But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. Psalm 3:3
The first night of 5th-6th grade camp Melissa talked about the week before. She told them how one night, at 2nd-4th grade camp, there was a little boy who stood up in front of the group. Our theme for the week had to do with animals, and all of the kids were introducing their stuffed animals to the group. This little boy, however, did so with his hat pulled way down over his eyes.
I looked at him and said softly, “Take off your cap. We want to see your eyes.”
“I can’t,” he responded. “I get afraid. I have stage fright.”
“It’s okay,” I told him. “We’ve all felt that way before, but it’s safe here.”
Those words and that image set the tone for our 5th-6th grade camp. God is the lifter of our heads…and of our caps. We all hide, at times. In keeping with the theme of hiding, we watched The Jungle Book on the first night of camp. The animals had a safe place, too, in the movie. It was called The Peace Rock. It was a place they could all go and drink water and lift their heads together. In one scene of the movie, however, the tiger, Shere Khan, found them. He not only showed up at their safe place, but he spoke words that poked holes into the safety they felt, bringing those animals both fear and shame. The same thing can happen in our safe places. In those times, we feel afraid.
You remember 5th-6th grade. It’s so easy to feel afraid…of what others might think, that you might embarrass yourself, feel left out, that something hard might happen in your family or at school. But, as Melissa said, the opposite of fear is trust. And our trust is in the true Lifter of our head. He is the Rock of our Salvation. Some day, there will be no more tiger trying to poke holes into our safe places. Some day, we will no longer have to be afraid. Until that day, we want to encourage each other. And that’s exactly what these 5th-6th graders did over the course of their time together.
We moved from the Jungle Book and the little boy in the hat to talking about Life-Giving friends. Each night, the kids had an opportunity to give beads to each other, representing qualities of a Life-Giving Friend. Those qualities included:
Encouragement, Hebrews 10:24
Endurance, Galatians 6:9
Alertness, Mark 14:38
Compassion, 1 John 3:17
Determination, 2 Timothy 4:7-8
Enthusiasm, 1 Thessalonians 5:17-19
Courage, Deuteronomy 31:6
Gratefulness, 1 Corinthians 4:9
The next morning, we went on to talk about another animal you are most likely familiar with, Balaam’s donkey. Numbers 22 tells the story of Balaam, who didn’t want to go the way God had directed him. God sent an angel to stand in Balaam’s path. On three different occasions, the angel blocked Balaam’s path. And his wise donkey either turned aside into a ditch or eventually just laid down. Each time, Balaam beat his donkey in response, not being able to see the angel himself. Finally, the donkey had enough and said, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”.
We talked about how the most natural thing in the world, when we find ourselves in our own version of a ditch is to get angry, much like Balaam. We blame someone else, rather than learning what it means to trust. In fact, Balaam’s donkey is often referred to as “the Trusty Donkey.” God wants our attention—he’ll steer us into ditches to get it, if He has to. However, He doesn’t want our attention to punish us, but to protect us. What do you think God is trying to tell you today? What does God want you to know?
James 3:5 says “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” Mowgli in the Jungle Book set off a great fire with a small spark while trying to hide. He did not want to trust. He wanted to hide…to blame others. And when we do, we cease to be a life-giving or trusty friend. Instead, as Proverbs 18:21 in The Message says, “Words kill, Words give life: They’re either poison or fruit—you choose.” Our words can bring give life or death to others. And when we’re hiding or blaming, our words most often become poisonous.
We talked about the contrast between being a life-giving friend or the poisonous way, and how easy it is to experience certain types of that poison in 5th and 6th grade. For example,
Encouragement can turn into “I don’t wanna stand out.”
Endurance can turn into “It got too hard.”
Alertness can become “I wasn’t paying attention.”
Compassion can turn into “I don’t feel good either,” “I don’t wanna bother,” or “I’m too cool.”
Determination can become “I can’t do it.”
Enthusiasm can turn into “I’m too tired/bord/hot/hungry/sick” aka whining.
Gratefulness can turn into “I want,” “They have,” They’re MY best friend.”
Courage can turn into “I’m too scared to step up.”
Again, as grown-ups we remember what it was like. But where we ended the week with this group of kids is what Melissa said is truly the beginning of change. It’s how we stop hiding. It’s how we learn to listen to the donkeys and the trustworthy messages and messengers God puts in our paths, including life-giving friends.
“So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud ‘No!’ to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet, ‘yes!’ to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom and cry your eyes out. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.” James 4:7-10, MSG
And that’s where we ended. Not sure what our neighbors thought as kids shouted loud “NO’s” and whispered quiet “yes’s” all along the lakeside. But we though it looked a whole lot like trust—and courage—and hope for these 5th and 6th graders.