Let me set the stage: Six girls. One roof. Six different sets of expectations. Six different lifestyles.
This was the house that I lived in in college.
Gosh, those years with everyone under one roof were the combination of so many good things. I’m smiling right now just thinking about all the experiences we had, all the laughter we shared, and all the weird quirks that come out when you share a living space with that many girls!
I can’t forget the arguments we had over the dishes being done and the trash taken out on time. And no, those things weren’t just discussed in a rational way, but rather, expressed once everything had stewed for a few weeks and the “best” [most effective] way to get a point across usually far exceeded the normal volume of one’s voice. My favorite night that this all culminated resulted in a few of us being cornered in the kitchen by one of our roommates with a rather strong personality and a wail of emotion and deep rooted thoughts that just exploded before us. How could we even consider not respecting other roommates by not cleaning the dishes? You would think that we had moved her stuff out of her bedroom and she had no place to sleep!
The best part of the whole night was that we had friends over who just waited quietly and patiently in the living room while we were getting slaughtered because of our ‘disrespect.’ The look on their faces when we returned was like they overheard their parents in a disastrous fight and didn’t know how to look at them the same way.
Sadly enough, I’m not sure we ever got the chore of the dishes down, nor was our bathroom ever clean or the trash taken out on time. But our years of living together don’t reflect the conflict we shared over the different expectations we had for cleanliness. When I think about our time together, I think about the investment we had in each other’s lives. We unabashedly bore our lives to one another. We had a commitment to recognize the messiness in each other’s lives, and from that there was room to apply the gospel and extend the same grace each of us had received from Christ.
The relationships we had among our roommates didn’t develop over night. It takes a lot to invest in one another’s lives and become vulnerable with even your closest friends. But there is beauty and fruit that comes from letting people in. I believe it’s something we are all called to do. God gives us relationships because we are not meant to live alone. The fight of sin in this fallen world is too much to manage alone and God graciously places people in our lives to support us and reflect His grace and love in various ways.
So how do we get there? I think we first have to recognize the gift we have with the people in our lives. We must get past the fact that none of us are perfect and we are all broken vessels in which the Lord is refining and redeeming us. There is purpose in sharing that with each other, encouraging one another to seek the Lord’s righteousness instead of our own.
Bonhoeffer says it better in his book Life Together,
We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His forgiveness, and His promise. We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily. And is not what has been given us enough: brothers who will go on living with us through sin and need under the blessing of His grace? Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the sinning brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ?
As soon as we see our friends under the same grace and forgiveness we ourselves have received, we can then love them for who they really are and live mutually accountable to the Word.
Lastly, I think that we should all live under the assumption that community is a vital part of the Christian life. If we ignore the relationships around us, we are ignoring a crucial part of God’s work in our own lives. Christian community is an extension of sanctification. Bonhoeffer says,
Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we [must] participate.
We need to be people who act out God’s grace and demonstrate the gospel to those around us. And we need people in our own lives to do the same for us. Ask yourself, Who really sees my brokenness? Who is praying alongside me in my struggles? I think when we begin to trust God through the lives of people around us, we will experience the gospel in deeper ways.