This summer, I have learned a lot about how to hold contrasting feelings: joy and sadness, excitement and anxiety, even fear and courage. Before the pandemic, I never thought about how many different feelings I could hold at the same time. However, it seems like with each season, new dualities emerge. Perhaps you feel it, too: the excitement of gathering with people, but also the nervousness of being in a crowd; the hope of a new season, but also the fear that comes with change; or even feeling the joy of celebration and the grief of loss simultaneously. It’s hard and strange and we’re all learning how to navigate these feelings together.
A few weeks ago, I made a visit to our local summer camp. Spending time at camp is one of my favorite things to do, especially during the summer. Camp is my happy place. Getting to sing and pray and connect with our congregation’s children and youth as they experience the love of God in the outdoors brings me much joy. I entered this time hoping to feel joy that, after a summer filled with unexpected loss, my spirit needed to feel.
There was a lot of joy in that day. There were songs and skits and snow cones during visits to the canteen. I watched a group of middle schoolers make forts out of random things they found in the woods. There was celebration when we had pancakes for breakfast, and the building (or rekindling) of friendships brought laughter to cabin groups. However, there were also tears—mostly tears that came from missing home.
One moment that I still think about after this visit to camp is a conversation that I had with one of our campers during swim time. While sitting on the pool deck, this camper and I talked about how much they missed home. We talked about the sadness of missing mom and dad, but we also talked about the fun of making friendship bracelets and the excitement of coming back to camp next year (even though it was only Monday of this year’s camp week.) There were tears and smiles on the same face simultaneously.
Even while talking about hard things, we laughed about funny cabin stories and were grateful for a place where we were experiencing the love of God and of other people. Throughout my years in camping ministry, I’ve processed homesickness with many campers, but never in this way—feeling both happy and sad about being away from home at the exact same time.
I received a few reminders from our conversation. First, I was reminded that it is possible to hold joy and sadness together. We can be happy about the good things, sad about the losses, and feeling all of this at the same time is okay. Second, I was reminded of just how it important it is for us to talk about all the feelings that we have in our head. A ten-year-old modeled this so beautifully, and I pray that I can model their bravery and share feelings so openly and vulnerably with others. Finally, I was reminded of just how important relational ministry is to the faith formation of young people. I’ve always been aware of this one, but experiences like these remind me just how important it is to be present and listen to someone else’s story. It’s holy and beautiful work, and one way we’ll navigate feeling the duality of feelings together.
We are in a time of year that is full of transition, and with change comes a lot of feelings. Perhaps you’re celebrating back-to-school while also holding the anxiousness of sending a child into the world every day. Maybe you are excited about planning a new program year, but also nervous about launching a new class or youth group activity or worship experience. No matter what feelings emerge, I pray that we all have the bravery to sit in the duality of our feelings and the courage to love one another, even amid them.