I was coming out of church last week when I saw her: A former housemate who had exited my life suddenly, gracelessly, and on very bad terms. Her official reason for wanting to break the lease was the “ancient” farmhouse plumbing, which was a little too rustic to suit her. In actuality, it was my “provential” attitude that sent her over the edge. She and our other housemate (whose name did not appear on the lease) ganged up to persuade me to bend on the “no opposite-sex overnight house guest” policy; when I refused, they walked. I was grateful when the farmer who rented the place to us (who never did like my housemate) agreed to lower the rent to something within my budget, just so I would remain the sole tenant for the duration of my lease.
Eight years passed. Last week, when our eyes met in the narthex, neither of us knew what to say — indeed, it took me several minutes even to place her. Judging from her hunted expression, it took her several seconds less. “You!” we blurted together. Each of us had a child in tow, so we smiled at each other weakly and kept walking. She was great with child … married, presumably. That’s good. Each of us had moved on and were in different places. Maybe we could just forget about the past, and start fresh.
The following week, I saw her again and raised a hand to wave. She ducked her head and ran out the door. I followed a few steps behind, and saw her get into a van with a heavy-set woman behind the wheel … Then she gestured at me, and the two of them began to laugh heartily.
At me? Really? I see …
You know, I can understand it in some respects. At that time I was absolutely doing the right thing by insisting on maintaining the “no overnight guest” policy. It was for my good as well as their own. They were young, and they were engaging in behavior that (if you were to ask them now, and they were being honest with themselves) they would probably tell you that they regret … but that they engaged in for a variety of reasons that had nothing to do with the reasons God originally designed sex.
And here’s the thing: If I’d invested more in the relationship, I might have been able to help them to avoid some of those choices. This is true in parenting (whether biological or spiritual) and it is true in all kinds of other relationships. We can “mandate” — but it’s rarely effective. Or we can “mentor” — something that takes time, and comes from a place of relationship. By dictating, all I earned was their ridicule. I treated them like children … so they acted accordingly. A good lesson to remember for the future, right?