Have you given any thought to the absurdity of camping? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan–I love to camp with family and friends. But when I think about it, I realize it’s actually pretty weird. And as a recreational activity, intentionally done and considered fun, it makes sense only within the last 100 to 150 years of human history.
The first modern tent was designed in 1855, made of canvas, and modeled after Native American teepees. Camping grew in popularity after the turn of the century, and it really took off in the booming days after World War II. Even as campers, trailers, and RVs grew in popularity, tents remained–and still remain–the most beloved camping shelter.
At this point in history, more than 40 million Americans go camping each year. Camping continues to be a rising trend, with Millennials catching on and increasingly seeking the benefits of spending time in the great outdoors. But the experience of camping is changing. Even tent campers typically access electricity, modern toilets, and even wi-fi. In fact, according to one study, 95 percent of people who go camping bring cell phones, computers, TVs, or similar technology with them. And about half of campers look for free wi-fi when deciding where to stay. Camping has come a long way, and we now often demand a host of conveniences to keep it fun.
Ironically, in the not-too-distant past, the idea of camping for fun would not have crossed people’s minds. They were too busy seeking shelter from the harsh whims of the natural world. Through much of history, “camping” was basically everyday life, except they didn’t have nylon, Gore-tex, small fuel-burning stoves, or ready access to electricity. Camping became a pastime only when people’s homes were comfortable enough and sheltered enough from the natural elements that people wanted to get back to those elements on a temporary basis. And nowadays, when people decide to camp long-term or even permanently, they typically do so in RVs or trailers, not tents. Most people don’t expect tents to be comfortable permanent dwellings. They’re fun only temporarily, only when we have more comfortable homes we can return to.
The same reality can get us through life in the “tents” we all inhabit.
In 2 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul describes our current living arrangements as, essentially, camping in an “earthly tent,” looking forward to the “heavenly dwelling” that is our permanent home. Those of us who believe we are going to such a place “groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:2). In a sense, life on earth is one long, challenging camping trip. We live in a temporary dwelling, do some difficult hiking, battle the elements, appreciate the company of fellow campers, warm ourselves by the fire, find ways to survive, and enjoy the scenery. And we can do all of this with joy when we know a safe, permanent home is waiting for us.
God doesn’t promise that we will be satisfied in this life, nor does he expect us to be fully fulfilled by the experience of living in these tents. Instead, he enables us to choose contentment and to live in anticipation, knowing we have a better home ahead.
Contrary to popular belief, this is a much more peaceful and joyful way to live than filling our campsites with expensive toys, demanding more, or building walls and treating our tents like permanent homes. So take a hike, listen to the birds sing, and pull up a seat at the campfire. We’re in this together.
And if you’re so inclined, say a prayer of thanks for modern plumbing.
© 2018 Amy Simpson.