Over the weekend our 6th-12th grade students were invited to attend a fall retreat at a near-by Lutheran Retreat Center. While at Camp Kinard, I invited our students to focus on unity, community, and visioning for the year. I pushed the youth who did attend to discern what kind of community we want to be this year (as a youth group) and to name and claim some of the things we will do over the school year. We also focused on our call to serve others and to be a united group, all the while “plugged in to God”.
We did many fun activities to promote bonding as a total student ministry and separately as middle and high school groups. Saturday, our two groups, individually, spent time on the ropes course. But, Friday night we all met together for a game of Fear Factor, some singing/dancing, and we picked a theme for our group to focus on for the year. The groups voted and decided to work with the Scripture from Matthew 4:19: Jesus said to them, "Come with me. I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you (The Message).
On the way to camp Kinard I challenged the students to a “random acts of kindness” type of scavenger hunt. The had from the time we left Zion to the time we got to Camp Kinard to complete as many random acts of kindness as they could (up to 26) … one for every letter in the alphabet. The youth had to work in teams and be as creative as possible with this task. When we got to Camp Kinard, we talked about some of the things the youth had done. Some of the accomplishments included: holding the door for someone, offering to take someone’s tray to the trashcan, let someone go ahead of me in line, smiled at someone I didn’t know, picked up trash on the ground at the restaurant where we ate dinner. I explained to the youth that implementing random acts of kindness in our daily lives could, potentially, impact unity in the world. If we start with the small things, like smiling at someone, eventually giving, being good stewards, and kindness become second nature for us.
I began to think about this as I was driving to church this morning. Most mornings, I drive a very popular stretch of I-20 in Columbia (during rush hour) to get across town to my office. There is this stretch of about 4 or 5 miles getting in to Columbia that always backs up. There is not usually a wreck or anything, it’s just a matter of everyone on the outskirts of the city needing to get in to the city. The main problem I’ve noticed recently is that people tend to tailgate the car in front of them so that traffic from Clemson Road can’t easily merge on to I-20 and the congestion is further promoted. Usually I just try to stay in the left hand lane so that I don’t have to deal with the merging.
This morning, about a mile before Clemson Road, I could see the traffic backed up. I decided to make it my mission to stay in the right hand lane and commit some random acts of kindness. My plan was to let as some cars merge on to I-20 as I made my way through the intersection. I was proud of myself for remembering my challenge to the youth to change their norm in small ways in hopes of it becoming second nature. Just then, a song I love came on the radio. If you know me, you know that I LOVE to sing in the car! So, I started jamming and before I knew it I was in the middle of the intersection where merging was happening. I realized I was speeding up quickly and then tailgating the car in front of me so that the people margining couldn’t get on to I-20. That’s always been my driving habit. I figure if I let them in, it will make me later than I already am. Selfish! I know … I don't WANT to be this way, but without focus, I am.
This morning, I lost my focus and failed at my goal. So, I’ll try again tomorrow morning. As I drove the rest of the way to my office, I thought about what had happened. I had lost my focus, gotten distracted. Isn’t it so easy to do? Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Isn’t this like life? Isn’t this like our devotion to God? Isn’t this like our giving to the church?
This morning in our stewardship Bible study, our group focused on Scripture from Matthew 6:21: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We talked about the ability to make your heart feel something it won’t. We discerned that this is possible; but it requires a change of attitude, flat out pretending, or changes from within.
A perfect example - over the weekend, I was walking in downtown Columbia at dusk. As I passed by a homeless man in a wheel-chair, I smiled and said hello. The person behind me offered the drink in his hand to the homeless man. Honestly, it didn’t even dawn on me to offer the one I had in mine. I want to be more like the person behind me who didn’t just pass by someone in need but offered something simply.
The bottom line is that in life we have to decide what kind of person we want to be and then give our time, talents, treasures, attitudes, minds, everything we are and everything we have to it. It’s not simple; it’s certainly not one of those black and white areas of life. But, how differently unified the world would be if more people offered the “drink in their hands” or if more people taught their children to do the same.