Recently my oldest daughter and I took a trip to be a part of a weekend camp experience through our church for middle school students just beginning to explore their faith. She was attending as a participant for the first time, and I was coming along as a guide. Bonus for each of us, we were getting to experience this moment together.
This has actually been a part of a longer journey we’ve been on over the past few months when she aged out of her elementary age Sunday School bible classes, and into a more intentional exploration of faith. This being a new phase for her, I wanted to prepare myself for the sure to come questions so I decided to join her as a volunteer.
When I first signed up to be a transit middle school group leader I didn’t fully know what to expect (most days I still don’t). I just knew that as a father of a rising middle school daughter, I wanted walk alongside her as we both entered new phases of life. I’m not sure who’s more lost: me parenting a tween or my tween navigating these middle years (it’s a tie!). But, I pushed past my own hesitation and signed up to be a volunteer to lead a group of 6th grade boys as they enter this new phase of their lives. I joked it was also so that I could do some reconnaissance and know what they’re up to. But as it turns out, this has been just as much of an opportunity to deepen my own faith as introduce them to theirs.
As for camp, I was tentative about going. I was sacrificing other family commitments, my sabbath day of rest, and a nice comfy bed to rough it in a cabin in the woods with a bunch of middle school boys. It turned it to be the time of my life. If you would have told me that I’d be up at 7am crawling through the mud in the woods cheering on a group of middle-schoolers, I wouldn’t have believed you. But there I was, and loving every minute of it.
Sure we had our road bumps, late night battles, old basketball injuries re-aggravated by yours truly. Within 24 hours we’d learned a member of our group had been exposed to COVID and I watched our students rally around each other. Over the next few days we created our own culture as a VIP quarantine group. By the end of the weekend, all our guys agreed, this might not have been the same experience everyone else had, but it was ours and we wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Probably the best though was our last night, where several guys in my group made the decision to choose a faith of their own. I love that phrase a faith of their own, and the conversation we had that night around our candlelight. It represents their growing awareness of who God is in them, others, and the world around them. It also represents a shift for many of them, from simply accepting the world as defined to them by them, and learning to question what they’re learning.
How amazing is it to provide a space that’s totally dedicated to young people developing an awareness of the truth that life is bigger than them?! It’s bigger than what they can see, hear, touch, or taste. That there’s purpose beyond them and they’re connected to it. I’m just glad I got to be there when it happened.
Admittedly, this is different from my own exposure to faith growing up. We (my wife and I) were introduced to a very different version of faith, one more focused on heaven, hell, rules, and doctrine, than a true exploration of real life questions facing us at the moment. Time will tell how our approach works. Perhaps our girls will crave the certainty that I had growing up, before life became complex as an adult and I learned that faith is more about the questions than the answers. Or, perhaps they’ll appreciate the space and gentle guidance from our approach.
Either way, one thing that they’ll have, that we had growing up, was a modeled example of what faith means in our own lives. That’s something both Samantha and I can credit our parents with instilling in us. For us, their faith was more caught than taught, and it has impacted how we’ve chosen to live our lives and raise our own children.
As for my daughter experience at camp, she says she had fun (which is the most generative of a response you’ll get out of her these days!). While we ran into each other often throughout the weekend, I tried to maintain my distance and give her space to explore both her emerging understanding of faith and the world on her own. On her drive home she shared how she’d raised some important questions and made some good friends. But most of all, she was proud of herself for getting out of her comfort zone and going on the trip altogether. That made two of us.
It’s a rite of passage I look forward to sharing with each of my girls as they get older.