When my husband, Bryan, and I were contemplating marriage, one of the main things we discussed was our desire to share our home with others. We talked about buying a home with rooms we could rent, in a neighborhood with plenty of parking so people could come over easily, near a town center so we could be out and about in our community.
Amazingly, our home currently meets all these needs, and we feel very blessed (though some might argue our kitchen needs a little enlarging. Hint-hint.).
We are both introverted people who by nature prefer to stick with what’s familiar. I am an awkward conversationalist in new settings. I stumble drunkenly through the what do you do for a living small talk that comes before the real stuff of friendships, but I recognize that it’s necessary, and so I continue to press in and challenge myself with new situations.
In social settings, I glue myself to someone safe and familiar, and let her start all the conversations. I can participate easily enough, but I never know where to start. And perhaps this is why I also like to mix up the social groups in my home, inviting new friends along with the old. We all get to meet new people, I can fall back to a familiar face when I feel an awkward moment coming on, and I’m not the only one in charge of making the conversation happen.
At first glance it seems odd that God would also instill in me a desire to live actively in my community, and open our home to share our lives so freely with others.
If you haven’t already noticed, all my books are about a lonely person looking for some way to connect with other people.
In a way, that is the opposite of the American Dream: to get so rich you can rise above the rabble, all those people on the freeway or, worse, the bus. No, the dream is a big house, off alone somewhere. A penthouse, like Howard Hughes. Or a mountaintop castle, like William Randolph Hearst. Some lovely isolated nest where you can invite only the rabble you like. An environment you can control, free from conflict and pain. Where you rule.
Whether it’s a ranch in Montana or basement apartment with ten thousand DVDs and high-speed internet access, it never fails. We get there, and we’re alone. And we’re lonely.
I live in an urban center amidst coffee shops, bars, and public transportation, but occasionally I drive out into a neighborhood deep in the heart of the suburbs, the kind of neighborhood where you take a maddening series of four lefts and three rights just to get to your destination, which is likely a cul-de-sac. I don’t know why I do this. Sometimes I’m picking something up I’ve purchased on Craig’s List. Sometimes I stalk a house that’s for sale, wondering if I might want to move there, where sirens and horn honking and drunken street riots are less frequent.
But about the time I’m taking my sixth turn off the main road I start to feel a tightness in my chest because the isolation from the heartbeat of community makes me claustrophobic. The thought of having to drive everywhere makes me queezy. The thought of never bumping into someone on the street as I walk with my children makes me sad.
This so-called American Dream sounds lonely to me.
Our spare room is empty now, the result of our latest house mate going off to medical school on the East coast. But she visited recently, and still has the key to our house. Most of our former house mates do, because when you live with the Zugs you become family. Before she left she told me how blessed she was to be in our home, that she felt nurtured by our family in a way that her own dysfunctional family of origin never provided.
A relationship that started as a random friend-of-a-friend referral for our empty room became a lasting friendship, and God used us as instruments of healing and as a window into how functioning families resolve conflict.
All because we answered God’s call to step out of our natural fortress, and open our doors wide.