I realized something recently. I have always had a roommate. Well, at least since my brother was born fourteen months into my life. In many ways this fact has had a significant impact on me. Like many kids with siblings, I had to learn to share pretty quickly and to deal with lots of “chaos” in our home – some of which I created. I also had instant playmates, sparring partners (in the case of my brother) and people to protect or irritate (as in the case of my sisters). Life together was often messy, but mostly filled with the typical childhood adventures, disappointments and opportunities for growth (and discipline). I loved being in a family even if I contributed to some of the chaos and disappointment. In a very real sense, this was a group that had chosen me and knew that I belonged – for better or worse.
In an interesting turn of events, I left home at the age of fifteen to attend boarding school and finished my last two years of high school in the USA. Each of those years, I had a roommate who had a profound affect on my life. Nathan spent many late nights listening to my questions about politics, faith and life. To his credit, he never seemed to get upset at the variety of questions I posed and he often made me think about things in ways I had never considered. John (my roommate in my senior year) was a missionary kid who loved France, music and being his own person. He taught me that it was OK not to want to be like every other American teenager and that it was a good thing to pursue a deep faith of your own.
Going to college allowed me to develop a completely new set of relationships and was the place that I met Barry and Deb. Barry was my freshman roommate who ended up rooming with me for all of my four years and Deb became my wife. Barry was from Vietnam and had escaped with his parents under really difficult circumstances. His story was nothing like my own, but we did share a love for soccer and friendship. Deb grew up as the child of a naval architect and a librarian in Washington D.C. She had not really traveled much outside of the country and would have considered her childhood pretty stable and not particularly adventurous. Despite the dissimilarities in our upbringing, we discovered that we both loved books and learning. We also became best friends and eventually life partners.
Deb and I got married at a pretty young age. I was twenty-one and she was twenty-two. Like many newlyweds, we got busy doing life. For us this meant working fulltime, going to church and (for me) getting a graduate degree. We decided to wait for five years to have kids (I know this may seem arbitrary, but it really allowed us to mature – or at least we thought it did). During that season, we discovered a new reality. We did not have a lot of time for finding and developing friendships. It was really easy to make excuses like we were so busy or simply so tired doing the day to day routines that made up our lives. Fortunately, we did not succumb to the temptation to isolate ourselves and instead embraced the place that God had put us.
We were blessed to have found a great local church and committed ourselves to get involved. Not surprisingly, I got involved in the missions committee and Deb began attending the women’s ministry events. We jointly attended small group meetings and I became a deacon. Together we served in the nursery and watched other parents as they struggled with their new born infants and also found great joy and fulfilment in raising their children. We also found people who were willing to embrace, challenge and love us. Eventually, we found that we had friends who cared for us and the maturing that we needed. A few years later, these same friends supported us as we became missionaries and this church became our sending base.
Coming out of covid, it seems like we need each other more than ever. For many of us this has been a really isolating season and some of our friendships have atrophied. With all of our on-line technology, we have ways to connect like never before and yet we feel more divided than ever. The church would seem like the obvious place to regain our footing and relational connections and yet for many the church does not feel like a safe space. I have just become an elder in my local church and I feel that tension. We are messy people bringing all of our mess together on a weekly basis. Somehow, though, I think that is exactly what we need. Jesus had a pretty dysfunctional “band of brothers” that he called disciples. Some betrayed him and almost all of them misunderstood who he was. Maybe it’s time for us to take the risk again to hang out with people that annoy us, drive us crazy and may not look like us at all. Maybe it is time for us to find our church family again – the one that God has given us.