Parc des Laurentides, Gros Morne National Park, Bon Echo Park, Sydenham Summer Camp, Lac Philippe, Fitzroy Harbour, Algonquin Park, Frontenac Park, Presqu’ile Provincial Park, Cabot Beach, Prince Edward Island National Park – over the years Marion and I have camped in a lot of different places. We started before we had children, and went camping at least once each summer for most of the years that we had a young family. We never established a fixed tradition of going to the same campground year after year, as some families do – our lives were too unpredictable for that – but we do have many good memories of camping together.
To be completely honest, we weren’t always happy campers. Our camping trips – wonderful as they were – were not all sweetness and light. Like most families, we had our times of stress and conflict. In addition to the normal family dynamics, my dear wife – who did not grow up in a camping family – found some of the physical aspects of camping with our children quite challenging. On a couple of occasions, much to her relief, I went canoe tripping with my boys and some other fathers and sons from our church, leaving the girls at home. Still, trouper that she is, she rose to the occasion time and again, and looking back she remembers our family camping trips as very special times in the life of our family – as do I.
Recently, however, camping trips have become less frequent. For a variety of reasons, Marion and I have not been camping for several years. One factor that has dampened our enthusiasm is that we both find sleeping on the ground less and less appealing. Marion in particular finds that her bones no longer appreciate being laid to rest in a tent, even with the benefit of an air mattress. As I have contemplated this fact, I have been faced with three possible options.
Option one would be to convince my beloved wife to suck it up, ignore her aches and pains, and continue camping in the way that we had always done. Had I attempted to convince her of this, I almost certainly would have been unsuccessful. Even if I could have convinced her to go tent camping with me again against her better judgment, we both would have been miserable. Genius that I am, it didn’t take me long to realize that this option was a non-starter.
Option two would be to quit camping altogether. We almost went that route by default, but then we began to realize that we would miss camping, and that if we stopped altogether, we’d be robbing ourselves of some wonderful opportunities to spend time with our children and grandchildren, to explore the beautiful land in which God has placed us, and to follow the cloud of His glory where He leads us.
This left us with option three – finding ways of making camping something Marion could look forward to again. And so, after our last camping trip in 2004, I asked Marion what she thought about the idea of getting a small camping trailer. (Although this may sound very noble of me, in truth I wasn’t thinking only of her. I do care about Marion’s well-being of course, but I also care about my own. Whoever said “a happy wife is a happy life” was a wise man.) In the last couple of years, changing circumstances have opened up new possibilities, and Marion and I are now on the cusp of what feels to us like a major life decision. We are about to order a camping trailer, for delivery next spring. We are doing this because we want to continue building memories with our children and grandchildren.
As Marion and I have talked with each of our children over the past few weeks about summer holiday options, I have found their comments quite perceptive, and I have realized again the power of family memories. Looking back on shared experiences provides us with a sense of identity and belonging. Adventures, times of crisis and near-disasters have a special power to unite us. They give us stories to tell, reasons to laugh together, and opportunities to see the faithfulness of God. As one of my friends puts it, today’s crises are tomorrow’s jokes.
But while shared memories are a crucial ingredient in the glue that holds a family together, what I most want to impart to my children is shared vision. Not that I expect any of them to walk out my specific life vision or live their lives exactly as I have lived mine. We are differently gifted and differently called – so Marion and I expect to see a wonderful diversity in the specific life visions of each of our children, and each of their life partners and their children. But I want to be one of those who lives his life looking forward, not looking back. I want to be like Abraham, who went out to a new land, not knowing where he was going, because his sights were set on the city whose architect and builder is God – and I want to pass on this approach to life to my children, their life partners and their children. This is the shared vision of which I speak – a vision of the glory of the God who continues to call us to look forward, not back, waiting expectantly for the promised restoration of all things as His glory fills the new heaven and earth.
I once heard Graham Cooke say that God is not a happy camper. He wasn’t saying that God is miserable! He was saying that God is not content to simply pitch his tent in the place where we last experienced His presence. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was not and is not a God who can be captured in memories of past encounters, repeated over and over again. He is not content to revisit the same experiences, repeat the same lessons, and go back over the same ground with the same people year after year. He is a God who leads us forward. Although we look back with gratitude and awe on His past works, He is a God of the living, not of the dead – a God of the future, not of the past. His ways are as fresh, new and unpredictable as His goodness is consistent and His love is reliable.
I can only speak for myself, but for me camping is not about repeating the same memories over and over again. Little children love security and routine, but young men crave adventure. Although God loves children, He also calls us to grow up. And so, for me camping is not just about childhood memories – valuable as they are – but about staying fresh and flexible and open to new adventures with God. I don’t want to live a stationary, predictable life. Repeating the same experiences year after year may bring a kind of security, but it’s also boring and unworthy of the glory of God who always leads us forward. I want to keep following the cloud of God’s glory; I want to keep breaking fresh ground. My eyes are fixed on what lies ahead. Where I have been is important, but where I am going is far more important. Every day is a new opportunity to seek God’s glory. And that, to me, is what it means to be a happy camper.