Uncommon Aspects of "Common Life"

He likes the Steelers; I could care less about the NFL. He likes “The Office” on NBC; I love the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” on Bravotv. He watches Conan O’Brien; I prefer Jay Leno. He went to a high school with only ONE Chinese student;I had about 300 Asians at my high school. He grew up in a small town in the Eastern United States; I come from a big city on the West Coast. It was clear from beginning, we have nothing in common.

Some of you may think I might be talking about my husband. Uh, actually, I’m referring to the roommate who has lived with us for the last five months.

For the sake of anonymity, let’s call him “‘Bob.” Bob graduated in August and decided that he wanted to serve God as a short-term missionary. He needed a place to stay while preparing for his journey. When Bob moved in, there weren’t any set dates or exact plans on where and when he would go, but he thought those details would be worked out. In fact, I know Bob believed God would fine-tune those details in due time. What I didn’t know was that allowing him to live with me and my husband for the next five months would be one of the most interesting and challenging events of my life.

Bob asked us if he could live with us temporarily after his graduation. All the other married couples in our ministry had multiple children or newborn babies, so it was clear that we would be the best option. We had an empty guest bedroom and no kids. Bob and my hubby were friends, so I thought it would provide an opportunity for their friendship to grow. My hope was not for it to grow into a shepherd/sheep relationship, but a “we’re-going-to-live-together-so-let’s-be-good-friends” relationship.

The first big issue we encountered was privacy, or the lack thereof. It’s no secret that my husband and I have been trying to start a family. I’ve undergone hormonal treatments to help the process along, but to no avail. I don’t know the exact reason or cause, but it seems that God’s time for us has not yet come. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. But c’mon: How were we supposed to start a family with Bob sleeping right next door? Awkward! My apologies if that’s TMI (Too Much Information).

Next, I don’t cook. Okay, I cook enough to feed my husband so he doesn’t starve to death, but I just don’t enjoy cooking. Baking I love, but not cooking. So knowing that Bob would live with us presented another challenge. I didn’t try to prove to him that I wasn’t a great housewife or ‘coworker’ by having a hot meal on the table every night. But I had to make sure there was at least some food readily available for my hubby and Bob almost every night. My irregular work schedule made that a bit difficult. All I can say is: Thank God for RAMEN! Bob and my hubby ate ramen for dinner once or twice a week. And for lunch. And, um, sometimes for breakfast? (That may have been just once.)

I also was intimidated by Bob living with us because I wasn’t sure if people from our ministry expected us to ‘train’ or ‘feed’ him spiritually by holding daily bread meetings, testimony writing, prayer time etc. At the beginning, we did have weekly prayer meetings together. And my hubby and Bob would occasionally meet in the morning to discuss a Bible passage. They played basketball together and drove to church together on Sunday. But there was a moment when I felt burdened — really burdened. Granted, my emotions were skewed at the time by the excess hormones in my body. I lashed out inappropiately at church members for not supporting me or helping me in this “common life” situation, and tried to put the responsibility on them. Fortunately, my friends at church are understanding and forgiving, and they didn’t take offense at my behavior.

One of the surprising things was how open Bob was to eating Korean food. I may not be a great cook, but I’d often make Korean-style dishes that he would eat without any complaint. I felt bad because he doesn’t like the smell of kimchee, the quintessential ingredient in Korean soups, rice dishes and main meals. I wasn’t broken hearted about not stocking up my fridge with kimchee. I’m sure if you asked my hubby, he might feel differently. But he’s not emaciated, so I guess I he survived.

A couple of months passed, but the plans for his mission trip hadn’t taken shape. We weren’t exactly sure how long Bob would be staying. Then I began to stress out. Not because I was unhappy with our living situation, but because I was scared that one day he would wake up and think that this period of his life had been a waste of time. I was worried that he would blame us and UBF people for not making the situation easier, and conclude that my life/our lives were not a representation of Jesus. You see, my life has always been about how to keep up appearances. About pretending that it revolves around Christ when really it doesn’t. My career in broadcasting glorifies vanity and image. Knowing that someone could potentially thwart that image by actually living with me and seeing what I actually do in my day-to-day life was truly frightening. But Bob didn’t judge me. He accepted me as I am.

The last five months have taught me a great deal about myself. In fact, I can even say that the whole experience was good. My hubby and I didn’t fight at all during the five months, which is something new. I think we even grew closer.

This experience has made me rethink our ministry’s practice of “common life.” When I was in college, I saw a lot of growing student disciples living with their shepherds or Bible teachers. In some cases, it seemed a necessity because the student needed a place to stay. Sometimes it was because they wanted to live in a more ‘spiritual’ environment, away from temptations of a college dorm or post-college apartment. And sometimes it was an opportunity to give them ‘training.’ In our ministry, common life has been used as a rite of passage and a sign of commitment. When I stayed in Korea before I got married, ministry leaders insisted that I live in common life with other Korean shepherdess as a form of spiritual training.

