk and ask questions during discussions. The girls who give you a sense of pride as you watch them do their dance routine during the talent quest, and help clean up after dinner. Those kids are deserving of your attention, a kinder tone when they’re mucking around [because you rarely have to tell them off] and some lenience at bed time.
But to the kids who just came to camp to have fun, I was the biggest obstacle.
What’s the point of getting them to stand for songs they won’t sing to?
What’s the point of asking them their opinion during discussion when they keep interrupting others?
Why should I care if they enjoy the day when they kept me up all night?
Why should I bother trying to start conversations when I know they couldn’t care less about me?
It felt like hitting my head against a brick wall to just keep trying with these girls.
But if I do not have love, I have nothing.
Leading a camp is a unique position in that it doesn’t present the typical authority figure that kids are used to. You’re not the distant teacher or the familiar parents- you meet these kids on the first day, and they just sort of have to listen to you, which gets easier as you form a relationship. The privilege of leading is that you’re in a position to form a deeper sort of relationship than usual, especially on Christian camps. You have the opportunity to start deep conversations, and ask personal questions kids might never have thought about or share your own story. For me, it’s special because I get to share the person I love most with the people I love most- Christ with kids. But I realised that, if they weren’t going to listen to what I had to say, maybe the only thing they couldn’t escape was the way I acted.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul talks about having what the world would consider everything- knowledge, money to give, religious zealousness- and says it means nothing if it’s not combined with love. Like sugar and flour are just a nasty tasting powder without some eggs. And I realised that, no matter how good I was at discipline and singing and leading discussion groups, if these girls couldn’t see that I loved them, and that I was putting everything I had into that, continuously, regardless of what they did, then I would have nothing. I would have accomplished nothing. Even telling them the most important message they’d ever hear and them believing it- that Jesus died for them and rose again- would mean little if they only had it in their head but didn’t feel it in their heart. 1 Corinthians 13:13- for now three remain- faith, hope and love- but the greatest of these is love.
There was no point in me leading if I couldn’t do it with love.
So I diverted some energy. Instead of just sitting with girls who I knew would love to chat, I sat with the girls who it was harder to talk with. I asked them about their lives, and sat through many awkward silences. And I should point out, at no point did the heavens open and Christ call out “good job, my faithful servant!” as doves descended and a triple rainbow flashed in the distance. Actually, they stayed resiliently resistant until they left, one without saying goodbye [and that stung]. But at the end of the day, I didn’t yell when I really wanted to. I didn’t give up when I was really tired. I didn’t abandon them for the other girls, because no one gets to be more important. I didn’t love perfectly [perfect love drives out all fear, and I’m pretty sure they were afraid I’d make them do the compost], but I loved as hard as I could and I hope God will use that.
I remember the leaders I had growing up at camp.
There were the ones who stopped to talk to me and ask me how I was going. I had a tough time, sometimes, getting along with the other kids, but always seemed to click with adults. There were the ones who listened to my endless nattering and told the cabin stories and read books to us to help us fall asleep, who sang the loudest and danced around and were silly. I can’t remember how we behaved, but I do remember the unconditional kindness shown again and again by so many different leaders. The curiosity about what made them different from the other people I knew.
I also remember the leaders who made me feel bad. The leaders who made me feel like I didn’t belong, and the leaders who we avoided. The leaders who I felt didn’t have time for me, or weren’t real Christians and led confusing double lives. The leaders who were sarcastic and only spoke to each other and told jokes we couldn’t understand.
I remember sitting in the rows of kids and thinking about what leader I wanted to be. I wanted to be a cool but kind leader and I wanted to sing in the band, as a six year old. I’m now known for singing in the band. I pray I am and will be known for being a cool but kind leader.
In the end, both my co-leader and I told the girls our testimonies, and I ended mine by pointing out we didn’t come to camp to tell them to go to bed, or make sure they didn’t get sunburnt. We came to tell and show them God loves them because we think it’s important. And I’d like to keep that as my priority in leading from now on.
Because, it’s sort of a double sided coin.
Insomuch as what I do, without love, I am not giving worth. If I have not love, I am nothing.
But insomuch as what God has already done, without love, I am not given worth. If I have not love, I am nothing.
13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13