It’s been about three days since I got back from a Christian training camp in Canberra, and I haven’t written about it. Partially I think that lies in not knowing what to say, despite the usual burning desire to get something reflective out of it. Partially it might be in being afraid to say it. To acknowledge that it wasn’t what I wanted and I don’t really know why.
To be honest, this all really starts from when I was asked whether I wanted to go and I said no. By some cosmic joke, someone paid for me to go anyway.
And because I just can’t- make of that what you may- I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm I wanted, or the right response when people asked me how I was feeling. So much of life involves putting on a mask, it would seem, of being happy and perky because it’s expected- my work with kids, making friends at uni and trying to be grateful for an opportunity to go and learn and be stretched in God’s work. I just couldn’t be happy. That, ironically, makes me sad.
On one hand, I want the people around me to know that when I smile it was because I am genuinely happy and when I laugh it is because I am genuinely moved to- I want to be as raw, and as real with the people around me as possible. On the other hand, I felt ungrateful to the person who paid my way, and grumpy to the people around me and trapped in my own emotions like a tiny ant in a thick spider web.
I have wondered since then whether it was because I was uncomfortable. I was worried about all of the people and what it would be like trying to make friends with everyone I met. The people driving me, the strangers in my tent- on one hand, I knew things probably wouldn’t go wrong if I put in enough effort. On the other hand, I was terrified of the amount of energy it would take to get where I wanted to be. It was overwhelming to get to a conference of 1,800 people, and tiring to put up a tent in the rain and I honestly just wanted to go home because I was so far out of my comfort zone that I couldn’t even see it.
But the thought has occurred to me that, like a pot plant, growth doesn’t happen once you’ve reached the limits of your comfort zone. If God’s intention was to grow me, I’d have done a lot less of it at home.
Apart from all of the new people and new experiences, something that hit me hard was seeing the people I already knew. A couple of Christians at the event but also catching up with a few who lived in Canberra.
For some reason, I just thought at the end of last year, when we were all so happy, that we would all stay happy. And when I saw my old friends, and all the different ways in which their hearts had broken, and all of the different ways they had grown, whether apart from each other, apart from God or apart from their plans, I felt such sorrow for the people I love. On one hand, it reminded me that not only my year hasn’t gone the way I thought it would- at one point, we were all going to grow up and get married and live happily ever after, and I was so torn apart when that didn’t happen for me. Once again, you can’t only trust God’s plan when it follows yours. On the other hand, I felt slightly powerless- only there for a couple of days to listen and leave, not sure when I’d be there again. That’s not within my hands, I know. However, I must admit, it was a bit of a shock to be reminded of. I know enough of them to know they’ll probably be okay but, more to the point, I know enough of God to know he’ll take care of them whether I’m around or not. [And if they quit smoking. Seriously. Stop.]
Anyway, there were positives. The likes of many, I’m sure I won’t see the results of for many years to come. However, I did learn a lot. I learned about prayer [coincidentally, one of the greatest things I learned is that when God promises to work all things for the good of those who love him – Romans 8:28 – that isn’t his promise to change our circumstances, but rather to change the people who love and trust him to be more like Christ, which is ultimately the best we can ask for. That mentality really came in handy], and I learned how to seriously pick apart a bible verse.
In the end, I did make friends, especially with those former strangers in the tent. It’s good to have a few more familiar faces to look forward to around campus. I was reminded of the benefits of pushing through feelings- one of the sermons actually said outright that our feelings are unreliable, particularly when faced with fact; I’m glad I didn’t leave. I met up with some old friends who are still as awesome as they were when I left them and it was sad to say goodbye again, sometimes only after a brief chat at McDonalds.
I still have a while to go before I feel as zen on the inside as I try to look on the outside, but I’ve been encouraged that if I’m starting to pick up on my own habits and ideas, the next step can be to change them. It would probably be worse if I were completely oblivious to them- like a parent with a brat, it’s better I know rather than don’t.
At the end of the day, with all the concern from people who care about me, and the fears pulsing through my brain, and the really, really good reasons [like pouring rain and a cold] I don’t want to say it was hard, so I gave up. I want to say it was hard but I did it any way.
And that wouldn’t even be true, because it was hard, and I wanted to give up but God did it through me anyway, and all I can do is pray I’m a little more like Christ.
“My joy in sorrow’s tears,
My strength to cast out fears,
No other name but Jesus, Jesus.
My hope in darkest night,
My broken soul’s delight,
No other name by Jesus, Jesus.”
-No Other Name [Emu Music]