Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out.Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. (1 Thess. 5:14-18, The Message)
This past week, I had the opportunity to be a camp counselor to 8 of the most amazing girls I could ever meet. Other counselors may try and convince you their campers were the best, but they are wrong. I’ve heard it said before (in regards to Mission trips mostly) that you go with the intention, the hope of being a blessing, but in reality you are the one being blessed. That’s what happened to me this week. I went thinking I’d be the one giving of encouragement and love and even though that did happen– what I got in return was nothing short of a beautiful revelation.
Did this revelation take place in a chapel service or during a time of prayer or bible study? No, it happened in the middle of a game…correction, in the midst of torture.
You see, at Camp Judah we participate in a camp wide Special Event each day in the afternoon. The directors concoct games that over 150 people (campers and counselors together) can participate in– cabin verses cabin and team against team. For those of use who are severely competitive this is a very SERIOUS event. Chants are shouted as the teams gather at the specified meeting point. The environment full of athletic energy and team pride.
One such “game” we participated in this week was lovingly dubbed the “Tough Mother”. It was a scaled down version of the Tough Mudder competition, which I now know I will never sign myself up for. Our Tough Mother was less than a mile long, but full of obstacles and stations that you and your teammates needed to complete together. Your team in this type of event is essentially only as good as your weakest member. And for my team, that member was me.
No, really. I was the weakest link.
But, the directors said counselors would be participating and who am I to back down from some good competition? So, there I was at the starting line wondering what I had signed myself up for– would I even be able to complete the race? Would I let my girls down? Where among the course would I be throwing up my turkey sub from lunch? I gave my girls a quick pep talk, giving them some last minute pieces of advice. Letting them know I might bark orders at them at some point along the way. With a final high five and “We’ve got this!” the horn sounded and we were off.
I made it across the pool, alright. I scaled the fence (scale may be too graceful of a word). More like, I flung myself over a fence. We stepped inbetween tires. Climbed up a wet, tarped hill. Pushed a tractor tire through a maze. Climbed down a steep ravine wall. Ran through a creek. Up another hill. Jumped into a canoe and paddled (with our arms) across the length of a pond. Crawled on our bellies under a tarp while being whacked with foam javelins. And in our second to last station cared a log up a hill.
It was in the middle of the hill that I had my revelation that I referenced earlier. By this point, my body and mind had been stretched in ways that it had never been before. I wasn’t just exhausted, but I found myself very literally unable to breathe. And I stopped. I was done. I couldn’t take one more step. And in that moment, my girls rallied around me in a powerful act of support. Each one telling me how proud they were of me and how we COULD finish. We WOULD finish.
I placed my arm around the log and made our way to the top of the hill. We had a carpet race to complete and then the final leg to the finish line. By this point, I still couldn’t breath, but found myself literally connected to one of my girls. She had grabbed my arms and put them around her and she kept me moving as the rest of our girls placed one carpet square in front of the other. We inched our way across the parking lot and had somehow managed to pass the other team. We ran down the last hill, hand in hand, in triumphant glory.
We had not only finished the race, but won it.
I became a pastor’s kid when I was adopted at the age of 13. Needless to say, I’ve been in church a lot. Sundays. Wednesdays. Conferences. Missions trips. Summer camps. There’s been things, people, circumstances that have hurt me and over time my heart has hardened towards the Church. I’ve always loved Jesus, but His people, not so much. I’ve seen people change churches for petty reasons. Spreading gossip and slander. Holding offenses. People taking instead of giving. The more I saw, the more my disgust grew.
And for a long time that’s how I felt. Disgusted with the Church, with His people. I’ve read and studied my Bible long enough to know this wasn’t good and that I needed a change of heart, but that’s kinda where it ended. I didn’t pray and ask God for help with that area in my life because I preferred to be secretly angry and offended. It was EASIER that way. (See my previous blog titled: Easy vs. Simple)
A few months ago, God started gently working on my heart though. I had agreed to attend a special camp meeting with my friend. The pastor shared bible story after bible story about how God would take something or someone broken or seemingly insignificant and bring about victory. It was a powerful message, but at the end he asked us to get into groups of 4 or 5 people and to pray for the Church. It was in that little prayer group where I could see God gently nudging me. Not in a “Holly, get your crap together and love these people that I’ve asked you to love”, but more of “I love these people, Holly. They’re not perfect, but I love them.”
That short time of prayer started something in me…a softening of my heart. And it was during the Tough Mother where things really came to light for me. In the midst of a VERY difficult physical situation, at the very end of myself, I found myself encouraged and carried by a group of girls who loved me. Who cared more about us finishing as a team than winning a race. They didn’t belittle me for my lack of strength or my desire to give up, but spoke life and encouragement when I needed it most.
That’s what we are called to as the Church. As the verse in 1 Thessalonians exhorts us to do: encourage stragglers, reach out to the exhausted, and pull them to their feet. My girls lived that out for me in one of the most practical, tangible ways possible. And it makes me want to do that for those in this race with me. I want to be the type of woman, the type of Christian, who comes alongside someone who is struggling and inches away from defeat and tell them, “It’s ok. You got this. We’re doing this together!”
Let’s focus on finishing this race as a team instead of pointing out each others weaknesses, shortcomings and imperfections. Let’s speak life and encouragement to one another offering an extended hand to help pull them along.