I went to a party once in a furniture store. Actually, it was held in the brand-new home of a young couple who had just recently married. I was visiting a friend of theirs and attended as her guest, so I do not know much about the hosts themselves, except that they were obviously not hurting financially. The one thing I do remember clearly from this evening was the extremely sterile feeling of the house. I would call it a “home,” but that implies an entirely different feeling from calling it a “house,” which is what it was. It was a house where this couple lived, but it did not feel like a home. It looked as though someone had walked into a very large furniture store and said, “I’ll take one of each, all in the same style, please.”
The living room furniture matched the dining room furniture, which matched the family room furniture, which matched the kitchen furniture. You can use your imagination to figure out what the rest of the place looked like. Every piece in every room was an exact complement to every other piece in every other room. Although it looked nice, it did not have a feeling of “family.” There were no hand-me-downs, no family treasures, no heritage. No doilies crocheted by Great Aunt What’s-her-name, no sepia-tinted photos of ancient, unnamed ancestors, no chipped fruit bowl.
At first glance, I was envious, dreaming what it must be like to have everything new, not handed down family cast-offs. However, the longer I remained in the house, the closer I was able to see everything. There were no scratches, no water-rings, no dents or marks on anything. It began to feel alien. The realization of “family” came over me as I thought about my own home with Grandma’s rocking chair, Grandpa’s nightstand, and the mirror Mom was tricked into buying at a farm auction. I have hand-me-downs galore. I have family. Grandpa helped my son build the birdhouse in the backyard. Grandma gave us the dishes in the cupboard; the cupboard was given to us by my brother-in-law. Almost everything in my house bears a scratch, a dent, or some other mark giving a hint to its life story.
The furniture in my house is not always easy to see. It is often at least partially hidden under books, papers, an occasional article of clothing, or a bowl holding a half-dozen popcorn kernels. The dog feels much more secure knowing that a chew toy is within easy reach at any point in his realm, so my efforts to corral them into a basket behind the end table are usually thwarted by his scampering/scattering ritual. In other words, people live in this house.
We do not go out the door promptly at 7:30am each day, abandoning our home to remain lonely, but in perfect order, for the greater part of the day. A family lives here. A homeschooling family lives here — a family that reads books and occasionally eats in front of the television set in the living room. We often leave video tapes piled near the TV — with their cases strewn about elsewhere. At the moment, a throw pillow has been thrown onto the floor and remains there. The dining room table is barely recognizable under a recent art project, a three-ring binder, assorted papers, index cards, and pizza coupons. The dog is lying serenely beside me with his squeaky bunny and teddy bear close enough for a quick game of shake and growl. A family lives here.
It is not at all unusual to find dishes in my sink — dirty ones. The dish drainer is frequently found sitting full of clean, but unshelved, dishes. Laundry can sit undone, bathrooms can remain uncleaned, and the whole place is often cluttered. Do not mistake my meaning: I do not think of myself as a poor housekeeper, but people live in this house. I could (try to) keep my house as clean and uncluttered as a magazine layout, but no one would enjoy spending time here. I could grab the dishes out from under you as soon as a meal was finished and whisk them back into the cupboards in sparkling condition, but it would remove a great deal of the peace from dinnertime. Speaking of magazine layouts, have you ever looked closely at some of those photo-spreads? No world exists outside their windows — most likely because the fake window is set up as part of a fake room inside a photo studio full of other fake things (fake plants, fake food, fake world).
I accept the fact that people live here. I do not chase them around with the vacuum cleaner, and I do not make them wait to use the bathroom until I have re-cleaned it following its use by a guest. (Someone actually did that to me once — I was pregnant at the time, and I nearly caused there to be more to clean than just the stool and sink.) My home is clean, though often cluttered. My home is clean, but never sterile. People live in this house, and I want them to know that they are infinitely more important to me than my house is.
Consider the wisdom in Proverbs 14:4, shown here in several translations for clarity.
“Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, but much increase comes by the strength of the ox.” (New American Standard Bible)
“Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.” (New International Version)
“An empty stable stays clean, but no income comes from an empty stable.” (New Living Translation)
A house without a family may stay cleaner than a home full of children, family, and friends, but where is the fun in that? — Guilt-Free Homeschooling paraphrase of Proverbs 14:4