Shared Adversity

We’re going camping this weekend. We are voluntarily giving up our comfortable bed, convenient bathroom (complete with delightfully hot shower), and custom-designed kitchen for a leaky air mattress in a small tent, a pit toilet down the path, a sponge bath, and a two-burner Coleman stove. Afternoon thunderstorms are likely, but at least they’ll settle the dust and bring some relief from the heat. There will probably be mosquitoes, and maybe even bears. We’ll spend a day getting ready to go, and another day putting everything away again, all for two nights in the mountains. We must be crazy.

I still remember a sermon that I heard probably 30 years ago, when we were still living in California. Pete and I were just getting started and our kids were quite small. The topic was timely—how to build strong families. I expected something along the lines of “have fun together.” That sounds nice and comfortable, right? Or maybe he would preach on the importance of praying together. It was church, after all. But the pastor’s prescription wasn’t either of these (although he did urge us to do both in a later sermon). No, he recommended “shared adversity.”

Now, from my perspective as a grandparent, I see the wisdom in our pastor’s advice. It reminds me of the well-used adage, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Or, to put it Biblically,

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4)

Aren’t those all qualities we want to see in our family?

Our pastor pointed out that we can wait for adversity to come our way, as it surely will eventually—or we can take the initiative and plan a family camping trip.

Taken with the idea, our “Young Families” Sunday school class decided to schedule a weekend in the “wilds” of northern California. Of course we signed up. The weekend arrived. We and several other families packed up the kids and far too much gear and headed to a state park in the redwoods. I had visions of hiking adventures, hot dogs, and kum-ba-ya around the campfire. This was going to be great! We arrived, set up camp, and…

It rained. All weekend. It never rains in California in the summer.

The kids complained. The parents groaned. The tents leaked. Mud was everywhere. We couldn’t get a fire going, so the s’mores were a no-go. It was definitely a memorable trip. I blame our pastor. I’m sure he was praying for shared adversity!

1986-05 Camping @Big Basin T&K with deer

Over the years we’ve continued to camp. There was the time our tent ended up in a tree (that had something to do with the storm, complete with tornado warning) and we ended up eating a cold dinner because the downpour drenched our firewood. There was the time it snowed—in August. On one trip, we packed the tent but forgot the poles. Oops. And one memorable night we were awakened by a skunk in our food locker. We didn’t argue—it was welcome to the marshmallows!

I don’t remember every day of our children’s childhood, but I do remember our family camping trips—especially the ones that didn’t go quite as planned. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from such situations. We’re not in control. Getting dirty won’t kill you. The perfect marshmallow takes patience. Freeloading is unacceptable. Complaining won’t make things better. Life isn’t perfect—even the best campsites come with mosquitoes.

We still go camping, sometimes with friends, often with our grown-up kids and their families. We’re going camping this weekend. I’m looking forward to it!

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