by Tyler Lehmann
Nothing puts your patience to the test like camp counseling. In fact, I’m thoroughly convinced some campers make it their goal to drive their counselor insane by the end of the week.
The camper of mine who nearly achieved this was an 11-year-old force of nature named Marquis. After two days of pleading with him to join camp activities, corralling him during mealtime, and squelching the overall anarchy he incited in my cabin, I wanted nothing more than to ship that kid off to Timbuktu.
Marquis’ specialty was naptime. During his week at camp, naptime on any given day was enough to induce posttraumatic stress disorder. You see, Marquis had this talent for turning a typically relaxing hour of napping into a living hell. When naptime arrived each afternoon, a death knell tolled inside my head—I knew what was waiting in my cabin.
“You’re not my mom! You can’t tell me what to do!” Marquis would scream while I tried to coax him into his bed. When I did get him to lie down, I’d turn my back for a second, and he’d be back on the floor, digging his underwear out of his suitcase and launching them furiously into the air. Of course, all of this was utterly hilarious to my nine other campers.
“Just remember, Tyler—Jesus loves him, Jesus loves him, Jesus loves him,” I would repeat to myself. That became my mantra over that week whenever I started thinking about fleeing camp as a refugee.
All kidding aside, even though Marquis made my blood boil, he gave me one of my best weeks at camp. It was only because of Marquis that a Bible story we had been studying all summer long finally became real for me.
In Luke 15:11-31, Jesus tells The Parable of the Lost Son. It’s the story of a son who leaves home and squanders his father’s wealth. When the son returns home, his father welcomes him with a feast, even though he doesn’t deserve it.
One of the lessons taught by this parable is that love isn’t to be earned, it’s to be given freely. In the same way that the father loved the son despite his actions, I needed to love Marquis despite his.
That meant I had to change how I saw Marquis. I remembered something our camp director told us during training week: “There are no problem campers, only campers with problems.” The point of this motto was to teach us to define our campers not by the grief they cause us, but by the love God has for them.
So even though Marquis’ behavior didn’t change the rest of that week, the way I saw him did. He still kept me up half the night with his flashlight. He still refused to help clean up the cabin. He still disappeared conveniently just before chapel every morning. In every way possible, he was still inching me to my wits’ end. But what kept me from going over the edge was the love for him I found in God.
The kind of love that comes from God can’t be expressed halfheartedly, though. It’s a full-time commitment. Here’s what 1 Corinthians says about love:
“It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
1 Corinthians 13:7
Love isn’t only for when we’re happy, and it isn’t just for people we like. Love is also for the times when you and I are frustrated, and it’s even for people who drive us nuts, Marquis included.