Life Lessons from Mud Wrestling
There I stand, six inches deep in a giant pit of mud surrounded by 80 other 30 to 40-year-old men. At the instruction of a young man with a bull horn, we all get down on our hands and knees. Though it’s a warm spring day, the mud is cold. Many of the men have already smeared mud on their arms and chests. The man next to me is smearing a handful of mud into his unusually thick beard. Just then 100 elementary school-aged boys with their shirts off crest the hill led by an Indian Chieftain. The bull horn sounds and the boys let out a ferocious scream. The men rise to their feet and respond with an equally ferocious roar. The boys charge the pit and all chaos breaks loose. Mud is flying everywhere. The children swarm on the men, wrestling them to the ground, attempting to rip rubber bands from their wrists and ankles. The men resist, run around the pit, attempting to guard their precious rubber bands, but the boys are relentless. Through three rounds of muddy mayhem, the battle rages. At the end of the third round, all of the men lie exhausted in the pit. The rubber bands have all been claimed and the boys have emerged victorious. The name of this venerable camp ritual: Buffalo Hunt.
I recently attended a Father/Son weekend at the Pine Cove Towers camp with my 4th-grade son Davis. The weekend was filled with fun activities, encouraging teaching, and excellent opportunities for dads to spend quality time and build lasting memories with their sons. Buffalo Hunt was clearly the most memorable (if not the most fun), both for the dads and the boys. Buffalo Hunt is a time-honored camp tradition at the Towers. During the summer, it is a battle between the college-aged counselors and the campers. At our Columbus camps, it is know as Battle of the Brumbies, but the concept is the same.
After the game, Davis and I got our photo taken by Burger King and rinsed off with a hose before heading back to our cabin to take a shower. (The hose-rinsing was just enough to remove the outer layer of filth, but totally insufficient for proper cleanliness.) As we walked back to our cabin, my son asked me, “Dad, do you think we can learn any lessons from Buffalo Hunt? I mean, this is a Christian camp so I bet we can learn something.” Davis is a hard-core camp kid and he knows how we do things at Pine Cove. Counselors at Pine Cove will use anything from stacking cups in the dining hall to climbing a rock wall as an opportunity to get kids talking and thinking about Jesus. So Davis and I began to discuss it and here’s what we came up with:
1. Many things in life are uncomfortable at first, but they get better.
We both agreed that when you first get into the pit, the mud is cold and unpleasant. But after a few minutes, you’re running around and having fun and you don’t even think about it. I shared with him that many things we face in life seem scary or uncomfortable, but after we get past the initial shock, they’re not so bad, and we may end up enjoying the experience. Most of the time, worrying about something we face causes us far more discomfort than the thing itself. Perhaps this is why Jesus instructs us not to worry about tomorrow, for today has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34).
2. You don’t know how good it feels to be clean until you’ve been really, really dirty.
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever taken a shower that accomplished so much. As I was putting on my shirt, my son was returning from his shower, and he said, “It feels SO good, to be clean!” “That’s it,” I said. “I know another lesson we can learn from Buffalo Hunt.” During our family Bible reading times, my daughter has been asking, “If God knew we were going to sin, and He doesn’t want us to sin, then why did He create us with the ability to sin?” While I don’t fully understand God’s reasons, I suspect that part of His motivation is so that we can understand how wonderful it is to be saved. Only when I figure out that something is terribly wrong with me, that left to myself, I will be selfish, lazy, manipulative, cowardly, and destructive, only then, can I feel the joy of being forgiven. Only then can I feel the weight of gratitude for what Jesus did-gratitude that Jesus, through His death on the cross, has taken the punishment I deserve and through the work of His Holy Spirit has changed my heart and is in the process of changing my ways. Perhaps this is why Jesus taught that he who has been forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47).
Camp has a way of opening your mind to the things of God. I think it’s getting away from the usual stuff (work, school, TV, internet, etc.), getting out into the trees, and just plain-old spending time with God (reading the Bible, praying, singing, talking with other Christians about Him, etc). I see it every time my kids go to camp in the summer, and I experience it every time I come with one of them to a parent/child weekend. Good things happen. I think the lessons Davis and I learned at the Buffalo pit will stick with us long after the last traces of mud have washed from under our fingernails and from the cracks behind our ears.