This Beautiful Mess

pirate couch large-2Finally, nap time. I had just tackled the morning mess, including breakfast and lunch dishes and a few soaking pans from the night before. Being 30-weeks pregnant with baby number three, I was desperate for some sleep. Mercifully, our four-year-old went down without complaint. Our six-year-old was just as eager for some playtime by himself. I left him with LEGO, books, crayons and the run of the living room. All was well.

I awoke an hour later to loud whispers in my ear. “Mommy! Come see what I made.”

I rolled out of bed as he led me by the hand to see his masterpiece. At the foot of the stairs, the living room was shrouded in couch cushions, coordinating throw pillows, wool wraps and freshly washed sheets.

“Don’t you love it? It’s my fort!”

“Honey, this is great,” I mustered. “But remember, we’re having company for dinner and Mommy just cleaned, so you have to put everything away.”

He looked at me with his puppy-dog eyes. “It’s like you care more about the couch than me,” he said.

“No, of course I don’t,” I said, knowing he wouldn’t understand my dilemma. I was proud of his creativity. But did it have to come at the expense of my peaceful, beautiful, orderly home?

What matters most?

How could we have known, back when I was pregnant with our little fort builder, that the most important test of a good couch was not its construction, comfort or color scheme?

pirate couch large-4What mattered most, once the kids arrived, was how easily all the cushions and pillows could be removed and made to resemble a pirate ship, volcano or secret hideout. At least we’d had the foresight to spring for the Scotchgard treatment.

We were naïve. Lost in a steady stream of Pottery Barn catalogues, we shopped with dreams of showroom furniture artfully arranged in our first home. The only problem with that fantasy was people. If you notice, there aren’t any in most furniture catalogues. Apart from the occasional dog and monogrammed towel suggesting a human presence, those catalogues are lifeless. But aren’t people what matter most?

The purpose of a home

In Home Comforts, a book about how a home works, not how it looks, author Cheryl Mendelson writes, “When you keep house, you use your head, your heart and your hands together to create a home – the place where you live the most important parts of your private life.” And when kids are little, the most important parts have a lot to do with making messes.

Stephen Curtis Chapman captures this idea in his song Signs of Life:

I’ve got crayons rolling around in the floorboard of my car, Bicycles all over my driveway, bats and balls all over my yard, And there’s a plastic man from outer space sitting in my chair. The signs of life are everywhere.

Eternal treasures

At times when Steve complains about the landscaping rocks the kids have thrown in the grass, I remind him, “Honey, we’re raising kids, not grass.” Recently he turned it back on me, saying, “We’re raising kids, not occasional tables and leather ottomans.”

pirate couch large-3Those things aren’t eternal. No matter how perfect something is when you get it – or what you do to keep it that way – it won’t last. As disappointing as that may be, it’s freeing to just accept it. One motivational writer says she knows her stuff will break sooner or later, so she just looks at it and thinks, It’s already broken. That saves her the stress of trying to keep it perfect.

For me, it makes sense to look at our stuff and think, It’s already sticky. This attitude of not frantically trying to keep our stuff pristine is consistent with Matthew 6:19: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.”

My goals for our home no longer include maintaining the look of a decorating magazine. Our home wasn’t built to be a showroom. The life encompassed within its walls – loving a spouse and children, having babies, teaching children to know and love God – is far too important to be diminished by such low aims ... even if it means having to work my way through a cushion fort to finish my nap.

[Note: I wrote this article back in 2006. We've since passed our pirate-ship-capable couch on to some friends and replaced it with a cushions-attached sectional. But these principles of what matters most seem even more true to me now--with four kids, and evidence that the mess-heavy years really do fly by--than when I wrote it. How I needed this reminder today.]

Kitchen Help

20130219-205916.jpgThey were so excited to help and I was thrilled to realize four is old enough to wield a potato peeler! Taking turns alternately peeling carrots and potatoes for our harvest soup, their joy in being able to help make dinner made light work of it. It was a surprisingly cold day, but unexpectedly cozy in the kitchen. I almost hated to clean up all the peels; evidence of delight all over the countertops.

