Drawing Someone Else’s Line

Should you draw or erase the line for someone else? Should you allow your sacrifices to be forced on other people in that they have to make the same ones without really deciding?

Example 1:
You and your friends live in an apartment. You meet someone on the street who is going through a rough period. Your heart goes out to him so you invite him to come and stay at the apartment for a few nights to help him get back into the swing of things. At first your other friends are all over the opportunity but now, four days later they are wishing he was gone. Somehow God gave you more patience and a heart for this guy and you really feel like he needs to stay with you for a bit longer. What do you now do? Do you sacrifice listening to the wishes of your friends who you live with? Or do you sacrifice the room and the food that you will be giving him as to abide by your friends? Who becomes more important? Do I have a right to make decisions when my friends should be accommodating or not? If I allow him to stay is it almost like I’m trying to teach my friends a lesson and telling them how they should feel towards people?

Example 2:

Paul (the apostle) has been invited over with all his Jewish friends to their Gentile friend’s house. Paul has certain convictions about eating meat that his Gentile friends don’t necessarily have which gives him the freedom to eat the meat served before him. Yet at the same time when he’s with either friend he either eats meet or doesn’t eat depending on their convictions. Meat is served before him, what does he do? Without making it sound like a war, who does he side with? Does he eat meat and basically tell his Jewish friends they are over reacting and just to suck it up? Or Does he refrain and in return say to his Gentile friends he is too good for their meat and they are doing something wrong?

These are the kind of situations I find myself in lately. I’m having a hard time deciding what I should do because it makes me feel like I’m making decisions for other people without them knowing it. Especially in the first example. If I allowed this homeless man to stay with me, it feels as if I’m taking my convictions and pushing them on all my roommates which I don’t feel very comfortable in doing. I feel also that these situations will arise a lot more in the future being married. I don’t want to force her or be forced into situations where the other person has to accommodate and feel that they are lesser because they don’t feel the same way. Or should we?

What do you think? Any advice?

9 thoughts on “Drawing Someone Else’s Line”

  1. Hey Nathan,

    Good questions. Having done quite a bit of experimentation with this sort of thing over the last half dozen years, I know that I’ve often asked myself similar questions. Here are some of my thoughts.

    (1) When living with others, you really cannot put them into situations that they have no desire to be a part of. Unless your roommates made a prior commitment to doing things like Example 1, then I think that you are in a position that requires you to respect their wishes. The best thing to do, then, is to find the guest the first available shelter bed. It’s not a great solution, but we cannot force our convictions on others, and getting somebody into a shelter is better than kicking that person onto the street.

    However, if you all did commit to doing things like Example 1, then I do think that you have more of a “right” to expect or assume greater degrees of accomodation.

    Really, it comes down to this: you can only do things like Example 1, if you live alone or if you live with others who are committed to doing that sort of thing as well.

    (2) Of course, even if you are living with others who are committed to learning how to do things like Example 1, everybody comes in with varying comfort levels. Consequently, rather than forcing everybody to go along with whomever is the most “radical,” the community needs to establish a starting place that is more comfortable for everybody involved. Living together, after all, is not only about caring for those around us, it is also about caring for one another.

    However, this approach can risk forcing everybody to go along with whomever is the least “radical,” and so, even though the community needs to start at a more comfortable level, everybody in the community should commit to pursuing a certain trajectory together. When seeking to create homes that are open to others, instead of trying to create the “perfect” or “ideal” model from the get-go, it is far better to understand everything as a process or journey. The key thing is finding people who are committed to pursuing that journey whatever their various comfort levels might be at the beginning. Consequently, when moving into this sort of community, it is worth formulating some sort of plan that says, “Okay, Position A is where we will start, but we hope to transition to Position B in a year and Position C in five years” and then formulate steps that you think will help you make those transitions. Of course, such plans are always open to renegotiation (and, inevitably, will be renegotiated) but I think that it is good to work this way.

