I have a strongly-held belief about people. This belief is that everyone, no matter their journey or place in life, has an inner-child that is waiting to be let out and embraced. Sometimes adults feel the need to be "adults" by being afraid to get our clothes dirty, unwilling to still sit on our knees and play in the mud. Truthfully when that happens we miss out on all the fun! We trade in the joy of childhood for the shackles of seriousness. However, if you spend enough time around people you can get glimpses over time of that beautiful, whimsical, child-like spirit that is pulling at them, waiting to be let out. I love the moments when that happens.
This summer at our Mid High camp we had several amazing adult volunteers that staffed the camp and helped make my vision for camp become reality. However, Nancy stood out in particular. I had been at camp for 20 minutes when Nancy came up to me and said in a very adult tone "excuse me, but I think that we need to reconsider the camp location, with all this dust it won't be healthy for people's breathing, not to mention my clothes will be dirty." I looked at her, speechless, still out of breath from the frantic drive up the hill and struggling to gather the courage to feel sympathetic about the dust on her shirt. "Okay, we'll take that into consideration, and I'm so glad you're here" was all I could muster in the moment. I walked away slightly amused and slightly in fear that this would be a long week. Camp and dirty are synonymous. Camp is THE place for your inner-child to be let out; where playing in the dirt and faces caked in sweat are signs of a good day. It doesn't make you a bad person if you can't enjoy those things, but it will make camp difficult for you. I was worried camp would be difficult for Nancy.
It only took 24 hours on the mountain for her to realize the inner-child that was waiting to be expressed. Tuesday night of camp is our counselor hunt where all the staff spread out into various hiding spots across camp, the students then have 45 minutes to chase the staff down and bring them back to me in exchange for spirit points for their teams. After 45 minutes all the staff had been successfully brought back and everyone was awaiting the points. I glanced around the packed auditorium and realized Nancy hadn't made it back. I poked my head outside in time to see the closest thing to a Mel Gibson/Braveheart reenactment I've ever seen. Nancy, clothes covered in creek water and mud stripes caked under her eyes was bolting up the hill joyously shouting "I didn't get caught!!!" She could've been yelling "freeeeedoom!!!!!!" and I wouldn't have been surprised. I was ecstatic. She came back into the auditorium with all the pomp and circumstance of a conquering war hero. Nancy had embraced the child.
Nancy (re-)discovered her inner child that week at camp. She sent me an email a few weeks after camp that included this quote, "I learned a lot more about that generation than I am certain they learned from me....Most importantly I relearned how to be a child, and I needed that."
Scripture: Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven." Matthew 18:2-4
When we embrace the child, as we are commanded to do, we can train ourselves to instinctively distrust the excuse that “this is what grown-ups do.” What if we lived in such a way that we didn't need to (re-)learn how to have fun? What if our "inner-child" was actually our outer joy? What does it mean to embrace our identities as children of God?