Change the world from your family room

Over the past century, the inertia has been toward turning family and home life inside out. "Prior to the industrial revolution," writes Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, "most families assumed responsibility for economic production, the education of children, and socialization into the culture. Recreation, entertainment, child rearing, and vocational training were all conducted within the confines of the family."

Over the years, the industrial system encouraged families to out-source all those activities--to help the economy by paying someone else to do them. In many ways, this change was a relief.  Unlike the Ingallses (immortalized in Little House on the Prairie), families no longer had to spend the bulk of their day just trying to get chores done and food on the table. The labor saving devices and division of labor introduced by the Industrial Revolution made home management much simpler.

winter readingBut something was lost in the process of reengineering all the functions of the family home. According to Allan Carlson and Paul Mero in the book The Natural Family, "Family households, formerly function-rich bee-hives of useful, productive work and mutual support, tended to become merely functionless, overnight places of rest for persons whose active lives and loyalties lay elsewhere."

Carlson and Mero say today's families can still find a way to have "a home that serves as the center for social, educational, economic and spiritual life." New technology and a fresh longing for a sustainable balance between work and family is slowly encouraging families to find ways to reproduce some of the benefits of the preindustrial, home-based family.

Outside-in homes--those in which parents are intentional about "in-sourcing" primary educational responsibilities, child rearing, Christian discipleship, recreation, entertainment, and more--can still have an inside out influence on the world around them. Edmund Burke, an Irish statesman and philosopher in the late 1700's, described the family as an essential foundation for the larger world. "To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society," he wrote, "is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind."

Additionally, men and women who desire to have lives of influence often find that the work of caring for and investing in the next generation is among the most important influence they can have. For all the hopes and dreams we have for our own lives, we often overlook that the under appreciated work of parenting is likely the greatest contribution we'll make. Author Gary Thomas talks about how the genealogy chapters that tell how so-and-so begat so-and-so, may be among the most important in the Bible:

God chooses to simplify these men's lives by mentioning their most important work--having kids, dying, and then getting out the way. I wonder how we might simplify our own lives by recognizing that eighty percent or more of what we spend our time on will ultimately be forgotten. Perhaps we might pay a little more attention to the remaining twenty percent. Indeed, the effort we put into creating a lasting legacy through children and great-children might increase significantly.

This assumes, however, that men and women who are faithful in biological fruitfulness will also be faithful in spiritual fruitfulness. Andreas Köstenberger addresses this in the book God, Marriage and Family:

In godly homes, husband and wife sharpen one another as "iron sharpens iron" (Proverbs 27:17), and their children are drawn into the communal life of the family and into the path of discipleship pursued and modeled by their parents, which fulfills the Lord's desire for godly offspring (Malachi 2:15).

This too is part of obeying the risen Christ's commission for his followers to "go...and make disciples" (Matthew 28:18-20).

To show how this can happen, Köstenberger provides a compelling picture of how God designed biological fruitfulness and spiritual fruitfulness to intersect:

What God desires is happy, secure, and fulfilled families where the needs of the individual family members are met but where this fulfillment is not an end in itself but becomes a vehicle for ministry to others. In this way God uses families to bring glory to himself and to further his kingdom, showing the world what he is like--by the love and unity expressed in a family by the husband's respect for his wife, the wife's submission to her husband, and the children's obedience (even if imperfect). What is more, the husband-wife relationship also expresses how God through Christ relates to his people the church. Thus it can truly be said that families have a vital part to play in God's plan to "bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ," "for the praise of his glory" (Ephesians 1:10,12 NIV).

In our own "begatting," in our intentionality about taking primary responsibility for the care and discipline of of our children and especially in the faithful discipleship of our children, we can to some degree, and often beyond our what we ever would have imagined, change the world from our family room.

Adapted from portions of Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies.

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