Living in a tiny room with another person is one the greatest joys and greatest headaches of college life. I’m convinced that it is also the greatest opportunity for becoming a better Christian.
Christians have always thought that the covenant relationships in your life are the ones most capable of being God’s vehicle of grace in your life. Marriage is the most obvious one. Ephesians 5 draws an analogy between Christ’s love for the church and married love. I think this is what the Catholic Church has meant by calling marriage a sacrament. Entering into marriage creates this relationship that calls us to live for another person. Inevitably marriage means that our deepest and most sinful dispositions will be revealed as we selfishly choose ourselves when we are called to choose our spouse.
One of the other covenant relationships that Christians have understood as a calling is that of the monastic life. In recent years people have sensed that you could be called to this “intentional community” for brief (but usually predetermined) periods of time. But the older tradition is that of a lifelong covenantal calling. In a sense, monastic life is like entering into a “marriage” with a whole community instead of just one person (with some obvious romantic differences). Like marriage, monastic life calls you to submit to one another and give one’s self for the other.
One of the key features of both of these relationships is proximity. These relationships aid in our discipleship by giving us a living and breathing mirror into our own soul. And, at its best, the persons that we are called to put first are also called to put us first.
And this last marker is the biggest difference between marriage/monastic life and dorm life. Dorm roommates rarely think that they are called to give themselves for the person on the other side of that tiny room. Typically dorm roommates only give to the other while it feels good or encourages them. Simply put, dorm life is like monastic life but without a covenant commitment between the participants.
But what if Christian roommates made a kind of covenant with one another. What if they made a “community rule” (a monastic idea) that would govern how they will live with one another? What if they committed to encourage, challenge, and truly love one another? What if they posted this commitment prominently in their room and held one another accountable to it?
I’ll tell you what would happen. A roommate has the potential to become the greatest gift of grace that you have ever known or will know until you enter permanent covenantal relationship (marriage, religious life, etc.). You can experience the greatest growth of your life. And you can make the most trusted friend of your life. I refer to this as “dorm room monasticism.” The environment for it is already made. You just have to pursue it.