We were having breakfast at 3.15am this morning, ahead of our youngest getting on a coach for a school trip to France. I assumed it was just early morning bleariness when I asked why he was looking at me so intently.
“I’m just appreciating your eyes,” he said.
There’s nothing like the thought of separation to make us value those around us. It made me look again at his, too, and to try to keep a brave face at the thought of him going abroad for the week.
These days I’ve been also saying goodbye to lots of students; some who are leaving for good, some who are planning to come back, some who I will see at their graduations in a couple of weeks. These conversations feel like a privilege and a reminder of the blessing I have had in knowing them.
I’ve also been collecting ‘reviews of the year’ from the students who have been living in Chapel House, our experiment in Christian community in Bath. It’s felt like a rich harvest of wisdom as I’ve listened to the things that they have learned about themselves and God this year.
What they said affected me so strongly that I thought I’d share some of their thoughts with you. These are students on different courses, with different backgrounds, connected to different churches but who decided to take on the challenge (in addition to their studies and everything else) of creating community by sharing their lives together by praying together everyday and sharing meals together, supported by a wider group of non-students from the church next door.
Here are some of the things they said:
I’ve learned that living with 7 people shows up selfishness and requires grace.
I realised that I needed God’s help to relate to people and to understand them more.
I learned that I needed to be more open rather than being closed when life is hard.
My housemates have over the months felt more and more like my family to the point where I felt a sense of relief and calm when I put my keys in the front door.
I feel like I have grown and my faith has deepened. Someone told me that this year I ‘carried peace and joy’ which is the opposite of the anxiety and depression that I thought I might carry.
One of the hardest parts has been wanting people to understand that the little things they did or didn’t do affected the whole community like the slogan: “Each purchase we make is a vote for the world we want to live in.” It’s also true of community.
Living in community requires compromise, understanding, selflessness, discussion, openness and accountability for it to be good for others. But there also needs to be courage, prayer and vulnerability to say when the home isn’t fulfilling your own needs.
The whole community flourishes when people actively contribute to the process.
I’ve learned in our prayer times that you get so much out of it when you’re honest and vulnerable. Saying your deep prayers out loud has such an effect on people. Being able to see what God is doing in someone else is so encouraging. It’s been so great to pray everyday and so much can come from that.
I’ve learned a lot from these people (and appreciated their eyes) and feel thankful for the way that living in Chapel House, though hard at times, has been a good atmosphere for growth and blessing for them all. God is good.