'Shepherd, show me how to go...'
This past summer, I had the awesome opportunity to be a camp counselor at a summer camp for Christian Scientists in Colorado. For the entire beginning of the summer I had been working with the youngest kids, seven- to nine-year-olds, but for the very last session I began working with 12- and 13-year-olds. During this time, I had some tough things to deal with. I learned that a close friend and mentor of mine had passed away, and I was also going through some personal relationship problems and other things. There was a heavy sense of burden, and soon I also began to have a back problem.
The new program I was in included a three-day hiking trip up a mountain that I was worried about because the last “14er” (14,000 ft. mountain peak) trip I had been on hadn’t gone so smoothly. I tried to deal with my anxiety prayerfully, but never addressed it head-on. My attitude was more like: “I have way too much to deal with to have time to pray about this, so I’ll just ignore the discomfort and do my best to pretend it’s not there.” Also, I tried to solve things by trying to get friends to “crack” and massage my back. Nothing worked.
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Finally the first day of the three-day trip rolled around. I carried my backpack with all its stuff the 100 meters to our trip prep area. Just doing that caused a lot of pain. I did tell the senior staff that I was having some back trouble. Of course they would have let me stay back if I needed to, but I downplayed the issue and said that I would be OK.
But now, all I could think of was: How am I going to hike eight miles with this pack today while setting a positive example for my campers? I was super-stressed and panicking, so I decided to step away for a bit and called my mom. I told her what was going on and remember exclaiming, “I need to have a healing now!” She shared some helpful words of encouragement and said that she would be praying. She also called a Christian Science practitioner after I got off the phone with her.
Soon, I headed to my campers. It felt right to go on this trip because I knew that God would not punish me for expressing Him and helping these campers. The entire eight miles up to our campsite I was constantly guarding my thought—making sure that I kept it focused on what was helpful and true. I prayed a lot with words from Mary Baker Eddy’s poem “Feed My Sheep,” set to music in the Christian Science Hymnal (No. 306). The first verse was especially helpful to me, it goes:
Shepherd, show me how to go
O’er the hillside steep,
How to gather, how to sow,—
How to feed Thy sheep;
I will listen for Thy voice,
Lest my footsteps stray;
I will follow and rejoice
All the rugged way.
I knew that God was guiding me up the mountain. I was really trying to follow and rejoice “all the rugged way.” I needed to free myself from a false sense of responsibility and realize that it was God’s responsibility to take care of things, not mine. God knows no burden, only love. I focused on only expressing God and keeping my thought wholly on what was true about me, my campers, and all those on the trip. It was very inspiring.
At one point I was concentrating so much on this hymn that I began to sing it out loud as we hiked. This hymn helped one of my campers who was having trouble dealing with the altitude on the hike. He told me later that he had the hymn stuck in his head for the entire hike, and he shared this healing later with the whole camp at one of our testimony meetings.
I began appreciating the joy and freedom that my campers and fellow counselors were expressing.
I also started saying a quality of God in my thought for each step I took: peace, joy, power, persistence, freedom, and so on. This helped lift my thought up higher than the circumstances. I was constantly combating the thought that I or anyone else was identified by a limited body that could be either healthy or achy, good or bad.
My thought became so lifted up that I stopped focusing on my situation so much, and more on what the trip actually represented. I began appreciating the natural beauty all around me in the landscape, as well as the joy and freedom that my campers and fellow counselors were expressing. I knew that we were wholly protected by God as His ideas.
The first night it rained a lot, and I got almost no sleep. One of my campers woke up crying because her leg was bothering her. I sang the hymn “Feed My Sheep” with her out loud and talked to her about just saying “No!” to error, or the mistaken thinking that God, Love, wasn’t there. I told her that she knew what was real about her and not to get impressed with the material picture. She listened and she was quickly, peacefully, asleep after that.
The next morning, I was still dealing with a little back pain, but I felt better. I continued praying and working on declaring my freedom. It was around 4:00 am when we had to cross a fairly wide stream. It was too fast-moving and deep to walk across, so we had to jump. I took off my backpack so that I could throw it across the stream before I jumped. At that moment right before I threw my pack, a small sliver of fear came through me. What if my back was not strong enough? The toss fell short and my backpack was swept downstream. One of the other counselors ran and got it out of the water for me before it was swept down further.
The interesting thing was that I had been planning to bring my phone and iPod so that I could call people once I got to the top and take a video of the view, but I decided against it at the last minute. I did, however, bring along my camera. My camera was OK! It was dry even though the rest of my pack had been completely drenched. This was a helpful analogy for me, the idea that right ideas can’t be touched by tough material circumstances.
Going up the mountain, I became so inspired by all the love, joy, and beauty around me that I completely forgot about my back. It wasn’t bothering me anymore. I became so focused on the good that I actually forgot to drink lots of water, something that’s considered smart to do on a major hike. I did drink and eat when I saw others doing it, but at one point, I realized that I hadn’t done either of those things for many hours and still had tons of energy. And even though I got nearly no sleep during the trip, I wasn’t all that tired when I got back from the hike. Proof to me that I already had everything I needed.
I loved this experience because it forced me to constantly watch my thoughts instead of falling into my usual trap of “I’m not feeling ‘tip-top’ so I think I’m going to sit around and feel sorry for myself.” It showed me that God, Spirit, helps us set burdens down, and keeps everything functioning properly.