Households are getting more of our attention in these Covid-19 days. They feature prominently in the social distancing guidance, but the term covers a breadth of circumstances – families, those living alone, but also adults living in some form of house share.
The latter vary widely, from a handful of single adults sharing a rented house to an adult lodging in the home of a family. The length of the living arrangement, gender mix and faith background also differ. Given the possible variations, no single blog post could capture all there is to say, but here are a few reflections on the challenges and blessings of house shares in light of God’s good design for our relationships.
House shares – like any other group of people living under the same roof – are not immune to difficulties.
One of the challenges facing shorter-term arrangements is the temptation to view the house as a practice-run before real life begins. Belongings stay in boxes, bedroom walls remain bare and the sense of having properly settled in never develops. Even in more stable living arrangements, you might experience a reluctance to invest either relationally or materially, waiting for an as-yet-unrealised hope of marriage or home ownership to materialise.
Secondly, it can be tempting to view yourself and your flatmates as entirely separate entities and therefore fail to invest in each other’s lives. Because such living arrangements can be temporary or cyclical – perhaps your housemates change every year – and because there are less permanent bonds between housemates, seeking to know, love and serve one another can feel pointless or even burdensome.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a third challenge is that it can be all too easy to ignore relational issues. No matter how much you and your housemates keep to yourselves, there will likely be some irritations or tensions to address – differing standards of cleanliness or opinions on hospitality, to name a few. Lockdown may have added strain with the increased amounts of time around each other with few breaks. But when there has been little investment in each other and arrangements are not permanent, it’s easy to sweep issues under the proverbial carpet, shut your bedroom door and ignore the both the issues and your housemates until you or they move out.
God’s good design
In light of those challenges, remember who God is:
God is sovereign. He ordains who you live with and he knows all the particulars of your living situation – the good, the hard and the bad! Whether your arrangement is for two months or two years, the people he has placed you alongside have been hand-picked by him and he is up to something good, because he is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works (Psalm 145:17). Your house share is not meaningless or irrelevant to him.
God has designed you to be relational. The circumstances of every house share will be different, but when the general movement in the house is away from each other instead of towards, something is off-kilter. Broadly speaking, God’s good design for our human relationships is that we love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34). He intends to show us glimpses of himself through the people he has put in our lives, and he desires that we model his love in the way we interact with others. That applies to all our relationships – housemates included.
God has good purposes even in conflict. Sinners living under the same roof will clash. There will be tensions and sources of irritation. But God by his grace can use your conflicts for redemptive purposes. Mundane irritabilities expose our need for the Gospel to help us love well and engage in constructive conversations. Major relational breakdowns can be incredibly painful but they are also opportunities to grow in humility, patience and relational wisdom. Ignoring problems may feel easier but it will be damaging relationally.
Embrace your house share
Settle into your home. Unpack that box. Buy that nice bookshelf. Put down roots where God has planted you. If and when the time comes to move on, it may make the transition a bit sadder but goodbyes that are hard to say testify to the goodness of God in what he has given us.
Seek to know, love and serve the people in your home. It is easy to be wholly taken up with external commitments but don’t miss the people under your nose. Go for a walk with a housemate. Wash their dishes. Eat a meal together. Perhaps lockdown has strengthened your bonds; consider how you might keep up some of the relational momentum as restrictions on normal life begin to ease.
Where possible, try to do things as a house. In my home, busy and often conflicting schedules make a weekly shared meal difficult, but we try to work through a TV series together and most Saturday mornings we have managed an hour to catch up and pray together over a cuppa.
Practice hospitality together. Where restrictions-permit, who might you invite round for a meal or a film/game night? Admittedly this works better when you have shared friends, but there may be a neighbour or other connection that makes this possible.
Not in a house share?
If you’re not in a house share, why not ask a friend who is in one about their home life. Enquire about the blessings and opportunities before them, and how you can be praying with and for them in the midst of any challenges. Where it is again possible to do so, you could even consider inviting the whole house round for a meal or film night!