One of the aspects that I most enjoy about Hollow Rock each year is serving in the youth program. While the spiritual growth that comes from meditating on the Word and being reminded of the basic doctrines and their applications and is real and important, the greatest source for me of growth and renewal comes from the opportunity to serve others. Spending time with the teens, staff and other campers is great, but even more so when I get the privilege of serving them and meeting their needs.
There are so many ways one can serve others at camp. One of the most important is just being there and sharing experiences from the previous year (or years, if they haven't been in a while or it's their first time): sharing what God has done, is doing and what we think he may be preparing us for; the trials and troubles that he has brought us through; the joys and pains of this present life. There are opportunities to serve physically, also: helping each other to unpack and pack as needed; cleaning up for each other after meals; picking up after recreation without being asked; assisting in work details to which one hasn't even been assigned. In other words, insisting that no one does anything alone.
Up through most of my teenage years, I was incredibly self-absorbed: no so much selfish, as it is properly understood, but focused on my own desires and needs. I cared little in the way of what I could do for others except as it related to serving my own ends. Over the years, God has changed this. Removing the excess of my carnal desires, while wonderful and critical, was not enough: he has convicted and chastised me concerning my sinful habits of self-service and drawn me into situations where I can act against the pull thereof, allowing him to transform my mind by "programming" it with habits of self-sacrifice, service and giving. Quite frequently, I find myself increasingly desiring to serve others. Even when I am physically and/or mentally spent, I find myself wanting to do more. When someone needs something done, even though the weakness of my flesh may pull against me, I intensely desire to assist.
This is all a part of his building a desire for relationships within me. Not ones whereby I serve myself, taking and leaving only what little I must to sustain the relationship, but ones where I can experience the pleasure of being with others and knowing that they are more able to enjoy whatever it is that we are doing because I am bearing their burdens with them. This is what I miss the most about Hollow Rock: I only get to be with most of these people for a few short days each year. We don't get the pleasure of being together all the time, as we will when Jesus returns.
I have my church and while the relationship is new, I am seeking opportunities to experience this with my new spiritual family; however, it may never quite be the same as those times shared with my friends at Hollow Rock, where the every day is spent in the fellowship of fellow believers.
Now I am home and reality has set in. I am working as intensely as ever. When I wake up, I focus on "me": my needs and desires. I attend to issues of personal hygiene, food preparation, and plans for the evening, whether it is a night for Bible study and/or fellowship, washing laundry or simply what occasional show I may watch on the TV. I love to have music playing in the background–I need the means of distraction to drown out other disturbances. Of course, the choice is always for that which pleases me.
So, while I get to have things "my way", I am essentially acting no differently than when I was a child. Sure, this is the natural order: I don't call my mother to choose these things for me. I am well capable of planning my meals, running errands and entertaining myself with no external assistance. Unfortunately, there is no one with whom I can share these things and serve on a daily basis.
Is this the way that we were designed to live? I don't think so. God saw that Adam was alone and that it wasn't good. I don't want to be self-focused. I want people with whom I can share life.
This understanding has been several years in the making and it is directly related to my thoughts on the church and marriage. At Hollow Rock, I get to be with and serve fellow disciples every day, seven days a week. In the early church, the disciples met daily for instruction and fellowship, serving each other and praying in each other's homes. Why do we think that things have changed so much that we no longer need this continual, steadfast relationship?
I want this. Not just at Hollow Rock but every day. It is quite frequently said that camp meeting is an artificial environment that is not like real life. Those who say this are right. But it ought not be so.
Sure, most of us will still have our secular jobs. Most of us will still have some broken relationships. Some of us will be hurt by those who we care about the most on a regular basis. This has been true for me every year that I have been at Hollow Rock. For the years of 2005-2007, I had to either work or attend school during the day and arrive at camp in the early to mid-evening. At first, I was upset with God for not working it out so that I could be there all day; however, he showed me that he had a very specific reason for doing this: to teach me that he has a plan whereby the cares of this present life, the "weight that so easily besets us", can be "set aside". By daily fellowship with fellow disciples, we can "bear each other's burdens, and so fulfill the Law of the Anointed One."
Do we have a means whereby we can "pour ourselves out as a drink offering" in service to and before others, to "die daily" as we are "raised in newness of life" to the end of caring for and taking care of the needs of others to God's glory? I don't mean this as one cares for and takes care of a young child, the sick or the aged, people who cannot care for and take care of themselves; rather, I am referring to the setting aside of our own personal desires and needs so that we may experience the joy of fulfilling the needs and desires of others who willingly give up their "right" to do so for themselves.
I have several nephews and nieces. My oldest nephew is seven and extremely intelligent and caring. He wants to please and serve at almost every opportunity. You only have to ask once and (most of the time) he understands at a level that rivals most teens, jumping into action. When he completes the task, he is so gratified that he has been able to assist. Although he is not quite at the point where he could put it into words, he intuitively knows whether or not he has pleased you and only wants to be a pleasure (usually; he is still a little boy, and can be quite shy and unwilling to move when he is otherwise occupied, after all…).
Unfortunately, he is not always the quickest or most efficient at the task. He may take quite longer and not do as good of a job as the one who requested the service. Why then do this? Would it not be more efficient and less painful to simply do the task one's self and bypass the potential problems? To my shame, I have made that decision when there was no essential need for speed and/or efficiency, even when my nephew knew of the need and volunteered without asking! May I learn from this and never forget and may others be patient with me as I fail them in spite of my desire only to please and serve.
I want someone and others to whom I can give myself in service, before whom I can pour out myself as a drink offering, caring for and taking care of her and them in preference to myself. Those who I can accept and by whom I can be accepted in spite of the full knowledge of our imperfections and failures. When I look into the mirror of the Word, I see how fallen and imperfect I am; however, I neither excuse my imperfections nor reject myself, running away in horror. I give myself every opportunity to change. I need to practice this more with others. I have mastered serving myself. God knows that I have been doing so most of my life, and that for far too long in preference of myself to others. I need those with whom I can practice dying daily. I want to change. I am changing by God's grace. The transformation will continue but it would be more complete and entire if I had someone and others in my daily life with whom to actively meditate upon these truths and seek the same.
Hollow Rock is time for spiritual retreat, a time for renewal and refreshing. It is so effective because it is daily, not just because the distractions of life have been removed (not that this is a bad thing if done occasionally; this too is beneficial in its own right, but that is beside my point at this moment). I would like my home and church to be the same. I want someone and others with whom I can share this faith walk. Share this life. On a daily basis.
But who wants to come? (Now is the time that I go and weep, as I do almost every day, as I ask God how long it will be until I can experience this in my life as he intends….)