I am currently reading (for a book group) the Sally Clarkson book “The Lifegiving Home”. I’m really struggling with it, which is no surprise I suppose since that’s how I approach ideas. I wrestle through them. Nevertheless, I keep struggling to put into words what irks me, so I am finding I really need to write this out.
Here’s the thing. If this were a book about how to create a beautiful and rich home environment as a home-maker, the book would be spot on. However, it is deeper than that. There’s a theological argument about homemaking being an act of incarnation, the incarnation of beauty and good and life in our homes. I love that, I really do. That’s the stuff I resonate with in the book, and it is my daily challenge in life right now. For instance, this quote: “We cannot change the world if we cannot incarnate God’s love in our own most ordinary spaces and hours.”
The hard thing is the marrying of the two – homemaking and daily incarnational living. I think we believers are to be living pieces of the redemption of Jesus walking around on this earth. It should be evident in all areas of our life. Most particularly, I believe the incarnational community is the Church universal, manifest through the church local. Because the home is a part of our lives, particularly moms of little ones, that is where we spend the most time incarnating God’s love. However, Sally’s book is so far entirely focused on the home. It’s always IN, providing a place of security, comfort.
So, although technically I agree with her, I think the book reflects an aspect of the evangelical church that I’ve grown really uncomfortable with. There’s an idolatry of family and home in the community. I grew up steeped in Focus on the Family, and marriage and kids was sort of viewed as THE living out of the Christian life. Whereas now I see that as being a distraction from the clear message of scripture, which is that the primary outflow of Christ in the world is the Church. Not the building, not the institution, but the community of believers around the world. Scripture is clear that in the community of believers we are unified in a deeper bond than anything else, ethnicity, gender, social class, or family. Jesus’ words are pretty clear that the living out of following Him sometimes comes at the expense of family (note- this can be twisted in terrible ways, I am just saying that the over-emphasis on family and home is not reflected in scripture). And nowhere in scripture do we see calls to create a beautiful home or to make sure we have a place of security and comfort. Quite the opposite in fact. Those who follow Jesus grow increasingly UNcomfortable and long for heaven. The comfort and renewal and hope come from intimacy with Jesus, not from a beautiful home or family.
So… that is what I am wrestling with. I think that having a life-giving home space IS good. I think that nurturing your family IS important, extremely important. However if we are talking about incarnating the gospel in our lives, I think we are frequently driven OUT of the home rather than in, and towards a broader community of faith and into a needy world. Much of what Sarah says describing what a life-giving home can give, I wish was the exact same thing except describing the work of Christ through the community of the Church.
And so I wrestle. Because here I am, actually a homemaker at this point in time so Sally's words about home are very practical and familiar. I am a foreigner in this culture, so yes, we LONG for a home that is a refuge of things that are safe and comfortable. And I am, like the Clarksons, a reader and lover of beauty. And what is said in the book is good. But I am afraid it misses the point in that the Church is central to God’s plan for the world. And I am afraid it points women more deeply into painting a perfect home life instead of pointing them out to live bravely in the world, not worried overly much about the details of running a home except to make it happen.
That’s my personality speaking some, though. I’m pretty utilitarian in my approach to home-making. And I’m living in a world overseas where the physical home is usually just a place where a family comes to meet their basic needs – eat, sleep, clean themselves. So much of what Sally describes, despite her having raised small children and lived overseas, would be utterly ridiculous if I translated it for the mothers around me here. Beauty and calm and candles and rocking chairs on porches and saving up for a beautiful big wooden table for tons of guests. Those are good things but … that is such a Western thing to say. From my perspective now I would say, couldn’t everyone sit on the floor and eat with their fingers and you still have just as much joy and beauty and security? Does the physical space and all the foofy details actually matter? It isn’t bad, it's very nice, but is it the point?
And so I’m trying to read the book to help me think through how to create a thriving environment in our home and family, and customizing it in my head as we go along (as they suggest). Here are my primary questions. How do I create a home/family where we see and appreciate beauty IN simplicity. How do we create a home/family where we are engaged in the world and weaving our lives into the community around us? How do we create a home/family where we are intrinsically part of the body of Christ, the local church?
Those are my thoughts so far, four chapters into the book. If you've read it, I would really love to hear your thoughts or pushback or anything. I'm longing for some good discussion on this to help me process!