Several years ago a college student came to me and told me about a crazy living situation that she was dealing with. She lived with several other Christian girls, and they were engaging in what can only be described as passive aggressive guerrilla warfare against one another.
Their mode of assault? Post-it notes.
You see several of the girls in the house were notoriously bad about cleaning the dishes and taking out the trash, so someone got the bright idea to leave post-it notes by the sink and trash, rebuking them for such unthoughtfulness. The anonymously written post-it would read something like,
“Someone needs to clean up their dishes.” (Emphasis on “someone”)
But the aggression didn’t end there. Soon post-it notes were popping up all over the kitchen. A post-it note by the trash: “Someone needs to take out the trash.” A post-it note on the fridge: “Someone needs to throw away their old food.”
And so the battle waged.
I’m not really sure how it all ended, but what sticks out to me about this story is the idea that Christian women were doing this to one another. All communication had broken down. No, they weren’t going Jerry Springer on one another and cat-fighting it out til there was blood, but they were hardly enjoying solid Christian fellowship with one another.
Yet as much as I would like to judge these girls and look down on them, I can’t. Anyone who’s ever had a roommate knows how hard it can be to share space with another person. You have to work with their differing expectations, their differing lifestyle and their differing standards of cleanliness. You also increase the likelihood of running into one another’s ugly sinful side–it’s hard to hide your bad sides from the person you live with.
And as a result, your roommate might start to get on your nerves. Or even infuriate you.
That’s why living in community, whether you’re a college student or you’re married, is going to test you, and it’s going to test you in two key ways:
1. Community will test your patience–No matter how much you love the person you live with, there are going to be times when you butt heads. That’s what happens when you put sinners together–they’re like beta fish. So the question is how you will respond when that conflict inevitably happens. You can either choose to be bitter and harbor all kinds of secret animosities toward them, or you can choose to serve them and love them anyway.
The first option will lead to an eventual disintegration of the relationship. The second will be hard, but much more rewarding. If your roommate leaves a dish in the sink, clean it for them without keeping a record of wrongs. Don’t keep track of who has taken the trash out the most or who cleans the apartment the most. Why? Because the goal is not a clean living space–the goal is to model Christ to them and love one another better.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t express concerns or frustrations with your roommate–communication is vital to a healthy relationship. But it does mean that you’re aware you’re living with a sinner, and you’re prepared to love and serve them anyway.
2. Community will test your selfishness–Christians are kind of funny about how they demonstrate selflessness. They will travel to the ends of the earth to feed people in Africa, but they won’t show their roommates or friends the slightest amount of courtesy. If you are the kind of roommate who leaves your stuff out all the time, who stays up late making lots of noise so that no one else can sleep, or who turns on all the lights in the morning regardless of whether or not others are awake, then you are not loving your roommate the way you should.
The true test of of a selfish heart is not how you love strangers. It’s not even discernible in how you care for some of your friends. The true test of your character is revealed in the way you treat the people with whom you spend most of your time.
If you’re a bad roommate, then you need to focus first on loving your roommate better before you get to the task of reaching the world.
Living in a community is hard, and it highlights the darkest parts of our heart. But that can be a good thing–it shows us what we need to work on. So before you go blaming conflict on your annoying roommate who is so inconsiderate and doesn’t care about anyone but herself, stop and examine yourself first. She might just think the exact same thing about you.
*And I can’t write this blog without adding that my current roommates are amazing and they model Christ to me everyday. I am very blessed, and very grateful.