I’ve had roommates in college and, to be honest, it wasn’t easy. It’s never easy living with someone who is different from you. After my husband and I got married and began to live together, there was a lot that I had to overcome. My husband and Bob and I don’t have much in common, but somehow we made it work. Although we didn’t see eye to eye on lots of things, one thing we did share was a common identity in Christ. My husband loves Jesus. Bob loves Jesus. And I love Jesus. In the grand scheme of things, I guess that’s what’s really important.


  1. Wow, could this possibly be the first article submission from a woman on this UBFriends site?

    • Oh, and good job, Mary Y. I’m proud of you.
      Both for the article and for undertaking a common life experience.

    • This is the second female-authored article. Not that we’re counting…

  2. Thanks Big Bro….

  3. Mary, thanks for this article!  It made me laugh and also made me think about the concept of common life.  :)  I respect you guys and “Bob” for your open minds towards each other and your efforts to make it work, even when it’s challenging.  I think most people can understand the nervousness in opening one’s home and world to someone and revealing your weaknesses.  But at the same time, I think it’s great that you can make someone feel comfortable in your home.  Sometimes it’s easier to relate to or connect with someone “real” than someone who seems too perfect and unreachable.   And I think you and your hubby’s honest struggle to live for Jesus is a great testimony in itself!  :)

  4. How cute sibs! Love the story and the write up. Thanks, Mary Y.

  5. Jen Espinola

    Mary, thanks a lot for this encouraging and funny article! I can relate to your experience from my early years of marriage.  There’s nothing like common life to prepare you for the most life changing common life of all- having a baby! (well at least that is my experience:)) May God bless you and your family with a baby in His time.

  6. Joshua Brinkerhoff

    Hi Mary and the rest,

    I enjoyed this story a lot! My wife and I have been married for about 5 years, and I think we’ve lived without a “Bob” for maybe 12 months tops. So I’ve had quite a few memorable “Bob”-experiences, and I grinned as this posting reminded me of them.

    Despite all the hiccups, my wife and I are so much happier when we can share our life with others. We’ve also found that conflict in the home is less when others are with us. And it’s not just an appearance because someone else is living with us; there is genuinely more of a spirit of collaboration and serving together to love and welcome and serve “Bob”.

    I concur with you, Mary, about the pains that can arise when other people have expectations about how you’re supposed to serve “Bob”. Even more painful is the expectations that “Bob” may have. We’ve learned the hard way that it may not always be wise to allow just anyone to be a “Bob”. A few times my family was more welcoming than I think was wise, and it blew up in our faces to the detriment of the home and the ministry.

    Notwithstanding all the awkwardness and potential conflict, sharing my home and family live with “Bobs” has brought real joy to my family, has helped uncover all kinds of personal sins in me and my wife, and has helped us to try to learn a tiny bit of Jesus life-giving spirit. We’ve failed more than succeeded in that, but we thank God for the opportunities to try, and His grace that restores our failure. God be with all of you!

  7. Mary, thank you for sharing this experience with us. Your honesty is refreshing. I am thankful to you and your husband for offering an encouraging and prayerful environment to ‘Bob’ during his stay. I hope that my husband and I can one day invite our bible students or friends to live with us, so we can establish a loving environment for them (as well as my husband and me) to grow in Christ. It sounds really difficult to do, but with the right attitude and humble hearts, everyone in the household can benefit and grow from living together!

    I attended the Leadership Development Workshop in Wisconsin back in October 2010 where a workshop/presentation on “common life” was given by Paul Dang. It was eye-opening for me. I appreciated how the panelists encouraged about using common life as a means for learning how to be Jesus-like both outside and inside the home. They also gave various “do’s” and “don’ts”. Here are a few off the top of my head:


    1. Think about how Jesus lived, ate, slept, prayed and did everything with his disciples over the span of 3 years. This type of common-living training was excellent for Jesus and his disciples.
    2. Discuss the idea with all members of your family, including your children. Give them a say about inviting a bible student to live with your family in their home.
    3. Establish some guidelines and goals, if needed — ie: no alcohol in the home, try to attend morning prayer three times a week together, etc. I think it was Mark Vucekovich who suggested that common life among similar-aged people should include signing a faith contract of some sort to start everyone off on the same page.
    4. Do deeply evaluate why you are inviting this person to live with you. If your motives are wrong, even for a bit, then it may be best not to proceed.
    5. Pray with your husband/wife as much and as often as you can. The more you come to Christ while living with this person, the more Christ-like, patient, loving, encouraging you will be to them.

