On Shared Experiences

“Remember that time when…” We’ve all had conversationsstart this way. Whether it be with lifelong friends or with acquaintances that we see on occasion, a shared experience creates a certain type of bond.

For quite some time now, I have been convinced of something:: connections are built through shared experiences. Anyone who has known me for very long knows that I have a strange quirk when in a group setting. I love it when things do not go as planned. It throws people off because I am a usually a typical Type A personality. I prefer everything to be organized, well-planned, and well-executed. But something in me knows that the relationships that are built when things go wrong are some of the greatest memories of growth and connectedness that we ever experience.

One winter, I had planned this amazing retreat for our youth group. In Southern California we have the benefit of being able to drive to any climate or activity within an hour or two. The plan was to drive up to a secluded cabin in the woods. There was no cell signal, no Wi-Fi, just nature and our group of 25 or so teens and their leaders. I had planned out every hour of the three-day weekend to reach the ultimate goal of growth and comradery. Games, hikes, cooking, eating, times of meditation, perfectly thought-out transitions. We were gonna have it all.

On the day we were to leave, it rained. When it rains in our city, it is snowing in the mountains. At our departure time, the rain had stopped so we thought we’d give the drive a try. Halfway up the mountain, the roads were closed. There was no way to get the cabin to experience our perfectly planned retreat weekend. So, we pulled over. Yes, we were frustrated and disappointed, but I also knew the opportunity for a shared experience loomed.

I parked the van at a turnout and told the group I needed to step out for a moment to think. The group thought I was lost in my frustration. It had turned dark, and the moon shone off the newly fallen snow. There was a safe hill next to the turnout. I walk a few yards out and returned to the van. Then I announced that I had dropped my keys somewhere in the woods and would anyone mind coming out to help me look.

One by one, teenagers came out of the van. So that I wouldn’t be called a liar, I had “dropped” the keys out in a known safe spot next to a tree. Soon enough I was the only one “looking” for the keys. The group was having a blast tossing snowballs, sliding down the hill, making snow angels. They were having so much fun that when I announced that I had found my keys, we ended up staying for 20 more minutes. It was a great shared experience and unplanned memory (albeit somewhat mischievously forced by me).

Think about your own life. What are some of the memories you cherish most, when you had the most growth and connectedness with those around you? I would guess that most of those memories were not planned activities. growth happens in the chaos, in the unexpected.

I believe so wholeheartedly in this “shared experience” theory that I am often wishing for things to take an unexpected turn. On our school trip to Spain, our bus broken down on the way to the airport in Barcelona. I didn’t tell the head chaperone and Spanish teacher, but part of me was hoping we wouldn’t make it on time. In a cramped elevator with some friends and some strangers, I admit that a piece of me is hoping it will break down. It may sound crazy, but I challenge you to embrace the moments that the plans go awry. Share them with your loved ones. Create your own unexpected “shared experiences.”

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