The Life-Giving Home: March

IMG_20140531_072443Sally and Sarah Clarkson’s book The Life-Giving Home has been on my radar for a couple years now. I decided it was time for a deep-dive read and blog series about it. I hope to read and journal (here on my blog) about each chapter as I go. The book is divided up by months in its chapter structure, which lends itself to a blog series rather nicely. I hope that regardless of your life stage and situation, you can glean something from the wisdom on the importance of home to a human heart.

The Life-Giving Home: March

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.  -John Muir

Idealism, at heart, is about hope. And so is seeing beauty. P. 84, The Life-Giving Home

This chapter of The Life-Giving Home is an excellent primer on a spiritual understanding of pursuing beauty. Sarah Clarkson unfolds for us a gentle theology on pursuing beauty in a Christian’s life and home life. For me, the chapter was a great reminder on why we as human beings crave order, peace, and beauty. We were created for life in a garden; the Fall broke this existence dramatically.  As Tolkien puts it, “We all long for Eden, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile.”

Beauty also points forward to the day when creation will be redeemed and fully restored by the return of the Lord Jesus. As Sarah says:

To cultivate beauty is to act in keeping with my faith in God’s goodness rather than my doubt. It means to fight tooth and nail, day by day, to keep alive my faith in a love that transforms the ordinary and, in that transformation, offers a glimpse of a one-day, ultimate redemption. (p. 83)

Now, if you’re like me, you read a chapter like this and immediately want to set about reinventing your life and that of your family from cellar to attic. Clear it out! Reorganize! make everything beautiful immediately! Quick! I’ve been doing this all wrong!

Not so fast, Sarah cautions us:

…beauty in home life — beauty on the level of the kitchen table, the child’s bedroom, the back porch — is something at which we often stumble. What we miss in these surface things is an understanding of beauty not as veneer we apply to the surface of our lives or an ideal only to be attained by the extraordinary, but as the tangible, daily outgrowth of the spiritual values  we hold most deeply. We miss, in other words, the reality of incarnation, the truth that God created the physical world to house and express the spiritual. (p.81-82)

Yes — the physical world should reflect the beauty of the spiritual. But that looks different for each family, each season, each person. It doesn’t mean we live in a museum. It means we value truth and genuineness over a false veneer of meaningless, flashy, fleeting ideas of what is attractive.

As I revisit what this looks like for our life here, I’ve found it helpful to think on another book I’m reading, Andy Crouch’s Culture Making. In his chapter entitled “The Horizons of the Possible,” Crouch supplies the reader with five questions for evaluating any cultural artifact and how it fits into the broader cultural context. Whether we are thinking on the interstate highway system, lasers, cornbread, smartphones, or Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, or the culture and cultural artifacts that exist within our home life, we can ask the following questions:

  1. What does this assume about the way the world is?
  2. What does this assume about the way the world should be?
  3. What does this make possible?
  4. What does this make impossible (or very difficult)?
  5. What new forms of culture are formed in response to this?

The first two questions are especially helpful to me when I think on time spent, habits, routines, art, music, and other factors in our everyday existence in our home. This doesn’t mean every piece of music in our home expresses the Gospel from beginning to end. In fact, it means that my husband points to a Peter Gabriel album as a better expression of the despair and brokenness of the Fall than most Christian music. Why? Because it expresses the truth of divorce and despair in all its ugliness. It fits into question #1 quite well — and even #2. At the same time, we don’t wish to stay there. Reminders in music of the hope of redemption, Christ’s return, and the current beauty that surrounds us even in Earth’s fallenness — these also feed the soul.

How do you think about culture in your home and how it expresses (1) where and who we are and (2) what we hope for? I’ve loved this reminder from Sarah Clarkson to continue to press on in my pursuit of beauty here at home — not a Pinterest-perfect existence, but living in the spiritual, physical realities that Christ has made true here and now, and in the time to come.

 

Sally and Sarah Clarkson’s book The Life-Giving Home has been on my radar for a couple yearslghfeb now. I decided it was time for a deep-dive read and blog series about it. I hope to read and journal (here on my blog) about each chapter as I go. The book is divided up by months in its chapter structure, which lends itself to a blog series rather nicely. I hope that regardless of your life stage and situation, you can glean something from the wisdom on the importance of home to a human heart. You can read all the posts here.

“The Incarnation was, in its deepest sense, a restoration of what God originally intended for humankind. And that includes a physical place of belonging.” – Sarah, Ch. 2

February’s chapter, as you might have anticipated, is all about love; it is subtitled “A Culture of Love.” Sally explores the ways in which we’ve been loved by God, then opens up ways that her family has celebrated one another, whether it be birthday traditions or weekly times of “girl time” and “men’s night out.”

Love is indeed a choice, an obedience, a service and a sacrifice, an initiation. But love is also the most powerful source of joy. And it is the means through which God would have us extend His hands, His words, His redemption to our world, within the walls of our homes.