    I appreciated even more, some of the “don’ts” of inviting someone to live with you:

    1. Don’t invite someone to live with you to simply “keep” them in your ministry.
    2. Don’t invite them if they are deeply involved in a different ministry. This may cause problems, and may even be rooted from Don’t #1.
    3. Don’t invite students of different sexes to live on the same floor or close vicinity of each other — as it can cause distractions and problems among peers (I think one example was given that it MIGHT be alright if they lived on different floors or apartments within a 2-family building… I don’t recall exactly).

    (If there were any additional guidelines that I missed, please feel free to add them.)

    I was especially intrigued by the panel on common life because I had never thought of being able to offer my home to someone as a means for spiritual growth and encouragement for them or for me. I began to think about specific friends in New York UBF that are living in unhealthy, distracting, broken and sometimes even violent homes. As a disciple of Jesus, I should want to help them and offer them something better by bringing them to Jesus.

  8. Oh, and as a former “Bob” myself during my college days, I have to admit that living in common life with one godly Christian couple (the Morans in Berkeley) probably counts as one of the most spiritually formative experiences of my life. I still remember their practical love, their patience, their incarnational presence during my critical life transitions, their occasional gentle rebukes, and their constant encouragement. I am who I am because of them.
    Through common life, I also learned how to make potato soup and lasagna. Oh, and punch bowl cake too. Yum.

  9. My family has  taken others into our home  many tmes over the years.  Often it was beneficial, sometimes it was not. Point #1 on  Mary J’s  “Do” list is often cited as a reason why we should take disciples into our homes. Jesus lived with disciples,  therefore we should too. The point is valid, but the analogy is not perfect. Jesus was not married. Having a marriage partner changes the equation in a major way, and having children changes it even more. And Jesus did not remain with his disciples round the clock for three years without ever taking a rest or break. He often got away from the crowds and  from the disciples.  As he practiced community, he also practiced solitude. The need for solitude is very real. And the need for rest is also real.

    Points #1 and #2 on Mary J’s “Don’t” list are also worth considering. Why would it be problematic to invite someone to live with you if they are involved in another ministry? I guess it would be problematic if the practice of “common life” has a motive or implicit agenda to help people to commit to UBF and transform them into something after our own image. As Mary Y wrote, much of her angst about common life came from the weight of all those hidden expectations. If those hidden expectations are put aside, then opening your home to someone can lead to lasting friendship and be deeply transformative for everyone involved. Friendship and community are valuable for their own sake, not merely as a tool for raising disciples. I wish we could all understand that better.

  10. Hannah Love

    This was such a great post. I was laughing and smiling the whole way. Thank you so so so much for your honesty and willingness to share on here.  

    I spent 9 months in the ‘sister’s tent’ last year in Korea and that totally changed different habits of mine. I slept with 2 other girls in my room. I couldn’t just lie around, go on the computer, read and do whatever. I had to tidy up. I had to make sure my things were lying around and even serve breakfast once a week for 5 other girls. It was such a challenge, but also a great time for me to recognize how preciously God made us. We are so unique in the eyes of God but I have this problem where I want everyone to be like me! It was a humbling experience.  

    Thank you for sharing!!

  11. I’m proud of you, Mary, I’ll always, and I love you!

  12. For  nearly a month now  there has been  somebody – a ‘sheep’ like we’d say in UBF ;) – living with us. This person herself  hasn’t much in common with your ‘Bob’, I think. No student, difficult background, current personal and social problems, and so on. But the situation has been similar.

    First, I was happy she came to us though unplanned, unexpected and on unfortunate circumstances. I hoped we could help her most of all in growing spiritually, by showing her our practical life of faith. I also hoped we could deepen our relationship to her. But when time passed I felt more and more tired and exhausted – although I for myself didn’t  serve her very much but my mother. ;;
    I began to feel stressed and started avoiding her. And I put the responsibility on her by blaming her in my heart  to be ungrateful, undiscerning  and a burden to my mother.

    Yesterday  my sisters and I started a discussion (or shall I even say ‘argument’?) with her after our Sunday worship service. And I have to say we failed miserably. We talked about real faith. In my eyes, we had to tell her how she had to believe in God because  the bible  was saying  so (- on my opinion). But afterwards I realized  I only wanted her to put  on the glasses of my own  opinions  and experiences through which she should see the bible like I did. Because of this self-righteousness I couldn’t help her.

    My father told me that I have to see myself, my own  faults and sins and take them to God before I try to teach others. And that I should deeply study the bible learning which example JESUS gave us.

    Your article, Mary, made me think it over again and add new things to learn from your experience – thank you very much!  I think I’ll try to follow the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” from  the other Mary, too. =)
    May God help me to  have a  wider and humble  heart – loving other people just as they are instead of judging them because God also loves me just as I am.