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TEEN TALK

OUTWARD BOUND

From the December 2005 issue of The Christian Science Journal


I GUESS YOU COULD SAY the job started out being about me. I was a counselor-in-training at a summer camp for Christian Scientists—really psyched to be there. More than anything, I wanted my stint at camp to include tons of healings, tons of progress. Not the worst things in the world to want! But after a couple weeks at camp, I got a little discouraged. I felt like I wasn't going anywhere.

Being a counselor-in-training really forces you to get outside yourself. When I was a camper, I was always looking out for myself—making sure I was having the most fun I could possibly be having. But when you're the one in charge, everything's different. You know from the start that you're there to take care of others. Everything you do is about making sure that your campers are having fun and progressing and feeling good about the camp experience.

That's definitely what I was there to do—both in tangible ways, and in ways that maybe weren't so obvious, like praying about problems that came up, making sure I was thinking productively about my campers and other staff members. But I definitely wouldn't have minded if a little growth was going on in my life, too.

Then one day I realized that if you're focusing on yourself, always wondering whether or not you're growing, fixating on making progress, then you're not really going to grow, because your focus is in the wrong place. But focusing on God and on expressing Him—that makes a huge difference. It keeps you looking outward, and then you can't help but grow.

When my perspective shifted. I stopped worrying about the progress I was making and started being all about love and giving instead. Not a strings-attached kind of giving, which was sort of where I was at first. You know: How many campers can I have meaningful interactions with so their lives can be better and I can think of myself as a better person? But the place I got to with giving was just being a transparency for God. Loving because He's Love, and so as His expression, I must naturally radiate love in all that I do.

That, to me, is what being a good giver is all about. First, knowing the source—God—of whatever goodness it is you're sharing. But also realizing that it's not just what you're giving that comes from God, but that even the impulse to be unselfish and helpful and loving springs from Him. Everything starts with God and, ultimately, takes you back to Him.

As my thoughts turned outward, not only did I find that the giving became easier, but I also discovered that I was finding more ways to give. That's because I think I was listening to God a lot more—just constantly listening for direction and asking Him what steps I could take, where and how I could love. The interesting thing about this kind of listening and following through is that you may not see the results of your giving after two seconds. But you feel the effects within you—it kind of broadens your ability to love even more, and it keeps the impulse to give lit up inside you.

I found this a lot with my campers. Sometimes I felt like the love I showed them sort of had to be tough love. We were working with horses, and I definitely had to give them some commands about what to do. I was doing my best to listen and to always make sure my instructions were motivated by love—for the kids and for the animals—even if they came across as authoritative sometimes. And that wasn't always easy—for me, or for the kids. There were definitely moments when I struggled with self-doubt, wondering if I'd handled a situation the right way or if a camper didn't like me because of my approach.

For instance, right at the end of camp, one of my campers started having a lot of trouble with her horse. She'd almost been thrown and wasn't recovering from that very well. I just saw that she needed to—and could—snap out of the way she was feeling. So we had a talk about valuing the qualities the horse expresses rather than seeing the horse as a dangerous animal. And I also encouraged her to recognize her own good qualities—the courage and persistence that come from God and that would allow her to get back up on the horse.

I saw how listening for all the ways you can use your life to give and to love really can make a difference in someone else's life.

I couldn't really tell how our talk had gone over with her. It was definitely more of a tough love moment. But at our debriefing on the last day, she expressed a lot of gratitude for what had happened and said that it had inspired her. She had felt loved after all.

I saw that day how listening for all the ways you can use your life to give and to love really can make a difference in someone else's life. But I think what's meant the most to me about what I learned last summer is all the ways I've changed—grown—and how I've been able to take that into the "real world." The giving and the loving weren't confined to the special place that is camp.

It's cool to see how I'm looking at things differently now. I feel like I'm so much more willing to do volunteer work because I'm not so focused on myself. Last year I'd help out here and there, but there were always the questions: Well, how's this going to fit into my schedule? And: What about me and what I want to do?

Camp totally changed me. I have this desire to contribute now. It's so natural. Even effortless. And I love it—love to give and love, that is. In fact, I guess you could even call that my new motto: Give, and love giving. Some people might say: That's all you got out of your summer? But since love and unselfishness are really the heart of healing, I'd say: That's more growth than I could have ever asked for.

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