If you grew up evangelical, it’s likely you experienced the phenomenon known as the “camp high.” This experience would occur when your youth group or church made its way to a retreat center, or perhaps your parents sent you off to a summer camp. A few days into the week, when you were tired, hadn’t stopped sweating in 96 hours, and were certain that the friends by your side would be your best buds forever, the evening program would happen. A campfire, perhaps, or a stirring message from a stage, and before you knew it, every emotion you’d ever known was rising up within you, a symphony of feelings that you were sure could only mean one thing—this is what it feels like to be near God.
I have many memories associated with this kind of experience, most of them occurring at camps or retreats or on mission trips, moments sweet and safe and removed from the every day normalcy of life. Sometimes I would access those emotions in a smaller dose on Wednesday nights at youth group, or during a Sunday morning service, a certain song or message conjuring up a fiery commitment to God and His ways. How could I want anything else?, I would think. Surely, if He can make me feel this way, He must be the One to follow.
While experiences like this were peppered throughout my teenage years, when college and young adulthood arrived, they seemed to slip away quietly. I wondered, worried even, if I was doing something wrong when I could no longer access the emotional highs I had once known and associated with God’s goodness and presence. As I made my first decisions of adulthood—a degree plan, marriage, my first job, two summers on the mission field—I wondered where God was. I was quite sure factually, logically, rationally, that He was pleased with the road I was walking. But emotionally, I wrestled. Why couldn’t I feel Him? And what did it mean that I couldn’t?
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I sat in my favorite corner of our couch, knees pulled up to my chest. A few close friends were scattered around the room, eyes soft, questions gentle. We had been at an event together earlier that evening where words were spoken that caused a part of my heart to fracture. When I left the event as soon as possible, these women called and offered to come, to sit and listen or let silence linger. We did some of both.
Mostly, I rambled, at least that’s how I remember it. I remember tears and I remember closing my eyes as I spoke sentences of which I was embarrassed of, words that made me feel faithless and weak. But most of all, I remember the tenderness of the women gathered in that room, their compassionate strength that bore the weight of my sadness and anger.
When I was in crisis, the physical presence, help, and listening ear of others was critical. Never have I been so aware of the beauty of the body of Christ as I have been when I was dependent upon others to care for me, to support my family, and to pray and believe for me when I was losing my grip on the ability to do so for myself.
When crisis comes, many of us determine to buckle down, to believe that grit and fortitude will be enough to weather the storm. But what this often can mean is that we want to be strong, though Scripture tells us that God’s grace is made perfect in our weakness. We do not want to inconvenience others, though Scripture tells us to bear one another’s burdens. We want to think of crises as linear—as having a beginning, middle, and end, life returning to a happy “normal” after the fact–though Scripture tells us that we will have trouble in this world until Christ’s return.
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One of my first memories of my freshman year of college is the activities fair that was held in the student center. I attended a large, state university with tens of thousands of students, and hundreds of organizations had booths set up at the fair, inviting students to come and join their ranks. Despite having a relatively good idea of the types of things I’d like to be involved in, I was completely overwhelmed. There were so many good and meaningful things to choose from, and I struggled to know how to decide.
I’d like to say that I grew out of the feeling that there are so many things worth my time and effort that I may need to divide myself in two. But the fact is, as I’ve grown older, while I’ve found deeper passions and grown roots that I did not have had as a young adult, I’ve also discovered so many more possibilities. While I’ve learned more about myself and my specific calling in life, I’ve also learned about so much more of the world, so much more of pain and need, and I find myself wanting to step up and engage however I can.
So Much Pain in the World = Overwhelmed Hearts
I have a hunch that I’m not alone in this. Posts on social media these days seem to rotate between telling one another what we should or should not care about, and telling each other that we’re tired of being told what we should or should not care about. There is no shortage of opportunities to pursue personal development, to become a better parent, spouse, or friend, to learn a new skill, to read a new opinion, or to engage a new issue. As Christians, we ought to desire to live holistic lives that are not merely driven by love of self, nor by work, nor by play, but by worship and fullness and growth spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally.
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