Columnists > Soul Food

Is He in the dorm?

Roommate trouble can challenge our trust in God

Issue: "Life is not a party," Oct. 3, 1998

This fall many families have packed a son or daughter off to college for the first time. The immediate work of parenting appears to be done, and one ought to be rejoicing for having got them out the door with enough money for the cafeteria and enough equipment to start a mixing studio. What they leave behind are more reasons to trust God than ever before. One year our oldest daughter's roommate became the headline for every call home. Most people have a horrifying roommate story to tell. I have serenely listened to them. I've even laughed. One friend tells how he left his lovely, sheltered Southern Baptist home, was packed off to Tulane University, and met his first roommate in the dorm. The roommate wasn't there to study, but to buy, sell, and use drugs. With remarkable energy, he supplemented life with drinking and entertaining women. It was a little amusing to think of our friend-sleeping in the student lounge-studying in the hall. "Did you tell your parents?" I asked. "No-oo-oo-oo," he said. "They would've arrived at the speed of light and yanked me out of that room so fast." Horribly embarrassing for a young man. It's easy to see how Christians can survive a bad situation and learn from it. Except when it happens to your own child. When Marsena faced her roommate crisis, it became a crisis for us as well. Her roommate and suitemate were sisters with a lot of problems. (Suitemates were three students sharing two rooms with a bathroom between.) Marsena eventually found herself trying to resolve their violent arguments, until the suitemate threatened to buy a gun to use on "people who interfere." Of course, we were alarmed. Meanwhile, the roommate's boyfriend moved in, escalating the tension. Each morning Marsena would jump off her bunk, wake him, and tell him to be gone by the time she was out of the shower, so she could dress. Some people feel there are simple solutions to situations like this. (As in, send them to a Christian college. But that will not guarantee a perfect situation.) And children don't always agree with parental solutions anyway. Denis offered our daughter some advice: apart from a moral objection, there was a legal issue. She signed a contract to live with one person (same sex), not two. But Marsena was trying to resolve this with patience and love. That definitely didn't include running to the dorm manager and demanding a room change. Earlier in the fall we had scheduled a visit to see the campus and her dorm. Now we were arriving in the midst of all this. During the three-hour drive to Madison, Denis and I strongly disagreed over how to handle the situation. As her father, he did not think he could meet her "roommates" without becoming very angry. So he didn't want to risk confrontation by visiting her room. I felt Marsena would be hurt if we did not see her room which she had taken great pains to decorate. Denis said: "If that boy is in her room, I will physically throw him into the hall-without opening the door."
I said: "Effective way to practice evangelism."
He said: "Better than excusing sin the way you do."
Which escalated into:
"You never show love!"
"You never stand for the truth!" I didn't know how this could ever be resolved in time to see our daughter. We arrived at the sandwich shop and waited for Marsena in silence. "You won't believe what happened last night!" were her first words as she slid into the booth. "My suitemate assaulted the guy who lives across the hall and then tried to commit suicide by jumping out our third floor window!" Denis and I stared at each other, amazed. Marsena willingly moved to a different room that afternoon. After our initial relief we began to feel that the worst of all the mess was our failure to trust in God. I thought of Bruce Cockburn's lyrics: "Sometimes a wind comes out of nowhere and knocks you off your feet. And look. See my tears. They fill the whole night sky." These winds remind us that the world we live in is fallen and life here will be difficult. However, they become the precious and practical means by which we repent and learn a deeper trust in God, who gathers all things (even our children) into his tender hand-and who demands we give up what was never ours to grasp in the first place.

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