The North American Sin of Privacy

When Becky moved in, she wasn’t our friend. She was just Becky.

But over the last year, she became our friend. In fact, just days after her arrival, we were introducing her as “our friend Becky.”

Shortly after moving back to the U.S., we had dinner with Scott and Jeanine Bessenecker.  When we got there, we found that Val lived there. Val was an intern with Scott and me at work. The Besseneckers explained, “We’ve always had someone living with us—interns, international students, people from church, anybody who needed a place for a while.”

Driving home that night, Chrissy and I said, “We should be like them someday.” The phrase that comes to mind to me today is “They smelled like Jesus,” they seemed to be living in a different world, from a different mindset, a different kingdom.

So when we bought our first house a year ago, and we heard a new intern in the office was looking for a place to stay for six months, we said we’d be willing to host someone. Becky moved in three weeks later and stayed a full year.

We’ve lived in a lot of interesting arrangements: intentional Christian service community called Jubilee Partners, Bethel Horizons Camp, a financially poor Nicaraguan village, and a two-bedroom in a dorm at UW-Oshkosh when I was a Res Hall Director.

But we’ve still found downsides to having a housemate:

  • There have been awkward moments when new friends are over and Becky comes downstairs. Our guests have looked around for a hidden camera. “This is our friend Becky. She’s our housemate,” or some such. The guests’ brows sometimes stay furrowed for a bit, unable to compute another adult unrelated to us living in the house.
  • We only have three bedrooms, so Phoebe and Zeke (our kids, ages 9 and 7) have to share one if we have someone staying with us.
  • We have no office or extra bedroom, so we have a desk in our dining room that’s kind of cluttered most of the time. (As a PhD student, a full-time professional, and authors, it’s hard to keep everything tidy.)

Still, it doesn’t seem right that sharing our homes is so uncommon. Lots of us have guest rooms but no guests.

And there are upsides to sharing our space, things that seem in line with the way of Jesus…

  • This connects us to the rest of the world. Our time overseas found us sometimes taking a bed belonging to a family of six who then all shared the other one. There are some interesting pictures of home square footage around the world here. Our homes are typically larger than other western nations, too. When we have other people in our space, we empathize more with people in hard places who are struggling. I think that’s good for me.
  • We are held accountable for how we treat our family. Perhaps you’ve heard the maxim, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” That’s certainly the case for me and my family. I’ve started to hear my “family voice,” a tone with which I would never speak to anyone else. Having Becky live with us helped me to catch that more often and to start to change (by God’s grace, if I’m honest).
  • As hard as this can be, it’s also often lots of fun.
  • You save money, and you can share work around the house, saving time. For us, it’s also a bit of built-in babysitting, too.
  • Sharing space teaches us good things. We are sharing not just our space but our stuff. This is good for us middle-class North Americans. Rugged individualism be damned, we’re better people if we’re together (though it’s hard). And just by having our lives intertwined more thoroughly, we see our lives with new eyes, we learn from one another. I think this is more pronounced when we share our space with people in different life stages—Becky just graduated from college.

So Becky moved out on Friday. She’s now our friend. She wrote on a blog post the day she left:

Living with you guys has been a wonderful experience. I’ve learned a lot about adulthood from you guys. Maybe that should be your next book: How to be an adult by Jeske & Jeske…I’ll never forget the day I made your kids cry by cooking improperly cooked Chicken Curry in a Hurry.

I’m sorry that I’m so incredibly selfish, but it’s something I’m praying about…You guys have always done a great job of treating me like one of the family. Like taking me to the county fair to see the barbaric antics of demolition derby, letting me pose in your family portrait with a mustache, letting me convince you to paint your dining room table with chalk paint, occasionally turning the heat on in the winter for my southern bones, and laughing at my stupid jokes. I’m sure there are hundreds of other things that I could say about living with y’all and what I’ve learned from y’all…

If I ever have a family, I hope it’s as cool as yours. Maybe I’ll name my first born child Jeske. Maybe not.

