A few weeks back, three of us dads had planned a camping trip for our six children. Our respective spouses were all out of town, and we were looking for something to do with the kids – none of whom had ever spent a night in a tent in the woods and half of whom were under two years of age.
It had been several years since I had been camping in anything other than a backyard, and I spent the better part of a morning blowing dust off of our sleeping bags.
We three dads exchanged lists of what we would be responsible for bringing. We decided we’d each bring the food that we knew our kids would eat, rather than concoct prepared meals or potluck style dinners.
That’s fine, I thought. Easier. I went to Costco and procured bags of instant oatmeal and lentils. Just add hot water to one; just add heat to the other – if at all. Easily transported; easily made. My wife raised an eyebrow and wondered aloud if I’d lost my mind.
But there were enough other things to worry about: Did the tent still have all of its pieces? How would the girls react to the cold, hard ground? Would they be scared of the sounds of wind and leaves and animals? How about the lack of bathrooms? Would the littlest try to wander off in the middle of the night? If I could cut some corners on the food, then I’d save myself the trouble.
Plus, we did have s’mores stuff, after all. That had to count for something.
In the end, the trip was cancelled. Too many of us came down with one thing or another. But we did end up camping – kids, spouses and several more friends – just a few weekends ago. We found our way into the woods, found that our tents still worked and our kids liked the outdoors and we could manage without trouble using an outhouse.
And fortunately for everyone, I wasn’t in charge of the menu.
Because my friends brought a feast. There was no time for bagged lentils; we had a vat of chili with a picnic table full of condiments and add-ons and hot sauces. My sad bags of instant oatmeal paled in comparison to the pancakes and the sausages and the coffee and fruit.
That feast – that hospitality and fellowship and communion – was worth the trouble, even if it meant a few more trips to the car, a few more coolers full of goodies.
Am I embarrassed? Sure, a little. But mostly I wonder at my inability to imagine the potential for this campground feast. To me, you got oatmeal and lentils and that was that. Some inner voice said to me: You’re lucky you ate at all; we are in the woods, you know. I couldn’t imagine what was possible.
I wonder if too many of us go to God this way. We assume we’re worth no more than a bag of oatmeal and some cold lentils when God actually wants us to feast on two varieties of chili – and go ahead, add the avocado! – and three types of desserts and a breakfast that would rival any local diner. God delights in us, desires to rain down gifts on us, and yet we are unable to see because our imagination isn’t big enough.
Perhaps we willfully ignore that feast, sitting in the corner begrudgingly spooning soggy oatmeal in our mouths. We know our God wants to welcome us to the table, but we self-reject; we sit out because, for whatever reason, we believe that’s what we deserve.
We go through our list of potential problems, obstacles, the many anxieties and worries that weigh us down. There’s no time for a feast, we say. I have to make sure the kids know how to pee in the woods.
And yet, God is there, delighting in us, reminding us that there is time – even in the hardship and challenge and anxiety of everyday living – there is time to remember that we are beloved of God. That we are worthy of the feast, just as we are.
God is greater than we are, than we can imagine. Let’s not put limits on our good God. Let’s allow ourselves to be surprised by the love with which God desires to shower us.
Let’s not be surprised if God shows up in a feast in the woods among friends. Because to God, we are always worth the trouble.
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Eric Clayton is the author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian. Follow Eric’s writing at ericclaytonwrites.com.