I have had arguments with two good friends recently, and it has me wondering. Over the years, both have shown me a tremendous amount of patience. They each have given me multiple free passes when I mess up. And yet, I still sometimes try to get an emotional response from them when I’m tired or cranky. It’s like I am hunting for bear, actively trying to spread around what may simply be a bad mood. Sharing is caring, right?
An argument can be made for proximity. We spend more time with those we love so we are more likely to argue with them. Everyday living together can breed boredom. Or we lose patience with the same discussion over and over again as we expect people to grow and change to our expectations and at a pace we designate. Enter the eye roll and sarcasm as our disappointments mount.
In some ways, this idea of proximity as the cause of relational strain is in line with the statistics for car accidents. It has been shown that we are much more likely to get in an accident a few miles from home. Because we frequent these familiar routes most often, we become overly comfortable driving them and are not as watchful as we might be when going somewhere new. A sense of familiarity brings about a carelessness in our driving much in the same way it can bring about a carelessness in our closest relationships. The result? My inner ick runs into your inner ick and BAM…an argument is born.
My question is this, does an argument result from the same heart issues that might lead us to drive less carefully when navigating familiar roads? Does familiarity breed contempt? Or do the close quarters of living in community create an incubator of sorts for God to help us grow in character? Many of us are perhaps feeling even more of a pinch now with kids and some adults at home 24/7 during the COVID-19 crisis.
While I lived on my own for much of my adult life, I am a proponent of single adults living in community. When I speak of community living, I’m not talking about having lots of friends who live nearby and maintaining an active social life. I’m talking about entering into the lives of others by moving in with them-sharing food, a main living area, head colds (sometimes it’s unavoidable) and responsibilities. I’m talking about living in such close proximity with two or more people that our crazy, our ugly and our insecurities are revealed to each other. You know, the kind of stuff that is slightly awkward or even a little embarrassing; The kind of stuff that makes for great sitcoms.
I made the choice two years ago to do just this. I moved in with a very kind and generous family from my church. The kids love to give my dog Harley his dog treats and often join me on walks with him. Harley has been dressed up as superman, has been stared down by an unpredictable toddler, and has enjoyed regular cleanups after the kids eat. There is always someone for me to chat with when I want to or a kid to entertain or hug. At this stage in my life, it is a joy and a privilege to do life with this family, but it can be overwhelming at times, especially when I’m working on a deadline for school.
One of the biggest challenges is finding a quiet space to work on assignments. Because it is the only time the house is quiet, I will sometimes work late at night. This has required some balance, however, because when I get overtired, I can get cranky or apprehensive. And between two jobs, grad school, family and ministry responsibilities, I am often tired. As a result, there have been times when I have gotten angry over silly things like kids’ pranks, teasing or even finding something in the wrong place.
(That last one sounds strange, I know, but that kind of thing doesn’t happen to you when you live on your own unless you’re the one who is moving stuff around.) 🙂
Living in Christian community and in relationship with Christ shines light in those dark areas of our hearts that need to be brought into the light. When I speak of the heart, I’m not speaking simply of the emotions we feel, but also our thoughts-the seat of our choices and what becomes our character. When this darkness is exposed, whether it be fear, insecurity, anger, envy or the like, the next step is up to us. We can choose to stuff down the pain we might feel by self-medicating with any one of a number of addictions. We can try to hide it. We can vomit on those we love, inappropriately yell at the kids or even kick the dog. The result, however, is others feel alienated, or our senses are dulled just enough for us to get by. And the pain we feel? If left unexamined, it will resurface again at the most inconvenient of times.
There is a second choice. We can choose to repent and forgive. We can choose to actively participate in the work God is doing in our hearts. We can practice gratitude. We can seek feedback from those we trust and those who know us best. We can choose to say that things are not okay or that we are not okay in certain circumstances. Our circumstances do not define our joy, but admitting that sometimes we are not okay reflects a raw honesty that is necessary for building intimacy with others. We can actively choose relationship with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ, knowing He can be trusted and that His grace is sufficient no matter what happens next. It is this relationship that helps us to thrive in all our other relationships. Every single day, we choose to seek God, to come to know Him more fully and to trust in His goodness. We can know we will be okay no matter what life brings.
I used to keep the following Scripture passage on an index card on the window above my kitchen sink. It is a beautiful description of what Christian community can look like. Perhaps it is time for me to commit it to memory so I can more effectively do my part.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. ” (Colossians 3:12-17, NIV).
My prayer for you all during this pandemic is that you will remain steadfast, trusting in God’s goodness, His sovereignty and His faithfulness, so that you love well and enter into any relational difficulties that arise from close quarters with humor and grace.
Illustration by Phoebe-Yu.