Aiming to put God first

July 1, 2022 - 12:00am -- Living City

As a couple, we’ve often asked ourselves what prevents us from giving every part of our lives to God. Most importantly, we ask whether we have put God first, or whether God hovers around 4th or 5th.

In the summer of 2018, we started talking about how much freer we would be if we sold our house. We had been lucky to live in a large home since 2006 that allowed us to share our lives with a wide variety of people. But almost as soon as we spoke the words “Let’s sell the house,” we thought it was the right idea.

For us, it was a confirmation that we had asked the right question: how can we keep God in first place? We began to see that not owning a house would leave us open to any plan God might have for us, including relocating to another continent, which we had often talked about.

In Fall 2019, we started to throw out ideas to friends about co-housing—sharing rent with another couple or family and living in an intentional community. Mike asked Boston College (his employer) if they had housing for faculty in transition situations.

Our way of putting God first was to tell lots of people about our “plan” and see which one seemed to fit these criteria of putting God first.

One day in January 2020, an idea came: Mike’s direct supervisor asked if we would consider moving into a dorm on the campus of Boston College as resident ministers. We knew the idea didn’t come from us, because moving into an undergraduate dorm in our mid-fifties didn’t seem like an obvious next step!

But with the same clarity we felt about our decision to sell the house, we both immediately said, “Yes!” It felt like God planted this idea, so we waited for everything to fall into place.

The president of Boston College, the Vice President for Mission, the Associate Vice President of Campus Ministry and the Associate Vice President of residence life all jumped onboard with an enthusiasm even we could barely understand. No one had any idea where we could actually live, and at that moment of the discussion in late spring, there weren’t even any students living on campus because of the pandemic.

Part of the beauty of the choice was knowing that we were discerning the steps together with others. When Fr. Jack called to ask if we would be willing to live on BC’s newly acquired campus located a mile from the main campus, about which they knew absolutely nothing at the time (no one had even been on the grounds or seen the buildings), we said another clear and immediate “Yes.”

Students returned to campus for the 2020–2021 academic year with strict Covid protocols. Mike assumed the duties of resident minister with the newly formed quarantine and isolation residence life staff. It was an intense period of living the present moment and sharing various degrees of suffering with each person he encountered.

During the 2021–22 academic year, we moved into a residence hall on the main campus. We were able to interact more freely with students and begin the task of cultivating meaningful relationships in the process of rebuilding a dynamic residential community during an ongoing pandemic.

We share our lives and living space with students by hosting regular Sunday brunches in our apartment. Students reciprocated by inviting us to share a meal in their apartments. They frequently seek us out for support.

Because our residence hall has a dedicated kosher kitchen, we have developed especially enriching relationships with the Boston College Hillel community. Almost every Friday evening we celebrate Shabbat with the Hillel group, and at the invitation of the Jewish student community, members of the Muslim Student Association and students from other traditions attend as well. These family-style meals and hours of conversation have been a highlight of our faith experience this year.

When people ask how we made this choice, we let them know that we see it as moving to an assisted-living home! All of us in the dorm help each other out, and we can’t wait for year three.

Mike and Julie James, Boston