    (3) As for how this relates to marriage, well, this is precisely why finding a person who was following the same trajectory that I was, was the single most important thing for me when it came down to getting married. Granted, my wife and I do have very different comfort levels with many of these things but we are both committed to moving into places that make us uncomfortable. I’m willing to embrace discomfort by choosing to not do some of the things I want to do (for now), and my wife is willing to embrace discomfort by choosing to do some of the things she doesn’t want to do (for now). The longer we do this, the more we are able to do, and the more we both want to do it.

    Grace and peace.

  2. This is what I appreciate about the New Monasticism, as it forms shared living/intentional community around a common rule. It also makes decisions based on consensus. If you don’t have a preexisting process for this kind of things with the people you live with, it will be very hard to do so effectively.


  3. So basically, what you guys are saying is the person you are living with or committed to, or knew first is the one that you should always bend to and sacrifice for.

    Dan, your idea of not forcing everyone to be like the most ‘radical’ is exactly what I needed to hear. Either i’m the most ‘radical’ or there is someone else who is more ‘radical.’ I’ve been with people who have forced me into awkward and uncomfortable situations, and so I def don’t want to be that person who is doing it to others. But then how do we become leaders who are helping people head toward those situations and relationships instead of just always making them feel comfortable where they are at. Or should we?

  4. Also, I feel your sentiments. I have a buddy living in my basement right now and my room-mate is PISSED! Like threatening to move out kind of pissed. I wish I had a wife to tell me what to do :(

  5. I hesitate to use words like “always”, but the joy and challenge of community (and marriage) is the shared process of living our lives together. It would be far easier to live by the motto “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission”, but that is a sure way of demonstrating a lack of value for the other(s) who you share your life with.


  6. I quite firmly feel that no one can draw or cross a line for anyone except themselves.
    If the room is yours to give, give it. If it is not yours, because it is partly or wholey someone else’s, then you can only cross the line together or not cross together.

    Community or marriage will function similarly in this respect with different mechanisms for arriving at agreement.

    Your second question intrigues me more though. You describe a situation where you are limited to 2 choices and both choices will “offend” one of two groups of people that you do not want to give offense to. If you truly cannot see an easy way to decide between the two (I would expect that a group comprised of wiser, more mature individuals further on their own personal journey in God’s Kingdom should be much less likely to actually be offended by actions they do not fully agree with) then I would say the simple answer is to be true to convictions God has laid on you and let the chips fall where they may.

    The marriage question mixed in will make this “interesting” as the years go by for you.
    I’d just remind you that your journey is not yours alone anymore and you will each need to understand what path each of you are on and accomadate each other. In some marriages that means total capitulation by one spouse to the other in all areas, but I think that obviously the better marriages find ways for each to grow towards each other.

  7. Hey Nathan,

    Like Jamie, I share some hesitations about your use of the word “always.” The tension here is not necessarily one that exists within a hierarchy of priorities; rather, it is the tension that exists within a milieu of priorities wherein no hierarchy is easily discernable.

    I would also add the further reminder that you can always choose to move out of spaces where your options are limited, and move into spaces where they are not (assuming that it is one’s roommates, and not one’s spouse, who are imposing the limitations). Do you feel that you want to live in a space where you can invite people off of the street to stay with you? No problem. Move in with new roommates that are open to that idea. It’s a simple solution.

    Your question about becoming “leaders” is interesting to me, in part because I don’t usually think in those terms. Of course, my hope is that other Christians will begin to journey in some of the ways that we have discussed. However, rather than seeing myself as somebody who is leading people in that direction, I tend to see myself as a part of a community that is modeling another way of being Christian, and that issues an ongoing invitation to others (including other Christians) as a part of what we do.

    Grace and peace.

  8. DANG IT! You all took my answers. Well, ditto then.

    Nathan I appreciate your heart and I know our Lord does too. Keep up on the cerebral gymnastics, it’s good for all of us, especially if we act on it!

    Do I hear an AMEN!

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