Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Best Week of Your Life

(The Gospel of Not Good Enough, Part 2)

One of the most significant times I experienced the joy and freedom of surrender was when I was about 15 years old.

I was part of a youth ministry called Young Life. Each summer Young Life sent hundreds of high-school kids to a camp way up North in British Columbia. You couldn’t drive there because there were no roads. You had to take a bus, a ferry, and then a smaller boat up to the Princess Louisa Inlet. It took about eight hours to get there.

The actual details of camp activities were a closely guarded secret. Sound cultish? Yeah, maybe, but they were aiming for more of a surprise party.

Me, I was expecting something rustic. Camp, right? Perhaps, though, since it was called “The Malibu Club in Canada,” I could have gotten the hint that this would be nothing like my Girl Scout experiences.

“The best week of your life – guaranteed!” read the advertisements. In a strange way, it was.

Turned out the camp was not really rustic at all. It was basically a cushy resort. Instead of canoes and campfires, there was a heated pool and an ice cream shop.

Girls brought their bikinis and cute clothes, hair driers and curling irons and makeup. Malibu offered a ropes course and zip line, swimming and water-skiing and ping pong and volleyball. One night there was a dance; another night, a dress-up banquet. And everywhere primping, playing, and lots and lots of flirting.

Here I was, serious, shy, and awkward, the girl whose least-favorite parts of school were PE, lunch, and recess. I didn’t know anybody there. You can imagine how out of place I felt. At that age, especially, I found few things more painful than “fun.”I haven't changed all that much! But in those days, I believed if I wasn’t having a good time when others were, it probably meant there was something seriously wrong with me.

I was disgusted with myself for not being able to overcome my deep discomfort to reach out to other people and be “friendly.” It was, after all, a Christian camp, and here I was, a Christian. Each evening included singing, and Bible teaching, and small-group discussions with cabin-mates about having a relationship with God. Moreover, I was the only "believer" in my cabin. (Young Life specializes in winning over the non-churchy kids.) Surely I should be able to suck it up and reach out to these girls. But I couldn't get my eyes off myself.

Scores of kids gave their hearts to God that week. But for me, the story was different. Somehow I survived the week and even managed to have a little fun along the way, but it was pretty rough.

And you know, that's just what I needed.

On the long trip back home I prayed and told the Lord: “I can’t do this anymore. I'm so sorry! I’ve been a Christian for a couple years now but I am not any better than I was pushing back my shyness to minister to others, at putting other people first. I'm of no use to you. I’m not good enough. Apparently I can’t ‘do’ this Christian-life.”

Then God responded. Really. He said, in that clear, gentle, re-orienting way that he has, “But I can.”

I don't think I understood, before, that that might be an option!

He cracked me open enough to pour in his peace and joy. I found that my desperation was not the end, but the beginning. The Christian life wasn't about trying to be a better person, a good Christian. Grace and acceptance were on offer, and that's what I needed.

Surrender has a way of turning everything upside down. It didn't change my attitude toward stereotypical youth group "fun," but for months, I could not stop singing.
"The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:17
See also:

The prequel: Asking for Direction(s)
Part 1: Waving the White Flag of Surrender
Part 2: Best Week of Your Life
Part 3: Pretty, Popular, Good


Paul Merrill said...

Great story, Marti!

Shane said...

I concur with Paul. That's some of the best reflective prose I've read in a while. I think it might be the seed of a Marti memoir!

Marti said...

Aw, thanks guys. It's not a story I often tell. Never was one of those kids who could (a) fit in, or (b) embrace being different. Yet the best stuff in life is often borne from pain, isn't it? That summer was a true turning point in my life.