Going Back to the Real World

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I always hated the last morning of youth camp. I didn’t want camp to end. My friends and I had been fired up all week, we had a crazy time on the last night, and then it’s time to go. Everyone is tired. The glow of the week is already dimming. But there is one specific thing that I disliked the most about the last morning of camp: the last sermon, the “Now you have to go back to the real world” speech.

Going back to the real world was such a downer. I didn’t want to go back. I wanted to stay. I didn’t want to go back to the social confusion of my regular life; I wanted to stay where I had started to see how things fit together. I didn’t want to go back to where knowing the Bible was dorky; I wanted to stay in the place where knowing the Bible made me valuable. I didn’t want to go back to where the popular kids would forget that it was okay to be nice to me; I wanted to continue to see the best sides of people. But inevitably, here came the “Going Back To The Real World” sermon.

I’ve felt somewhat the same since coming back from Hutchmoot. I was encouraged, enabled, challenged, and maybe more importantly, accepted. And I’ve already seen a number of comments and at least one blog post about how we now have to “go back to the real world.” I started to feel the disappointment creeping in until I realized that God had already taught me about this in the context of camp.

At camp, we were set up for failure with the “going back to the real world” talk (whew, I’m getting tired of typing that—can we settle on GBTTRW?). What I mean is that even in the title, in the first sentence, we’re told that the magical time we’d just experienced was not real. And I think that may have been one of the most destructive lies I was told as a kid. How can time spent in communion with our Savior, distractions placed aside, chasing after him morning, noon, and night, how can that be fake? How can the week I prayed as much as the other 51 weeks of the year put together, how can that be the fraudulent week? How can the week I spent in the Word, in community, in service, be the week that is not real? This was reality. We weren’t going back to the real world. We were going back to the lie. We were going back to a world where Christ had to fit into the background, into our schedules, into our structure. We were walking out of Eden and believing that this desert was the real world. The snake was whispering in our ears that the relationship we had experienced with God was not tenable over the long haul. “This will be a great memory. Maybe I can come back next year.” And just like that, we let it go. Even as the preacher was trying to fire us up to go back and change our schools, we were hearing that the change we had experienced wasn’t real. The lives we were going back to—they were real. Or at least that’s what I heard.

But I don’t think that’s right.

Being with Jesus is reality. I’m sorry, Mr. Camp Speaker, but that means we can’t “go back to the real world.” We are either in intimate communion with Christ, which is reality, or we are leaving this place and going back to the lie. The time I spent in prayer at camp, that was real. The truths God showed me as I read his Word, those were real. I didn’t need to know how to “go back to the real world.” I needed to know how to take the reality I was in back into the busier schedule of my life. I needed to be guided through the process of letting this reality transform the life I had at home.

And now I am having to do it again.

At Hutchmoot, being creative was valued. Being different (some might even say nerdy) was accepted and even treasured. And already I am finding myself trying to figure out how I can maintain creative value “back in the real world.” But I’m starting to realize that creation itself is the real world. In Dorothy Sayers’s book The Mind of the Maker she writes about being made in the image of God. What she draws our attention to really intrigues me. She points out that when God makes the declaration, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” (Gen. 1:26a ESV), we don’t actually know much about God. He hasn’t been described. He hasn’t revealed his character. The only image we have of God when he says that we are made in his likeness is that he is a creator. He creates, makes, invokes, produces.

And we are, like him, creators.

Having kids has made that concept abundantly clear to me. I watch my daughter get dressed up because she is a tutor for her friend, the princess. I watch my son use one superpower after another. I get to listen to the stories my daughter has written, fully illustrated of course. I watch my son build spaceships out of Legos. My kids build forts out of pillows and blankets, and their favorite building tool? Empty cardboard boxes. Everything in life is fraught with creative possibility. Everything can be used to tell the stories running through their brains.

We are creative beings. We are not designed merely to maintain a way of life; we are designed to make things that are new. That concept, in and of itself, does not make me a sculptor. It doesn’t necessarily make you a poet, or a songwriter, or a carpenter. But we are designed to create. My wife doesn’t think she’s artistic, but she creates an atmosphere of community, of openness, of honesty, everywhere she goes. I’ve started to notice that she can draw just about anything. And you know, with her appreciation of great art and literature, I bet there’s another spark of creativity in there somewhere. And there is one in you too. Maybe you just haven’t tried. Or maybe you let it go because it was time to “grow up.” And yet, here you are, years later, still wishing you could do it. Well, today I’m telling you that you can. I’m not saying you’re going to be amazing the first time you try. No one is. I am saying that you can create. You are made in the Creator’s image. Creating is the real world. I’m not saying you should be writing poetry at the expense of feeding your family. But I think God’s plan is for us to do both, to somehow combine them, so that rather than living in real and false worlds, we live out God’s plan in the midst of God’s world.

I’m glad I didn’t leave Hutchmoot just to come back to a life completely separate and different. I get to bring all that I experienced back, to share it with my wife and kids, to continue to walk in it myself, and maybe even build a similar community here in Austin. I’m glad I didn’t leave youth camp to go back to a life where Bible study and prayer were abnormal or false. I’m thankful that God’s desire is to be as life-changing in this moment as when I stood in that pew as a teenager. I don’t get to live my whole life in the Garden, but I do get to garden everywhere I go.


