Sometimes I wonder at the common saying that life outside of camp is the “real world.” As staff, we often ask how an activity relates to “real life” and challenge campers to think about what will be different when they go back to “the real world.”
When I was a camper, I desperately wished that camp life was real life. At camp, I experienced love like I did nowhere else. I figured that my family had to love me because they were family, but these crazy staff people had never met me, yet washed my dishes, invited me to play 4-square with them, and talked to me like they were genuinely interested in what I had to say.
I could be free at camp: free of judgment, free of negativity, and free of the friends at home who told me who I should be. As the staff continually challenged me to stretch outside my comfort zone by finding new ways to zipline or rappel, I was growing stronger, more confident, and closer to God without realizing it.
But then the week would come to an end. Heartbreak Friday would roll around and I would have to say goodbye to all the friends I had made that week. I would immediately begin looking forward to the next year when I could return to camp life and escape “the real world.”
But after getting to spend an entire summer at camp on staff and then returning to home and college life, I’ve begun to see it differently. Camp is amazing and powerful because life is simple there. Jesus tells us that the most important things are to love God and to love one another. We do that at camp. We worship Him, study His word, and admire his awesome creation. We have fun with, share our struggles with, and support our brothers and sisters in Him. Distractions are removed. There are no cell phones, televisions, or computers, so instead we are forced to talk to one another. We’re free from the worries of the past and future and free from the people we are at home, often the people we don’t want to be. Although I’m still a long way off, I know that I’ve never been closer to the person God made me to be than when I was serving Him at camp this summer.
So I’m starting to think that the camp life is actually much closer to what God intended for us than the daily lives most of us lead. Perhaps camp life can exist everywhere. Perhaps this close community with God and His people that we experience at camp is the actual “real world” and the distractions and negativity we experience outside its gates is some kind of “fake world,” one that isn’t capable of filling us or giving us the satisfaction we receive through Christ.
Camp didn’t change my life. But it was at camp that the world’s distractions were removed and I experienced an unreal love from staff and campers that pointed me to the ultimate reality: the Christ that had been there all along. And He did change my life. Now I’m living in the real real world.