I got to spend last week at Sharp Top Cove, a Young Life Camp. I’ve gone there almost every summer for the last four years. It’s a holy, sacred place that feels like home to me. As Young Life leaders we talk about camp all year long and encourage, pray, hope,
coerce, and beg our high school friends to go to camp. It’s not that there is something special in and off the place itself, but there is something special about place that has 400 teenagers all in one place with adults who care deeply about those teenagers and their relationship with God.
When I think of Sharp Top Cove, the words healing and transformation come to mind. My own experiences there have been healing and transformational for me, and I have seen it be the same for my high school friends. The first time I went to camp was after I had experienced a deep disappointment in pursuing ministry opportunities. I thought God was leading me down one road, but that road took a left turn to Sharp Top Cove. My life has never been the same since.
This year during camp I kept thinking about pain and suffering and what it means to bear another person’s pain and suffering. During our leader meetings, we would share stories about how cabin times were going. I started camp already feeling drained in every way possible. The last six months have been stretching and trying with plenty of change, upheaval, and disappointments along the way. The thought of giving myself away even more during camp was exhausting. I wanted to quit and run far away. I shared this during our meeting. Other people talked about how hard it was to hear stories from kids about pain and loss in their families.
Bearing one another’s burdens is foundational to walking alongside teens and helping them see how Jesus is working in their lives. It’s played out in a number of ways during camp.
One night during club, I got called to the front to be in a game with a girl from my cabin. The game was to put a pair of pantyhose over my head. As I held the pantyhose from the bottom, Anna, the girl would pull the pantyhose from the top of my head causing them to get tighter and tighter around my face. We did this for a couple rounds, and the goal of the game is to see which leader has the funniest face (I won by the way). I made the decision to keep my eyes open, so by the end of the game, the pantyhose was touching my eyeball, and my eye was starting to water. It was painful, and my eye was red and felt itchy for a day or two later. A tiny sacrifice for what ended up being a hilarious game.
On another night kids had the opportunity to win tickets to “pie” their leader in the face with a plate of whipped cream or throw water balloons in their face. A few of my girls took their best shot and got me good with a plate of whipped cream which I wore all night. It’s a small sacrifice of looking silly in front of teenagers and putting up with tons of “hey you got something right here on your face” jokes that in small part resembles how Christ bore our sins and shame.
On the last day, my cabin completed the high ropes course. I am terrified of heights, especially of falling or jumping off of high things. I hate the feeling of falling and being out of control (there’s probably a spiritual lesson in there). I white-knuckle and pray my way through the high ropes course every year. All of my girls did it, and I needed to be brave and face my fears if I was going to encourage them to complete it. At the end of the course, as I was getting ready to go down the zip line and be finished, I was talking with one of the summer staff about the course. She asked if I was afraid of heights, and I quickly answered yes while holding onto the tree as she changed my harness. I said, “The only reason to do this is because I love those girls a whole lot.” That, and I didn’t want to disappoint my girls by not finishing.
All of these were small sacrifices in comparison to what Christ did for me. As some wise friends have reminded me lately, when we share in another’s suffering, we are completing Christ’s suffering. It’s painful, hard work in both the physical and spiritual realms. I come home from camp physically exhausted with tired, sore muscles and bruises in places I didn’t know I could get bruises. Even more so, I come home emotionally drained from hearing stories about brokenness in my friend’s lives and from the brokenness in my own life that is revealed through the pain. There’s something beautiful about bearing another’s burdens, but at the same time it tears and rips at my soul in a way that I can’t explain. The weight of it all is heavy indeed.
Sometimes I think camp is the labor and delivery room where we see new baby Christians get born after months and months of walking along side kids showing them Jesus with our words and lives. We groan, and we cry out for our friends and, yes, ourselves sometimes because we’re all in need of a rescue from a Savior who gave his life away for ours.
That is what makes Sharp Top Cove a holy, sacred place.
We talked all week about how camp is a picture of how the Kingdom of God is. It’s a place where your family is gathered around the dinner table and you can get all the refills on food you want. It’s a place where you can sleep late because breakfast isn’t until 9:30 a.m. It’s a place where you know you’re accepted as you are. It’s a place where laughter is abundant because you can have crazy fun in club with glow sticks and pantyhose and hot sauce. It’s a place where sin and shame can be laid down when you ask Jesus into your heart during 15 mintues of silence under the stars. It’s a place where the old is made new and the past can be hurled far away as the east is from the west. It’s a place where pain and suffering and groanings are turned into new life and hope.