What kind of house is yours?
Shared, life-giving love is what makes a house into a home. But like any authentic good, there is always a counterfeit. And when it comes to home, we can pervert the fundamental unit of human experience into a false form. Much ink is spilled on the social evils caused by broken families, even referring to such households as "broken homes." And while that concern is certainly valid, what fascinates me is the way that those with strong family values have also, often unknowingly, lost the vision of home by creating something else entirely. They commonly do this in two different ways, by failing to share the love in their walls with others, or by selectively sharing it in an inauthentic way. In both errors, the family's rigidly-imposed privacy both excludes the community without and begins to erode the family within.
Christian families of the previous generation faced an unprecedented attack on family values. Suddenly, taken-for-granted notions of human sexuality, marriage, and family relationships were called into question, rocking the foundations of society. Naturally, those with traditional family-values responded by defending themselves. At first, there was a battle, the cultural war in full-fledged aggression on an open battlefield. But then there was a change: Christians were discouraged and burnt out, and in some cases they began to pull out of the political scene and even their own local communities. Unable to contain the damage done around them, they became content to live their safe and stable family lives in isolation. The home became a sanctuary from antagonistic and disagreeable outside forces.
This was an understandable situation, but nonetheless stripped the home of its power to bring life to those without as well as within, be it the weary traveler of days past or the heralded neighborhood spirit of America's heyday. Instead, those with traditional views on family isolated themselves. This left fewer and fewer positive examples for those around them, those who were not raised in traditional households now had few, if any, models of happy family life. In this new arrangement, the home has become a fort for these traditionalist families, strong and safe within, but always afraid and never reaching out beyond their comfort.
But there is another strategy that good families use for interacting with those outside: turning their home into a museum. Unlike the fort families, these families have some sense of obligation to share their homes with the outside world. Those who metaphorically "pay admission" by carpooling with the family or by RSVPing to the party are allowed in, as long as they go "through security" by being a trusted and predictable consumer. The guest will be expected, the house in order. Only the best parts of family history will be displayed. The visitors will learn about each family member's achievements. They will admire the cleanliness of the living room, and the china pattern on the table. They will be able to see only the curated family. These visitors aren't truly being invited into a home – they're tourists.
Both approaches to the home are distorted, but neither of these views is entirely wrong. There is certainly a place for privacy and protection within the home. There are times to formally host guests and put on your best face. But it is not these times that make a house a home. Home is only developed through organic social relationships in which the biological family is willing to form a spiritual community, to invite others in in a way that isn't forced or planned, to let them see the good, bad, and ugly parts of family life. Paradoxically, this kind of mission will tie a family closer together itself, in the same way that mission trips bind together fellow travelers.
This will look different in every family, but it can begin with simple things like knowing your neighbors, feeding hungry college kids, or having a young girl with divorced parents over to tea. We only have a home if it is shared, and one of the important purposes of our family is to share it with others. Our best hope for renewing culture is a strong home life, but a home life for others and not just ourselves.
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Image above from Flickr user Roger Schultz via Flickr Creative Commons license.