Monday, August 18, 2014

A Camping State of Mind

I’m at a stage in my life where my concept of “camping” has required a bit of adaptation.  If I had my choice, I would camp in the most remote location possible.  Somewhere that can only be reached by backpacking is preferable, but even when “car camping” I gravitate towards small, hidden state forest campgrounds with outhouses over large state park campgrounds with all the amenities.  Of course, by “amenities” I mean flush toilets and a place to wash your hands.

However, now when I think of camping there is one question on my mind: Does the park have a swim area?  Evelyn, who is approaching her second birthday in October, loves to be active, loves to be outside, and absolutely loves to go play in the water or “waka” as she calls it.  In mid-July, Becky and I were interested in escaping the urban jungle for a short family camping trip.  We only had two days and one night to spare so we wanted to stay fairly close to Baltimore.  We ended up finding a gem in Greenbrier State Park, a place that I am sure that we will become well acquainted with over the next decade.
The beautiful swim area at Greenbrier State Park
Greenbrier State Park is nestled into the South Mountain range a little bit west of Frederick, Maryland and only an hour from our house.  While no one will mistake South Mountain for the Yosemite Valley, the park features beautiful wooded areas and views of nearby summits and ridges.  We could see Greenbrier Lake from our spacious campsite and could follow a hiking trail to the nearby beach area.  Aside from the campground host, we essentially had the entire campground loop to ourselves as no one was camping on a Thursday night.
A view of Greenbrier Lake from nearby Annapolis Rock.  A month before Evelyn was born, some friends and I hiked to this popular ridge on the Appalachian Trail as fatherhood's equivalent to a bachelor party. 

We enjoyed a lovely afternoon of playing with Evelyn in the water, lounging around our campsite in the afternoon, and strolling on the well-maintained hiking trails, although our hike was cut short by Evelyn’s pleas to go back to the swim area.  At this age, we can barely squeeze out a mile with her in our hiking backpack, yet another reason why backpacking would be completely illogical for the moment.  Throughout these activities, I reflected on the peace of mind and restful state that I enjoyed.  During this part of the summer, I had been focusing on trying to raise funds for Whitelock Community Farm, the urban farm that we help to run with other neighbors to address the lack of access to affordable, healthy food in our neighborhood.  Along with some roadblocks and resistance the farm was facing as we attempted to expand to two additional vacant lots, my fundraising efforts had been the source of a lot of anxiety.  Becky jokes that I will always find something to be anxious about, but cold calling local businesses seeking financial support definitely forces me out of my comfort zone, only amplifying my fretfulness.  I found myself trying to avoid the task with all sorts of excuses, yet still worrying about the financial future of Whitelock Community Farm.

My reflections led me to compare my mindset during our day at Greenbrier State Park to my mindset over days that preceded it.  I think the difference in my anxiety level goes deeper than the fact that I love swimming with my daughter, puttering around our campsite, and hiking in the woods while I hate calling unknown people to ask for money.  I think at its root, my anxiety is not the product of the level at which I enjoy an activity, but instead is directly correlated to what I perceive to be the certainty of the activity's outcome.

When we are camping, I know with fairly high certainty that the activities that I am engaged in will lead to successful results.  I will play with my daughter at the beach.  No problem.  I will go on a hike and enjoy it whether the sun is shining or the heavens open.  Got it.  I will start a fire so that we can cook our pizza sandwiches and roast marshmallows for S’mores.  Actually, that one is a bit uncertain but that is why lighter fluid regularly appears in our camping supplies. 
Evelyn is ready for S'mores if Mommy and Daddy can start the fire!
However, when I am serving on the board of a non-profit organization, attempting to inspire and educate middle school students, or even trying to share the love of God, the potential for positive results seems much less assured.  Let’s look more closely at my trepidation over fundraising.  Yes, it makes me nervous to ask people for money, but that is not the root of my anxiety.  Ultimately, I fear that if I am not able to raise enough money the farm will dissolve and if the farm folds then the farm board members will be scorned and derided in the neighborhood and city.  At its root, my anxiety stems from the pleasure that I take in receiving the approval of other people and my dread at the thought of catching their disapproval.  This reflects a lack of faith in the goodness and power of God and misplaced hope in the glory of man as opposed to the treasure of knowing Christ.

These reflections led to a resolve to adopt a continual “camping state of mind,” which I have coined to mean a state of purposeful activity without fretful anxiety over the unknown.  This term does not refer to a state of relaxation that is achieved through self-indulgence or pursuing the “easy life.”  I believe that the Lord created us for more than this.  God’s word contains many paradoxes such as whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it (Matthew 16:25) and whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant (Matthew 20:26).  We do not find lasting joy and peace by building our own personal empires, but by pouring ourselves out for God’s kingdom and for his people.  Seeing and then responding to the real problems in the world, whether it be a lack of access to healthy food, inadequate health care, child sex trafficking, or extreme poverty is the right action for a follower of Christ.

The camping state of mind also goes deeper than embracing the common mantra “Let go and let God.”  Let me preface this by saying that there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation or God’s favor.  We are saved by the gift of God’s grace not the work of our hands.  We also do not work in our own power or strength, but in God's power and strength.  Yet, in another one of the gospel’s paradoxes, we are also called to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12).  We are called to an active faith.  Paul instructed the Thessalonians to respect those who work hard among you and to follow their example as they help the weak, encourage the timid, and pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:14-17).  When faced with a throng of hungry followers, Jesus told his disciples, “You give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:16).   After initial protests, that is exactly what Christ’s disciples did with a mere five loaves of bread and a couple fish.  In fact, God's miraculous provision yielded twelve full baskets of food when they were finished.

Later, the disciples only remembered to bring one loaf of bread as their crew boarded a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee and discussed this fact among themselves after Jesus warned them to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod.  Christ’s response to their whispers cuts to the heart of my anxiety issue and clarifies what it means to maintain a camping state of mind:  “Why are you talking about having no bread?  Do you still not see or understand?  Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?  And don’t you remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” (Mark 8:17-19).

Often, I fall into talking about having no bread.  I see the challenges, I focus on the worst case scenario, and the waves begin to rise higher than they looked when I took my first enthusiastic step into the water.  The camping state of mind is not about ignoring the problems of the world nor is it about passively trusting that God will work everything out.  Instead, it is a call to roll up our sleeves and start building, knowing that God will provide the bread we need to accomplish the good works to which we have been called.  Consider the scope of his promises.  His power that works for us is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 1:20).  If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).

When we are camping we are active.  Living the camping state of mind calls us to actively live out our faith in Christ - to love, to strive, to seek, to pray, and to respond to the things that break our heart knowing that God is for us, he has called us to this work, and he will provide all that we need to do it.  When I set up our campsite, I do not fret whether the task will be a success or failure.  I am making a resolve to keep that camping state of mind so that whether I am promoting healthy food in our neighborhood, teaching Baltimore’s youth, or seeking to build God’s kingdom in this city I will not look at my single loaf of bread and worry about the outcome.  Instead, I will live with confidence that he who has promised is faithful and able to provide and that he will not let my foot slip.  Please join me in taking up the camping state of mind.  Don’t be afraid to ask me about my anxiety level and when the waves seem to be crashing in remind me that God’s bread box is never empty.  

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