I’m not a parent, I’ve never been one. But leading camp is, as far as I can tell, a reasonably close approximation. At least that’s what I tell myself as a single guy.
Especially a week long camp. With 14 kids to keep track of, all of them seemingly able to disappear at any moment like they have a death wish to meet a bear in the woods, I spent a lot of time doing stuff for their benefit and not mine. Tracking down their meds at breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime. Tracking all 14 down and noticing when 1 or 2 (or 4) go missing at events. (it’s like herding cats) Listening to all them pour out their hearts about what is happening with their girlfriends, their parents, their school, their whatevers. Sometimes it’s big stuff like how their parents became abusive and now they get carted around from house to house. Sometimes it’s little stuff like they don’t like that I set bedtime at 11. Mediating disagreements left, right and center. Pulling kids off of each other when two have one pinned to the bed and are beating him, (yeah, that really happened) then trying to convince the big guy not to hold a grudge because the little guy on the bottom didn’t like being beaten up on and fought back.
Literally my entire week was spent focused on other people. I didn’t spend any time worrying about my house, my bills at home, work, or anybody older than about 13 and immediately surrounding me. It felt like I spent almost all day entirely focused on other people.
And you know what? It. Was. Awesome.
It’s not at all sustainable. I could do it for maybe one or two extra days–but then I’m tapped out. I couldn’t do it all the time. But being so laser focused on helping somebody that’s not me, that was awesome.
Here’s the greatest paradox I think I’ve ever personally experienced: I am most content when I am least focused on my own contentment.
It’s the times that I single-mindedly serve others that I’m happiest.
Not the times when I focus on my own happiness.
Isn’t that weird? Yet it happens to me over and over again. When I gratify my every whim and desire – that leads to misery.
But when I do the hard thing and serve other people? At my own expense, even. I’ve never been happier. Ever.
Of course, why should we be surprised? That’s exactly what Jesus promised: “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” (Matthew 16:25) I don’t think I ever understood let alone appreciated it until last week. If you spend your whole life making your life all about your life, Jesus says you will lose it. You wanted happiness? You pursued gratification at all costs? You will lose it. You spend your whole life pursuing serving others? Then you will gain it.
Are you surprised by that? Find that counterintuitive? Yeah. Me too.
It doesn’t make sense. And I’m not going to sit down and write down a list of reasons it works. I don’t know why it works. All I know is that it does.
And at this point, that’s enough for me. I just go back to the reminder I have written on my bathroom mirror:
My life needs to be less about *my life.*