“What are you even doing with your life?,” I teasingly asked one of my 11 year old campers.
The question was meant rhetorically, the expected response was an embarrassed chuckle and then a sassy comeback.
Without hesitating, he said, “Trying to be the best I can be.”
I was so taken aback, I didn’t respond immediately and then the moment was gone.
The next time I had a an interaction with him, a few minutes later, I made a point to say, “Carlos, that was a really good answer!”
“Thanks,” he simply said.
My summer camp job has been the source of much inspiration. One reason is that on my way to work one week, I listened to Matthew Kelly’s “Becoming the Best Version of Yourself.” If you’re not familiar with the author Mathew Kelly, familiarize yourself! He has a great Australian accent, and the wisdom he has to share is even better. In this lecture, he explains that God’s mission for each of us individually is to become the best version of ourselves. I can hear his voice now, repeating it over and over until it’s stuck in my head:
“You’re mission is to become the best version of yourself! Not a second-rate version of someone else, but the best version of yourself!”
(In fact, I repeated this to myself in my car on the way to work today to pump myself up… and yes, I did imitate his accent.)
I am 19 years old, and just beginning to grasp and apply this fundamental concept. That is why I was so impressed with Carlos earlier today. He’s 11, but he seems to have the most important things figured out. I wish I could say I would’ve had as good of an answer at his age, but I’m pretty sure I would not have.
Another of my campers seems to have the same goal as Carlos and Matthew Kelly. This boy, Skylar, is very tiny 5th-grader. He is smaller than all the kids his age, and many of the kids younger than him. His chances at winning knockout are no better than the 1st-graders who sometimes play with us. He often gets hurt at camp. However, he never complains, or gives up. He still plays knockout every single day at recess. He always joins in the group game. He always competes with the bigger boys. Whenever he falls over, or gets accidentally pushed, I go over to check and make sure he’s ok. He always brushes me off, gets up on his own, and keeps playing.
There are other campers who inspire me as well. They inspire me because they are consistently well behaved, obedient, and positive, even when the other kids are not, and even when I’m not looking. They line up as soon as I ask them too, they look out for the other campers; the little things. Without knowing it, they are following Matthew Kelly’s teaching for how to live. Without knowing it, they are inspiring me to imitate their good qualities.
In Matthew 18, Jesus says that unless we all, “become as little children” we shall not enter His kingdom. I think one of the reasons why is that children are more focused than adults on being the best that they can be. Whether it’s in sports, dance, boy scouts, gymnastics, or some other activity they’re involved in; whether it’s in school, at home, or at camp, their parents and teachers are always encouraging them to do their best. I think that somewhere along the way, in the process of becoming adults, we lose that focus that children have. Our lives become complicated and we let too many things compete for our attention. We don’t have our mother, or our camp counselor, constantly telling us how to be good, and what we did wrong. In other words, we don’t have lots of voices reminding us to be the best we can be, and so sometimes we forget.
That is why we need to make an effort to form ourselves by listening to and reading the words of wise people like Matthew Kelly. Or, if you don’t own any of his talks, take inspiration from the children in your life. If you don’t have close contact with any, take inspiration from the children in my life. Because these children I have told you about are definitely the ones Jesus was talking about. They are trying to be the best that they can be, and that is exactly what we are all called to do.