The thing that struck me about this chapter the most is the multitude of ways in which these little manners and ways paved the way for listening to one another. At the heart of every tradition or intentional act, there was a heart of service for communicating that the person was seen and known.

Last week I read a quote from David Augsburger, “Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” It struck me as so true! We are all so busy being efficient that we forego being fruitful in one another’s lives. Can we sit down and listen to our children? Can we pay attention to their little stumbles and joys? Can we recognize a friend’s triumph or discouragement?

I came away from this chapter with encouragement to stop and see people, whether they be my own children or a friend, neighbor, or stranger. Sally closes with an encouragement to entrust these interactions to the Lord:

And because He is the One who invented love in the first place, who surrounds us with love every day of our lives and inhabits every truly loving relationship, I can trust Him to transform all my efforts into the stuff of eternity.

 

The Life-Giving Home: January

Sally and Sarah Clarkson’s book The Life-Giving Home has been on my radar for a couple years now. I decided it was time for a deep-dive read and blog series about it. I hope to read and journal (here on my blog) about each chapter as I go. The book is divided up by months in its chapter structure, which lends itself to a blog series rather nicely. I hope that regardless of your life stage and situation, you can glean something from the wisdom on the importance of home to a human heart.

“The Incarnation was, in its deepest sense, a restoration of what God originally intended for humankind. And that includes a physical place of belonging.” – Sarah, Ch. 2

January: Creating a Framework for Home

“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” – Lucy Maud Montgomery

This month’s chapter is largely and about rhythms and routines. Routines shield us from chaos. They help us make our intended priorities our actual priorities. But routines take planning and careful execution. Once established, routines can become a welcome friend — little rituals that ingrain order, peace, and joy in our hearts.

This chapter helped me ask good questions as I looked down the corridor of 2017. I was able to steal away for a few hours to a coffee shop and do some hard work in this area. (A special word of thanks to my husband for making time for this amidst his busy work schedule!) I began with what Sally calls “decluttering your heart” — a careful evaluation of the need for confession, spiritual weakness, or guilt.

Then, after a time of prayer, I moved on to working through goals for the year, in different areas: physical, emotional, and spiritual. This portion included answering questions like:

  • What exercise/health goals do I have for this year? What measurable steps can I take to achieve them?
  • Are there improvements I can make to any relationships? Family? Friends?
  • What spiritual disciplines do I want to work on this year? How will I go about it? What books do I want to read for spiritual improvement and accountability this year? What Bible verses would be helpful for me to memorize and meditate on in this season of my life?

Now, real talk for a second — my number one weakness in this exercise is that I want to do ALL THE THINGS! AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! The key to these questions is understanding the season you’re in, being patient with yourself, and setting realistic goals.

For me, this looked like the following (not a complete list):

  • I have some lofty running goals this year. I need to put my running schedule on my google calendar, because when that’s done, I plan better around it and actually do it.
  • I would like to schedule a one-on-one with each of my kids each month. These dates also need to go on the calendar.
  • I made a list of the books I’d like to read this year. I am never at a shortage for things I’d like to read, but I tried to be intentional about which ones would serve my season of parenting, my discipling relationships and my current struggles.
  • I ordered a Bible study book to use in my current morning quiet time, since I did Bible-in-a-Year last year and I try to alternate overview with in-depth study.

Then I moved on to working on goals for fun. We are a family that likes to go places! Here are some of the ideas I came up with for cultivating fun and rhythms of rest and enjoyment in our family:

  • My two youngest have begged for a return to teatime once a week. I put it on the calendar. (You should notice by now that my google calendar runs my life!)
  • I tweaked our approach to evening reading time with Dad so that it’s more restful and less squeezed.
  • I put a date on the calendar each month for us to do “city schooling.” The kids love to do school in other places, and I do too. A change in atmosphere is so refreshing! Plus I find that we get more done out of the house.
  • I wrote down all the trips we want to/need to take this year, when they were scheduled, and any approximate costs we would incur for them. (there were a lot of them this year!)

I also took some time considering and praying through where each of my kids is. Are there bad habits we need to address? Lessons they’d like to take this year? Milestones approaching? I made a little list for each child with a few action items on each.

Since I’m trying to blog more regularly, I also made a list of topics I’ve been mulling over but haven’t gotten to yet.

All of this sounds dreadfully boring and not very “homey” at all, doesn’t it? But it nails down some structure for human flourishing. It sets goals for soul-feeding. Our kitchen chalkboard currently bears one of my favorite quotes for this time of year, from Annie Dillard:

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That’s what we want — to catch these days and bend them to our wills. We want to redeem the time and use it well (Eph. 5:16).

I want to emphasize that your structure will look different from mine. Life stages, employment, ages of children, and priorities dictate how we spend our time and honor the Lord with it. Sally even says at one point that there were many times that the schedule flew out the window due to sickness, adding a baby, moving, job changes, etc. But an underlying structure gave their family a rhythm to return to.

Next month’s chapter, February is on “A Culture of Love: Growing Lifelong Relationships.”