The theme of the summer of 2013 was “Praise His Name,” drawing on one of the predominant themes of the Psalms. I was the greenhorn Hoche group leader, and in addition to the challenges presented by my position, there were challenges presented by the theme as well. On top of having an entire book as a theme, it became very clear very quickly that Group Bible was not the only time the staff was going to have to teach about it. The campers were looking at us to illustrate what it looks like to praise God on the ball fields, in the mess hall, during group activity, in the pool, and in whatever was happening during Crafts.
Looking back, I can see that although this might have been the first time as a staff member that I fully recognized the impact the “non-spiritual” times had, showing Christ in those times has always been the mission of Camp. I couldn’t tell you more than maybe 2 or 3 cabin bibles and group bibles I remember from my entire camping career. I can talk your ear off about memories I have as a camper of the many incredible times I had. I can tell you plenty of examples of staff members’ individual impacts on my life and my walk with God. The impact of the “fun” moments is exactly the kind of thing Camp Deer Run has always been so great about teaching.
The fact of life outside of Camp is exactly that, Camp Deer Run doesn’t happen outside of its gates. For better or worse, we as a staff got a week or two at most to teach that the same God we praise inside the gate is the same God we praise outside of the gate. Little did I know that I would learn that lesson the hard way that summer.
While I was preparing for my lessons that summer, I learned that the word “praise” and “thanksgiving” are very closely related. In many instances, they can be translated as either or. This made my interpretation of Psalm 42 so much more impactful. Psalm 42:5 says, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalms 42 is a psalm all about struggle, about feeling downcast, forgotten and out of the sight of God. Yet we see this verse showing us that despite how we are feeling, God is worthy of being praised, of being thanked, no matter what.
So, whenever I found myself heading home a session early that summer, my thoughts and spirit weren’t thankful. They were downcast, confused, and angry. I remember stopping in the McDonald’s parking lot in Winnsboro so that I could cry it out. Through the tears, I was reminded of something that I had preached all summer from Jeremiah 12:5 where God is answering Jeremiah’s complaint, “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in the safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?”
I had stumbled in the safe country. But one of the many beautiful things about God is that He is the same inside and out of Camp. If Camp was a training ground for campers and staff alike, then getting sent home could be used to train and instruct as well. So, as I watched 6th session happen from miles away, I learned to praise God even when I wasn’t feeling like it. Because praise doesn’t just happen in the good times. God deserves to be praised all the time.
The summer of 2013 taught me more than I could have hoped for. Diving into something as seemingly commonplace as “praise” that summer led me to realize that the way we approach praise is generally insufficient. We tend to tie praise so closely to Sunday mornings and Wednesday night worship, which it is, but it’s also so much more. In actuality, that is only a small part of praise. Overall, praise has little to do with those times. Praise is about the “fun” times, the “non-church” ones. Praise is all about how we display thankfulness when we live our lives in the day-to-day grind. Praise is about loving the people we have around us. Praise is about building divine community with deep roots in God’s Word. Praise goes so far beyond our weekly church services that our lives have to encompass it. That’s what I learned that summer.
Looking back, I can see that while the true meaning of praise is clear to me now, it’s what has always been at the heart of Camp Deer Run.