My new campers would be arriving in just a few hours, so I made my way across a big field towards my cabin to clean when I saw another counselor, Silas, wrestling with what looked like a camper (he was with a group of kids that had arrived earlier in the week). I thought they were just playing around until I got closer and Silas waved me over looking pretty serious. Apparently the camper was giving him some trouble…lots of trouble. Both Silas and the 14-year-old kid were scratched up a bit; the boy was injuring himself and Silas.
Silas asked me to stay with the camper while he went to find our supervisors. So I sat down next to this kid who by now had given up the wrestling match and was just crying on the ground (thank goodness…about the not wrestling part). I tried making small talk but the boy wouldn’t even give me his name. I watched him cry into his own arms and noticed he was pretty dirty: dirt under his finger and toenails and scratches and scabs on his body and face. He had cuts on his wrists as well.
After about ten minutes he began talking through his tears about all sorts of things. His name was Matt. He said he was so angry and sick of being himself. He was tired of feeling the way he did and tired of God ignoring his prayers for help. He said the only way he could think of to get rid of all his feelings was to simply not exist anymore.
My heart dropped and broke and cried and did about ten other things. I started praying like crazy for God to give me something to say. Eventually Silas came back; I walked them to their cabin before going to my own to clean. I kept praying while I swept the place out, asking God to do something, to change the way this kid was feeling. I got a little angry. “Let me get this straight, God, so you say that you love people, but you’re just not willing to do anything about it? Really?”
At this point I really believe the Holy Spirit guided my heart, saying, “What if you gave him your ring?” Hooooollllddddd on just a minute. I had gotten the ring earlier that summer in Israel and had worn it every day since. It says in Hebrew, I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine. It was without a doubt my most precious possession; something I planned on passing on to my son someday as a sacred heirloom of sorts (you know, like Lord of the Rings or something). I was not giving it away to some kid I hardly knew. As I continued sweeping out my cabin I had quite a nice wrestling match with the Holy Spirit. It went something like this:
Me: My ring is a symbol of my commitment to You, God. You wouldn’t want me to give that away, would you?
God: If you keep it against my leading it will instead be, in your eyes, a symbol of your lack of commitment to Me.
Me: But what if I give Matt the ring and he doesn’t understand how much it means to me? He probably won’t care about it half as much as I do and it will be a waste.
God: Yeah, I know what you mean. My Son meant everything to Me, and people still don’t get the half of it. Yet I still gave Him to you.
Me: Touché. But God, seriously…
God: So let me get this straight, you’re saying that you love people, but you’re just not willing to do anything about it?
That last bit sounded vaguely familiar…Finally, I thought about Matt’s wounded wrists and understood that though my gift might not mean anything to him, I had to try. I walked through the woods from my cabin to the one in which Matt was staying. Knocking on the door I said, “Hey Matt, can I talk to you for a minute?” He joined my on the porch probably thinking he was in trouble or something.
I told Matt that I’d been thinking about what he said and how he feels like God doesn’t care about him. I showed him my ring, telling him that I’d gotten it in Israel as a reminder of how much God loves me. I said, “This ring is my most precious possession. And you wanna know something cool? The most precious thing to God was His Son, Jesus, but He still gave Him for you so that you would know for sure that He loves you and He’s with you.” I took the ring off my finger and said, “So I want to give this to you. To remind you that God is with you and He loves you.”
I know, not the most eloquent sermon in the world, but it didn’t seem to matter. Matt froze while his eyes got huge in disbelief. He said, “Wait, are you serious?” I nodded, and without another word he wrapped his arms around me (this was the first of five huge hugs he gave me in just a few minutes). He was inexpressibly happy and grateful. He put it on right away and it fit perfectly. His eyes filled with tears as I did my best to keep mine in. “I didn’t tell you this earlier,” Matt said, “But tomorrow is my birthday.”
“Well this is God’s birthday present to you, then,” I said.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said, smiling. We talked for a few minutes before I walked back to my cabin, thanking God for the cool opportunity.
I kid you not, one year later I was back working at this same camp when a taller, more-alive Matt walked up to me still wearing the same ring I’d given him a year earlier. We sat down by the soccer field while he told me all about how much better his past year had been. “Last year,” said Matt, “Before you gave me your ring, I was planning on, you know, ending things when I got home from camp. But this birthday present from God changed my mind.”
Wow. I was speechless. Was this young man’s life worth losing a ring over? Definitely.
So what is the second gift I have for you, son? Nothing. I’m afraid I gave your ring away. On the other hand, I may have gained something even more valuable to pass on. You see I learned that loving people, the way Jesus loved us, almost always costs something. Being dangerous means loving anyway. You might lose time, you might lose money, heck, you might even lose your most valuable possession, but guess what, son? It’s worth it. The value of loving others is immeasurable, incalculable, and life changing. I’m embarrassed and a little ashamed when I think back to how hesitant I had been to give away a thing, and for a person who really needed it. But you’ll soon learn how easy it is to get your priorities mixed up when muddled with the business of everyday life. The gift I want to give you is the reminder that loving people comes first, and that no matter how much you love, no matter how much you give away, it will ever only be a faint echo of the great love Jesus gave to us. Remember that and you will be dangerous.