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Finding joy in cutlery buckets and grungy mop water

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finding-joy“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering” (Romans 12:1, The Message).

A few summers ago at Camp Evergreen, among our many volunteers, three 15-year-old boys served together, as support staff, for a week and a half.

They didn’t really know what they were getting themselves into when they arrived on Wednesday morning. Support staff wash dishes, clean bathrooms and bootrooms and hallways, spread mulch, decorate for theme meals, and participate in chapel; they generally have a lot of fun.

For their first five days, Boy 1 and Boy 2 kept everyone around them entertained by working unbelievably slowly and whining endlessly. Daily, they had new ways to express their distaste for sweeping the bootroom and their disgust as they dug into buckets of dirty cutlery in the dishpit. They would smile ruefully as they came up with excuses for why they weren’t yet in the outdoor washrooms with the rest of their team, who were cleaning hard.

Boy 1 and Boy 2 weren’t unhappy – but washing, cleaning, and decorating clearly was not their first choice for summer vacation. However, as the week and a half went on, something happened: the complaining decreased; Boy 1 and Boy 2 worked harder and more promptly.

The Thursday before they were to head home, I started to worry: every time I saw them, they looked so sad, like something truly awful had happened. Was someone bullying them? Was their supervisor being too hard on them? Had they fought?

“Are you guys okay?” I asked them. “Is something going on?”

Boy 1 and Boy 2 looked at the floor and shook their heads, while Boy 3 (who had worked willingly and competently right from the start) looked on with disgust. “They just don’t want to go home.”

The sad faces and good work continued through to the weekend, and I laughed every time I saw them moping their way through dishes – now, because they were having fun and wanted to stay to do more washing up, not because they wanted to avoid it.

I often think about Paul’s words in Romans 12, telling us to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” I love how The Message puts it: offering our “sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life.”

These 15-year-old boys reminded me again that when we think of offering up our lives as an inconvenience or something we have to do, it’s hard not to feel put out. But when we give our lives willingly, finding joy in cutlery buckets and grungy mop water – or emails, meetings, and budgets – becomes more than a possibility.

–Kerry Precht is executive director of Camp Evergreen, Sundre, Alta. This reflection first appeared in the Alberta E-Connection newsletter.

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