On the Extension of Grace.Posted: July 31, 2012
By Steve Bell
The denomination I grew up in owned a year round camp on a lake in New Hampshire. And so every summer, from the time I was 10 years old to around 16, I was shipped off for a week or two of fun and adventure. Actually, no one cared if I had fun or adventure- my parents were just glad to have me out of the house for week or so.
I wasn’t that interested in going each year. In my mind it was just another set of adults telling you what to do, but because it was Bible camp, it seemed like it was Jesus telling you what to do. This didn’t help.
At any rate, I don’t recall it bothering me that much until I was 16 years old and still getting sent off. I had gotten my drivers license by then and, after finally getting that wallet sized passport to freedom, to be marooned in the New Hampshire woods seemed a bit of an insult.
The directors for Teen Camp were a young married couple from church that I didn’t know very well. But they must have known a little about me.
Shortly after the start of the camp, Bob came up to me and began chatting about cars. I loved cars and after a few minutes, Bob asked if I’d mind doing some bodywork on his Datsun.
“I’d love to,” I said. “But when would I do it?”
“Whenever you want,” he said. “You need to be at meals and chapel services, but any other time is up to you.”
“Unless you need help….”
I couldn’t believe my good luck. I hated swimming, any sport, and all the other standard camp activities. And so I started right in.
Looking back, I’m sure I made a mess of his car. Neither of us had any tools beyond bondo and sandpaper, but I labored day after day, starting as soon as I could every morning.
My work won me a little social cash. My cabin mates would ask where I’d been all day and I’d shrug and say “You know, bodywork on Bob’s car. It’s looking pretty good. I hate missing swimming lessons, but what‘re you going to do? Just my skill set, I guess…”
Bob stopped by regularly to compliment my work and tell me how much he appreciated it. I feasted on those compliments. For someone who grew up in a church climate of chronic disapproval, it was fresh manna, day after day.
Camp ended and I went home and everything was the way it was.
But a few years ago I found a typewritten letter from Bob, sent a few weeks after camp ended. In it he thanked me for my work and the chance to know me a little better. He further commented that my diligence in working showed him areas of his own life he needed to be more intentional about. His letter was half compliment and half confession, and he addressed me as an adult.
If we accept Paul Zaul’s definition of grace as one-way love, this is what Bob modeled for me. I was a hostile teen with no particular interest in church or the faith and Bob offered me a little breathing room.
That typewritten note remains one of my more valued possessions.