My wife and I lived with her parents for many years. We sold our place and built an addition onto their home.Our sons were in elementary school when we moved in. They were young adults by the time we moved out.
Those were good years.
Oh, we had our moments of tension and disagreement. I know we often drove my wife’s parents crazy, and they did the same to us. But for the most part our living arrangement was happy and harmonious, and we genuinely enjoyed being together.
Looking back, I can see the many times we made compromises and kept our mouths shut for the sake of the household. Each of us, our sons included, had to learn to tolerate and work around each other’s quirks and preferences. We learned to put up with each other at our worst.
And we did so more or less willingly. But always with an awareness of our love for each other and our commitment to making the best of our time together.
That sounds easy, perhaps. Trust me, it wasn’t. Not because any one of us were difficult or troubled or recalcitrant or bad but because we were individual human beings, with all the diversity that comes with the species.
For example, I am an introvert, in a serious sort of way. Being alone does not bother me. In fact, I like it. A lot. I firmly believe that silence is golden.
My father-in-law was an extrovert’s extrovert. He was textbook. Loud and welcoming and generous and always ready for a good talk. He was affectionate and laughed easily. He enjoyed nothing more than a house full of family, friends and guests.
We were very different, my father-in-law and I. We thought differently, viewed the world differently, behaved differently and had different likes and dislikes. What energized him exhausted me. I never did understand his love of a crowded house. I suspect he never got my need for solitude.
Yet we lived together for years. We shared a kitchen and ate together almost every evening. We had our separate spaces, but we held most of the house in common. And we managed to stay together for years, sometimes gritting our teeth through our differences.
It’s important to know that we were only two of the seven who typically lived in our house. Seven people together day after day, for years. Each of us different. Each of us is unique. Each of us is capable of annoying the fool out of the other. Each of us is capable of making it work and work well. It was its own sort of miracle.
In this month of Thanksgiving, I am especially grateful that our sons shared our years of communal living. Our sons grew up surrounded by loving adults (and believe me, they often felt surrounded). They watched us adults as we moved with and around each other in that special dance that makes a household thrive. They saw first-hand how love and a common commitment can overcome a multitude of sins.
I know families are not denominations. It would be foolish to even attempt to make the analogy, but I am going to anyway. Because it seems to me that the same love and common commitment that kept our combined household healthy and happy ought to be enough to hold our Mennonite Church USA together, despite our diversity.
I realize there is a big difference between a group of seven and a group of 100,000. I know that not everyone will be able to stick it out. I know that the stretching necessary to stay together will seem impossible for some. And while that’s sad, it’s OK. It’s a denomination, not a prison. Still, I’d like to think that if we truly love one another and are committed to remaining in communion, we can find a way.
Staying together will require a lot of accommodation and compromise. Probably a fair amount of tolerance, too. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to look back someday and tell our children, It wasn’t easy, but we managed to stay together?