23 Comments

  1. Evan

    Dude, Todd– thank you for this.
    It was awesome getting to know you at the Hutchmoot, and I hope you realize how much of an encouragement you were/are to me and to many others your life and your creativity have touched.
    I work at a camp in the summers, and I am going to steal this from you (still showing you wrote it) and give it to our staff. It’s an encouragement to me, especially, because the question always is “Why does life seem much more FULL there?”
    I do believe camp, Hutchmoots, church, family reunions are special times and places, but yes, you are right, THEY are the reality, glimpses of the reality of Eden, of Redeemed Existence, of Heaven, of how things should be. The world we live in is reality of “the lie” of fallen existence– but the greater Reality is present even in this lie of a reality we experience in the day to day. And we can let that great Reality show up in opening ourselves to the Creator and creating alongside Him.
    (Sorry, I like to ramble. But my ramblings are just notes of gratitude and encouragement for your thoughts. Thanks brother.)

  2. J.H. Friedrick

    Good gracious, this is such a good reminder! Thank you. It is so easy to get caught up in everyday life and busy-ness when all along Christ is calling us to be caught up in Him and let our work and creativity and love of people flow out of that. This runs in a similar vein as when Jesus said that we are to love our enemies, give our stuff to anyone who asks for it, and lead as servants. The real reality is foolishness in the eyes of the world and only when our minds are renewed will we see clearly what matters.

  3. Sir Jonathan C. Andrews

    I had already gone back to the lie. Thank you for posting this now as a jolt to my soul. I do not want the lie, on the contrary I want the fairy tale because it is the truth. I will now go back to living the true tale. Thank you Todd and thanks for playing Settlers of Cattan with us at the Moot.

  4. Alex Hagerman

    Todd,

    Thank you so much for writing this. Our youth are getting ready to head to a winter youth camp and I’m going to read this before and after the camp to get their thoughts and help them to see no matter where we are this is our Father’s world.

  5. MITCHELL

    “We were walking out of Eden and believing that this desert was the real world.”

    This is beautiful.

  6. Chris Cawthon

    Anyone who has been to camps (kids, youth, family) can so relate to your “back to the real world” story. Those who have experienced the three-day Walk to Emmaus (or Chrysalis for young people) have a name for this: it’s our 4th Day. We have lots of 4th Days. Thank you for the reminder that those walking with Jesus ARE in the real world. This earthly one is not our permanent home. Blessings to you, Todd.

  7. Jen

    Todd, this is wonderful… even better the second time around, actually. It was encouraging when I first read it on your blog, but now a month later, I find myself slipping into the lie, and it’s good to be reminded of what is real. Thank you. It’s good to see your words in the Rabbit Room!

  8. Nathaniel Miller

    Fantastic article. I work at New Life Camp full time and appreciate the illustration. I gave one of those messages at the end of a week, but applied Aslan’s quote from Voyage of the Dawn Treader – “I have allowed you to know me here for a time so that when you are there, you might know me better.” This article echoes that and I appreciate the reminder.

    I also have felt the same about we as Created in God’s image are small creators ourselves. The last line was absolutely beautiful. I am striving to create gardens of grace wherever I can by the Holy Spirit’s moving.

  9. Kevin East

    Good word, Todd.

    I’m sure I’ve told thousands of campers that thought over the years – that they are getting ready to go back into the real world.

    At least for us, the point we are trying to make is that in a camp setting we have been diligent to clear their “schedules” to help them fix their eyes on Jesus. We’ve set them in the midst of His creation, led them into His word, and surrounded them with hundreds of college students that love Jesus.

    When they get home, it will be their decision whether or not they choose to do the same.

  10. Jaclyn

    Thank you so much, Todd, for this breath of Eden air.

    As many have shared, I also have the joy of serving with youth and going on retreats. I’ve felt that rude crash– the one that happens after we plop the last sleeping bag on the curb and everyone drags their bags home. It’s been the same after Hutchmoot last year, and after concerts with dear friends.

    It seems logical and safe to think that the rush and rubble I return to is more real than the uninhibited love, grace and hope of these intense times of community. After all, the former is how the world works, right? Well, yes it does, but God never called us to be rock pushers. Like you’ve said, Todd, our Lord invites us to be gardeners:

    “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

  11. Brad Griffith

    So true about the experiences with Christ being the reality. I came to this same realization through years of leading youth camps and from my own spiritual retreats. These aren’t just memories to hold onto in the “real world,” though those memories certainly encourage and strengthen us. More so, these experiences are moments of concentrated reality which are both a taste of what we can pursue day-to-day and a foreshadow of the reality to come.

  12. Chris C

    Nice article, Todd. I loved reading it the first time a little while back and it’s nice seeing it here. Sorry for my late, straggler comment.

    There will always be people who perhaps mean well (or perhaps don’t) that will tell us what they think the “real” world is. But, we can choose to trust in our Creator and choose to believe what the real world… really is. We can choose to believe in the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. And those things are more real than any of the things that the world deems as real, but will pass away before we all know it. It’s a life a faith, which I have all too often neglected, or I’ve been affected by other’s opinions in a negative way, or I’ve gotten distracted by “shiny” things (like someone with a major ADD problem).

    Anyway, thanks very much for the write-up, Todd! Very well spoken and inspiring.

  13. dawngreen

    Like @Jen said, it was wonderful to get to read this a second time and be reminded of the beauty of bringing the Doxology into the “real world”. God bless you and your family.

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