Evangelism, Faith, Relationships

What a Christian learned from living with an atheist

 

As many of you may know from my bio, I was homeschooled all the way from kindergarten through graduating from high school. This was an awesome experience, and I really respect and appreciate my parents for being willing to make the financial and personal sacrifices to do that for my siblings and me. While I wouldn’t say that I was sheltered or smothered, I did spend significantly less time in purely secular environments than kids who went to public or non-religious schools. Not all, but the majority, of my friends were also Christians, and of course everyone in my family is a believer as well. So when I arrived at NC State, shower shoes and twin XL sheets in hand, to meet my random assign roommate, I was in for a learning experience! 

Before anyone asks, yes, I was aware of the existence of people of different ideological backgrounds than myself before getting to college. And no, it does not offend me that those people exist, or struggle to get along with them. Still, as anyone who’s gone through a similar experience can say, living with someone who believes something radically from what you do takes some growing and some patience! 

It can be easy to live with someone who totally disagrees with you on religion!

Sometimes, you just plain get lucky in an unexpected way. A friend of mine from high school who also went to State spent hours searching for and contacting potential roommates on the Facebook page for our freshman class, made a long drive to meet her choice months and months before the semester began, sent hundreds of text message, hatched a careful plan for a room decor theme with her roommate, and changed dorm rooms at least once in order to get the best fit for them. I got a randomly assigned roommate, picked a building to live in in less than 5 minutes (without looking at a campus map), and texted my roommate for a total of about 15 minutes before we met in August. My friend and her roommate, who had a LOT in common and put all that early effort into finding each other and planning, were constantly at each others throats. My roommate, Mallory, and I got along AMAZINGLY, didn’t have a single fight or argument, and had a blast together. So my takeaway from this is that just because you don’t agree with someone on where we all came from, where we’re going, or the specifics of what we should be doing in between doesn’t mean you can’t be on great terms with one another.

 

Setting boundaries on discussions is a must.

For the most part, Mallory and I chose to steer away from potentially heated topics, because we wanted our dorm, which was our home, to be a place of comfort and security for both of us. At the same time, we are both passionate people and we did talk about things that we felt strongly about, and often, we disagreed. The key was for us to be able to say to one another and ourselves, “How can I state my opinion calmly and respectfully, while remembering that our relationship as roommates is more important than winning a debate?”. The one time where we had a hard time with this was when we had a lengthy talk about our opinions, beliefs, and feelings on the topic of abortion. As a pretty conservative Christian, I feel strongly that abortion takes the life of a human being, and as an atheist and a feminist, Mallory firmly believes that limiting abortion is unfair to women, particularly in cases of rape. Needless to say, we had a time of it trying to keep a civil discussion going, because Mallory felt that my beliefs were antiquated and misogynistic, and I felt that her beliefs rationalized murder. BUT, we managed to have a really stimulating, productive discussion because we kept it within the framework that although the issues in discussion are incredibly important, that doesn’t mean we were justified in attacking or insulting one another. After about an hour and a half, we finally just agreed that there was legitimate logical evidence on both sides, and that although our opinions weren’t changing at that time, it had been a beneficial talk. Then we dropped the subject, did our homework, and went to bed with no resentment or hurt feelings on either side.  

 

It’s important to be open about your beliefs, but don’t preach constantly to your roommate.

I firmly believe that evangelism and witnessing are cornerstones of the Christian faith, but that doesn’t mean that you should mount a miniature revival campaign in your apartment or dorm room if your roommate isn’t a believer! I spoke frankly with my roommate about my beliefs, when it seemed appropriate, because ultimately nothing would make me happier than seeing her give her life to Jesus. BUT, I didn’t try to forcibly convert her in the few months that we lived together. Whenever I came home from Cru, or church, or Bible study, I often said something like, “[Christian activity] was awesome! It was so uplifting and there was a great message about humility!” My  goal was to be open and available to Mallory to talk about the faith, answer questions that she might have, and show her the love of Christ by being a graceful roommate. It certainly wouldn’t have made me any more likely to convert to atheism if she’d spent a lot of time telling me about the evidence for evolution or making theological arguments that allegedly disprove the existence of God, it just would have made it hard for me to get along with her! Please don’t interpret this as me telling you that you get a free pass on witnessing to someone if you happen to live with them. Nothing could be farther from the truth! I’m just advising you to be courteous and use discernment about what times are appropriate to share your faith with your roommate. Embodying the stereotypes about “Bible thumpers” will not help you bring your roommate to Christ, and it will also more than likely not help you get along with your roommate either! 

 

You have to be understanding about different standards of behavior.

During my time living with Mallory, the major thing that she did that made me uncomfortable morally was use absurd amounts of profanity. Generally if we were talking to one another, she kept it to a minimum, but when she was hanging out with friends at our room or FaceTiming her boyfriend or friends, there was a constant stream of cuss words coming from her side of the room. Obviously this was unpleasant for me, and I casually mentioned to her that it was a bit of a pet peeve of mine and I’d appreciate it if she tried to tone it down. I couldn’t really tell much of a difference, so I dropped it after a mention or two. Yes, it would have been nice to not have to listen to it, but it would have been really unfair of me to try and hold her to a moral standard that was mine, not hers. I think that on the kind of issue where there’s no danger, blatant mistreatment, or illegal activity involved, the best policy is often to politely express your displeasure and set a good example. If she’d been bringing guys over while I was trying to study or doing drugs or something, obviously I would have had to confront her, but in this case I chose to just endure something unpleasant gracefully, and I think she appreciated that. Sometimes, behaviors that Christians try to avoid aren’t something we aught to try to prevent our roommates from doing. I put this under the umbrella of Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” 

 

Conclusion

In fact, just about everything I learned from living with someone so different for a year can be summed up in those words. I found that when I treated Mallory with openness, showed interest and respect for her opinions, whether I agreed with them or not, understood the time and place for sharing my own beliefs, and dealt with any differing behavior standards with grace, our relationship flourished! Although I haven’t gotten her to come to church with me yet, we are staying in contact and I hope one day to call her a sister in Christ. 

 

–Neva

 

**Image courtesy of stockfreeimages.com and Dreamstime.

6 thoughts on “What a Christian learned from living with an atheist

  1. Thanks for this insight. It’s great food for thought as I am a homeschool mom. Most of the groups we belong to are Christian, but I want my kids to understand how to treat others and share with them openly, as well as respect them and their thoughts and opinions.

  2. We cannot win souls for God’s kingdom through alienation and hostility. We have to remember that how we live and love are our best tools for witnessing. I live with an atheist now. It’s not easy, but you are right that living as an example and setting boundaries for discussions is crucial.

  3. I agree it is really important to be open about our beliefs as well as your emotions surrounding them. Talking open and honestly is key to ANY relationship, especially when someone has a different faith than you

  4. This is such a great article for people in the workplace! After all, no one’s really won anyone to the Lord by arguing and creating a hostile environment. Great subject to address.

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