I think it was worthwhile. Her room sat empty for two nights, then Chrissy’s brother stayed over for one. The next night, Amy moved in. She’s planning on being here a month or so, working until her job becomes permanent and then getting a lease. She’s already our friend.

As soon as she moves out, Brittany and Zack are planning to move in. They’re already our friends, but we thought that would be OK.

What pros and cons come to mind when you think about sharing your space with others?

  • Nikki T-S

    thanks for the post. the title about the sin of privacy caught my eye. and i’ve been mulling over what the difference is between hosting a lot of people, and having someone live with you. i lived in various household–and love what you’ve shared about the ups and the downs. having folks live with us has unearthed my assumptions about life, and i’ve collected some great recipes from it! what would you say are the differences between having someone live with you, and have many guests–or is it similar?

    • Adam Jeske

      Hmm, good question. You bend over backward for guests. That’s not sustainable (at least in the same way) for housemates. You need more communication, more mutuality. That’s hard, soul-fixing, sanctifying work! It’s a miracle.

      Do others have thoughts on this?

  • Julie Blauwkamp

    great post, Adam!
    When our husband and I bought our first house, we committed it to the Lord to being used for hospitality, ministry, and at times, a place for people to lay their heads. We’re currently in our 3rd house- we’ve had two “Blauwkamp Bed and Breakfasts” and 1 “blauwkamp boarding house” (named because we recently moved into a 3000 sq ft “embarassment of riches and blessings”) As our family has grown from 2 to 6, we’ve been tempted to shut down the operation. Yet, we’ve kept our ears open to the Holy Spirit’s whispers to be on the look out for opportunities to bless both our family and others.

    We’ve housed fellow IV staffers, friends, and recent college grads from my chapter needing a place to stay until they can get on our feet.

    At time it’s been super fun. Getting to know each person on a deeper level. Great late night conversations. Shared help in running and keeping up with the house and help with child care. Seeing the ways it’s blessed our children and taught them that God has blessed us abundantly and is calling us to use these blessings as a way to bless others. Watching our children build wonderful relationships with other adults.

    At times it’s been a royal pain. Giving up a room in our house. Sharing the bathroom with another adult. Teaching the kids to be quiet and respectful when they just want to run around screaming at 7am! Living with other peoples’ messes (physical, emotional and spiritual).

    yet, at the end of the day- I wouldn’t change a thing. The blessings have far outweighed the risks and pains. It’s blessed us into deeper community and kept us from being tempted to fall into the secluded, private, “american dream”.

    Our spare room has sat empty since May. The other day my oldest (8 years old) asked me, “Mom, who’s going to live with us next?” Guess I better clean out my ears to hear what the Holy Spirit will be whispering next!

    • Adam Jeske

      I love it! The kids are leading you! Ha!

  • Rick Allen

    From the time Pam and I married 32 years ago, we have shared our home. Couples, singles, men, women, whites, Hispanics, Native Americans, Nepalese, French, people half our age and a gal ten years older. Always exciting, sometimes hard, sometimes bonding with folks so they did become emotionally part of the family. Students and professors have lived with us. Some lived with us a month and one lived with us 2 years. One cared for our children and one young man that we cared for. One taught us Indian cooking and one taught our daughter to make cheese tacos. One was a professional singer, one, a single man working on a PhD in math. One worked as a medical transcriptionist and one as a journalism professor. One became a Shakespearean professor and one became a youth director. We have visited our ex-roomates and some we never heard from again. Some devout Christians and some that never said. We loved sharing our home so much that 16 years ago we opened a B&B here. We now have “family” around the world. We have shared our home with lovely couples from Chicago and Sacramento. We have allowed God to let us minister to families and college students in crisis through these encounters. We are richer and our children are better for opening our home to God’s children.

    • Adam Jeske

      Good stuff, Rick. I hope that years down the road we have a list like yours!