Fifteen people. One roof. Some would call this community, others chaos. What is life like with three different families (6 adults, 8 young kids, and our house helper) living together in a shared space?
Well, for starters, it’s LOUD. Toys, Legos, and crayons are strewn about. Messes are spilled. Dirty shoes are piled up high next to the door. Parents are sharing bedrooms with their children. Water goes quickly. One bucket is passed for 15 bucket showers. Hours are spent in the kitchen preparing and cleaning up meals. One vehicle is shared by all. A schedule is dependent on another’s schedule. People are coming, people are going…
I think it’s easier and more pleasant to love people when there are parameters, boundaries, lines, my space, your space. When you live in such close quarters lines blur. Things surface that you wouldn’t expect. A mirror is always before you—uncomfortably close—revealing and illuminating. Your awareness of self builds and then you realize (probably again), no, you aren’t that good of a person. Actually, you’re an awful person! The small, hairy, brown sin-mongrel sitting on my shoulder gets louder, more stubborn and more opinionated. You’re getting irritated more easily than you remember. Your patience isn’t as patient. The warm feel-good doesn’t always accompany an act of love.
You can hide, pretend and avoid. And even though I try to keep people at arm’s length (for fear of being un-liked, judged, and rejected), living communally like we are, it’s harder to manage appearance. You can’t fool yourself or the others. And even if you try hard, you’ll grow too tired to keep it up. Or you’ll be a wandering, confused soul since you’ve lied to yourself and others so routinely. I’ve especially learned that I can’t grow in my knowledge of self or God when I isolate myself from others, both with space and in emotion. I cut myself off from tangibly seeing and experiencing Jesus in these relationships, one of the essential ways He helps us understand Him. And the perceived “safety” of self-protection and lack of vulnerability is a lie. A lie I continually need God to pick away at and liberate me from.
If you pretend or are lazy, a toxic environment of independence, jealousy, fear and disunity breeds. Trust me, I know. I’ve felt those feelings festering in my heart. Depending on my series of responses to self and others, I either choose to build toward hate and destruction or humility and love. And so, I/we work hard to live in a natural, messy reality – accepting, confronting, confessing, extending grace, receiving pardon, pointing each other to Him who is most important. This style of living is learning how to replicate Jesus’ attitude and love with real, palpable efforts. Oh, how Jesus is teaching me love! And, boy, do I have faaaaaar to go.
Yes, sharing a small space with 15 people can be LOUD and overwhelming and hard work… But in these last few noisy weeks, I’ve learned the joy of doing things together, of shared responsibility, of the value of a diverse team. I’ve discovered my far less graceful side. I’ve discovered precious teachable moments with the kids. I’ve discovered anew how much I love coloring and the game of UNO. I’ve discovered new recipes and ways of doing things. I’ve learned new depths to being generous with what I have. I’ve discovered how necessary alone time is with a cup of coffee. I’ve discovered how a deed done in love has a domino effect.
Lots of learning and lots of discovering in a noisy place. Life together.