So with fear and trepidation you sent your kid to camp. Was it the homesickness you worried about? The fact that just months ago you found him sleepwalking and unlocking the deadbolt in the dead of winter and you don’t know if the cabins will contain him? Is it the uncertainly of trusting your precious first-born to young people, who are likely testing all sorts of weird parenting ideas out on YOUR kid? Nope, your fear and trepidation comes from what HE is going to try and pull while you’re out of the picture. You’re worried about which boy SHE will latch onto and return home dating. You are far less worried about the bears on camp property as the potential reign of terror your child might unleash on that pristine piece of wilderness, not to mention the men and women charged with his safe-keeping, when his safe-keeping is clearly the thing he cares least about.
Each night passes and you wonder when the call is going to come. You think that even SHE would have the good sense to keep things sane for the first few nights, but night three and four are big uncertainties; yet they come and go as well. By this point you are not just worried you’re highly suspicious. Did your son actually manage to commandeer the whole camp? Holding them against their will, with scenes reminiscent of some Orwellian or William Golding novel running through your imagination. Still the call doesn’t come and neither do the police. In fact by all accounts (Facebook and Twitter at least) it appears that your kid’s week at camp is, well, just another week at camp. You even catch a glimpse of your daughter in chapel, and she looks like she is paying attention. You see a photo of your son, and he appears to be laughing in the dining hall even though there are carrot sticks on his plate! But for you, all this confirms is that the great propagandist tool of Photoshop is still humming away!
Eventually The End does arrive without any indication of incident and you head to church to await the buses. When they arrive, child after child streams off the bus with a look somewhere between exhaustion and elation. Odd, you think, it doesn’t look like any of them were involved in a struggle. The leaders high-five the campers and say their goodbyes and then, near the end of the line, you recognize a face… it’s him… it’s her. Will they get the same high-five? Nope! Aha it was as you expected! Except… they give their counselor a hug instead. A HUG! What a far cry it was from the cool send off just five days earlier when you plopped them onto the bus and they summarily dismissed you from the next week of their existence with an eye roll and what you took to be a wave, but might have actually been closer to a monarchical ta-ta.
And then, the unthinkable happens, they run up to you, and give you a hug.
“What did you do with my child?” The question rises with a tone somewhere between grateful incredulity and wary suspicion. But no! The counselor is smiling too and says they will miss your daughter and that she was one of the most amazing kids she had ever met. “My child…?” You don’t want to seem calloused but let’s be honest you have known her for longer. The ride home is one story followed by another of camp life. Stories of friends and games and canoeing and campfires. Stories of reading his Bible and praying with friends and dancing in worship and loving chapel. A miracle has transpired. The miracle of Bible Camp. Your child has been reformed.
Until the next morning. When “camp” apparently wears off.
She is back to her sulky face and eye-rolling, he is back to his lippy careless self and you, parent, are vindicated! You KNEW that it was all just a front! All a cruel joke! You knew the camp bubble would burst! You just KNEW it! Your wary suspicion was right, grateful incredulity was wrong. Camp Kid went to sleep and never woke up again.
What happened? The answer is simple, your child came home. Why does it seem, that often the effects of an experience with Jesus don’t ultimately last? I have some thoughts.
First, I don’t want to get too much on your case as a parent, but did you ever wonder that the reason they could behave differently at camp is because you weren’t there? I know that sounds a bit harsh, but I’ll never forget the feeling of going on a missions trip when I was 16 and recreating myself to be who I really wanted to be. Nobody knew me on this trip! I didn’t have a past or baggage, my new friends didn’t know my weakness, or character issues; it was really refreshing! It can be difficult to live under the persona we have created for ourselves. Just the fact that you had a “kid” in mind when you imagined how your son or daughter was behaving at camp betrays the good and bad you have grown to expect from your child. It is a good idea to ask yourself if you need to let some of that past go and do a bit of a relationship “reset” for your child! (It would be great if they could do that with you too!)
Next, sustaining change is actually really hard! One of the great benefits of camp is that not only does it provide families with a relationship reset, it also provides our kids with a spiritual reset! The reason is simple, the peer pressure our kids face at camp is dramatically different from what they face at school, on their sports team, or even just in the neighbourhood. At camp there is a focus and that focus is Jesus. I’ve seen some pretty hard cases crack and soften to Jesus at camp purely because of the pull of the crowd. What a difference that is! But going home can be so difficult. Where at camp devotions and chapel times were enforced, there isn’t the same schedule or healthy peer pressure at home. That can lead to a real sense of loss for a child. They might even feel like a failure for not being able to live the camp life at home. Maybe you can relate a bit? Maybe you find it hard to sustain change as well? It IS hard! So I would encourage you to pray for great empathy as your child sorts out how to assimilate camp spiritual life, into their everyday life.
Finally, who are you to say that they didn’t change? I know of very few people who actually demonstrate the change in their hearts immediately, it usually needs to take root and grow into maturity before it is evident. Many, many people will say that they gave their life to Jesus at camp or had a significant life-changing moment at camp, but how many of them came home as mature Christians? None! Ah! But just because the growth is under the surface doesn’t mean it isn’t there!
I’m reminded of a strange phenomenon I heard about a few years ago. In this area of Manitoba there are places where peat moss can be found under the ground and out of sight. I’ve heard that in one area there has been a peat fire smoldering away under the earth for some 40 years or more! Every few years, the fire will break out of the ground and be visible, but most of the time, it isn’t! That’s what the Christian life is like for many kids, it’s like a fire smoldering underground and out of sight until the conditions are right and the fire breaks out and takes everyone by surprise.
Parents, when your kids come home from camp and you hear how different they were away from home, leave your prejudice aside, celebrate what God accomplished at camp, and then head back into everyday life with reasonable expectations of good behaviour, cleanliness, respect and devotion to Jesus. Love your kids where they are at and pray for the future fires that are waiting to break out!