How to Widen Your Tent Pegs

Have you ever tried to fit more people into a tent than you should? The company’s capacity recommendations are there for a reason.

"widen your tent pegs" with image of glowing tent at night in the woods

In the moment it sounds fun and adventurous and economical for everyone to cram a little. Everyone has a little less weight to carry…

Until someone’s feet are in your face and no one is sleeping!

The person sleeping next to the tent wall will often wake up a little damp from the dew coming through because there was no space to allow evaporation. If it rains, even more so. The tent is likely to become Puddle Central! 

green tent on a mountain hillside, woman jut behind it
A well-cared-for tent is a blessing on remote camping trips! (photo courtesy of Brittany Dokter)

Life Is Like a Tent 

Sometimes when life is bursting at the seams, things can get a little messy.

There’s a verse in the Bible where the followers of God are told to:

“Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch out the curtains of your habitations; don’t spare; lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes.”

Isaiah 54:2

Many of the cultures represented in the Bible had parts of their people groups that were nomadic and lived in tents. So this teaching made sense to them in the context of their culture.

There are some differences between the backpacking tent that I think of and the traditional tents of these ancestral cultures.

These were large structures made of animal skins and often had multiple rooms with curtains separating spaces for different uses. Additional fabric or animal hides could be included or attached to expand the tents.

This allowed people and families to create additional space needed to bring in more people who were being included to dwell together in community. 

orange tent in the green woods
I was thankful on this rainy camping trip to have a dry tent!

What Is Your Capacity? 

I was thinking about this lately in the context of how we as followers of Jesus interact with people in the world around us.

Just like sometimes a too-full tent feels like it’s no longer functioning the way it’s supposed to, sometimes a too-full life feels overwhelming. Like the day-to-day activities fall apart a bit at the seams.

Sometimes it feels like there is just so much going on in life and when we add more, everything gets stretched to the limit.

As I thought about it, what stuck out to me is that there could be a lesson here when we compare the tents we use today with the tents that would have been used in the Bible.

I think it’s a cool metaphor we can apply to our outdoor adventure lives and think about in the context of our spiritual lives. 

young woman sound asleep in her sleeping bag inside the tent; selfie taken by second woman, also in sleeping bag
A properly used tent makes for a good night of sleep! 

Spiritual tent pegs 

Isaiah 54:2 is often used to describe spiritual capacity. I’ve often heard it used in regard to Christians being encouraged to widen the tent pegs of their hearts.

There are so many things this could mean, including but not limited to:

  • Praying for a new topic
  • Hosting a Bible study to disciple people newly exploring a Christian faith practice
  • Volunteering with refugee or immigration ministries
  • Helping care for families experiencing change by contributing to a meal train
  • Even inviting someone to live with you and your family.

There are so many ways this encouragement can be translated into action.

I took a deep dive in this topic when I read The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Dr. Rosaria Butterfield. If you’re someone who sees this verse as an invitation to grow more in a spiritual gift of hospitality, I would recommend this read! 

a small tent lit by a lantern inside, in the woods at night
Tents are beautiful—so is nature 

Empowered to Expand 

Here is where the metaphor comes in:

We can’t widen the tent pegs on our own.

Radical acts of generosity and creating space in your life require a supernatural grace. In our own strength, we’re more like a modern tent.

It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I can’t get my tent to get bigger by pulling on it more. I’ll just pull it apart at the seams.

Alternatively, with the Holy Spirit inspiring how I spend my time and resources and giving me the grace to do so, this is where we can be more like the historical tents used in Biblical times.

This is where the Holy Spirit gives me the grace to expand my capacity. To use discernment to know where I’m called to allocate resources, and where someone else is called to allocate their resources. 

a small tent set up in a treed nook next to large rock formations
Just like we found the perfect spot for this tent, God has the perfect place for you!

Everyone’s Giftings Are Unique 

This doesn’t look the same for every person who follows Christ, so this isn’t a place for comparison.

We don’t take this metaphor and say “Look at their tent—how do they get so many people to fit?” We all have unique gifts that will be expressed in different ways.

I want you to think about it as an invitation to see how God wants to use you in unique and impactful ways.

Everyone’s “tent” is going to look a little different. However, at the end of the day, the verse gives the same call to all who follow Christ: Make space in your life.

Make space in your tent. 

young woman drinks her morning coffee inside her tent in the woods
One great way to “expand your tent pegs” is to invite your friends on adventures with you!
The author, Emilie, reads her Bible on her slipping outside just outside her tent in a desert-y environment
After many nights spent sleeping in tents, I’m thankful for the ways God continues to use nature to challenge me to grow and continue learning about what it looks like to be the hands and feet of Jesus! 

Reflection 

What thoughts did this reading bring up in you? What can you talk about with a family member, friend or member of your congregation? 

Is there any place you feel the Lord is asking you to “expand your tent pegs”? 

Here’s more…

Emilie O'Connor
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