Adapted with permission from "Weavings: A Journal of Christian Spiritual Life."
With the eldest of our four children only fifteen, we cannot predict what our house of faith will look like in the future. And we certainly can't say that our style of landscaping or taste in furnishings should be de rigueur for the church. God surely has broad tastes in spiritual home design. But we will describe the foundation of our home and the framework we're trying to put into place.
The decorative choices in our household of faith are not nearly as important as the strength and durability of the inner structure. Your house probably will not look like our house. Yet by grace, sharing similar frameworks, our various households may give a weary world a glimpse of the dwellings that will adorn the streets of the new heavens and the new earth.
As we reflected on our years together for this article, we identified three commitments that comprise the foundation of our household. These have given rise to a framework of values and choices that characterize our life as a family.
Paul writes of "the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone" (Eph. 2:19-20). Our life together begins with a bedrock commitment to "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 1:3). Deep within us, by grace, is a fundamental orientation to the God who has come to us in Jesus Christ. Individually and together, we see this as the heart of the universe and of our lives personally. Before we were married, God brought us both to what our Presbyterian Book of Order calls "faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and acceptance of his Lordship in all of life." Nowadays, such shared commitment and similar faith may be rare. We recognize what a mercy it is. Yet having been gifted with belief, we know we are called to build daily upon Christ. And we share a trust that we are each building on this same foundation.
The next layer fitted directly to this cornerstone is a radical commitment to each other. Years ago, we passionately declared (though we couldn't imagine all it would mean), "I am for you." The words came easily in the flush of youthful beginnings. Yet we have come to see that bringing these words into the world is the masterwork of a lifetime, to be forged on the anvil of hourly choices that move us, year by aging year, toward each other and not away. The vow to be together for the length of days given to us is enacted in a moment-by-moment fresh choosing of one another. When something comes between us, our commitment calls us to remove the barrier. This discipline is vital to ensuring that what is built will endure.
From this vision flows the third foundational commitment, which is to our children. We hope that they absolutely take for granted the love of God that has given rise to our love for each other and that is poured out upon them through us. Our desire is that in these formative years secure, accepting love is so much a part of the atmosphere of our household that they think of it the way we think of air-we just live in it. We hope there is a sense in our family that it is better to be together than apart. Within the home, we share our griefs and joys, frustrations and dreams among those who will listen and care. While activities and responsibilities may draw us away, we always return, and thrive when we are close.
We want to be with our children, and we communicate to them that they are not a burden or a nuisance but rather the very ones for whom we live. They are who we spend our time with. This commitment of hours has limited our adult pursuits, but generally we have made peace with that. Our struggle is with a culture that offers so many activities that families can be on the go every moment. We feel the tug of these opportunities and expectations but have made deliberate efforts to resist. Our children certainly are engaged in activities outside the home, but we strive to place boundaries around the use of our time. When the "good things" we are doing pull us apart, we make an effort to pull in and redirect the flow of our family so that we can be together more. Our belief is that this gathering love actually creates the security that makes mature departure possible.
From the foundation of these commitments to God, to each other, and to the children, a framework of values arises. On this structure, we place the expression of our values in the choices we make. Of course, we fail routinely and share with others the parental fear that we may cause harm or simply miss the mark. With awareness that inconsistency and imperfection are constant companions, we offer these priorities:
Corporate worship is the essence of Christian faith. We do not underestimate what it means for young children to sit with their parents in worship. That may be the one hour each week when mother and father are not on the run, not working, but just there sitting close to loved ones in God's presence. Our hope is that being in church on Sunday morning will be such a part of the structure of our household that it will carry over to the time when our children build their own households.
Scripture and Prayer
The well-known Shema from Deuteronomy articulates how we are to build the structures of faith in our household through learning, discussing, and internalizing scripture. Teaching the scriptures means laying down the tracks that lead from God and to God. When the tracks are laid, there is a place prepared in us to receive what God has to say, and there is a language within us that can carry the cries of our spirits back to God. For our house, this has meant teaching the scriptures to our children from their infancy. The stories of the Bible are easy to learn and fun to hear and discuss. Memorizing scripture is not hard for children. Our television culture has masked, even stifled these abilities. With a bit of effort, however, most children can recover their great capacity for internalizing words.
Focus on Others
Having children was a bracing tonic for our youthful narcissism! Our commitment to them constantly draws us out of ourselves toward their needs and concerns. At first this was a radical redirection of energy. And the struggle to give up our lives for their sake continues. But the presence of the children has profoundly instructed us about the nature of love as other-focused. Now we hope to be passing along this consciousness that there are others in the family and in the world to whom God calls us. We try to put this focus on others into action by encouraging acts of service. Hopefully, the work that we as parents do in the community and the priority we give to responding to need will seem a normal part of life to our children.
As we write these words, we constantly are aware of all the ways we've failed to live what we believe. We are at times inconsistent, and no one knows that better than our own children. Yet we dare to believe that with Jesus Christ as our foundation, the framework we build through the years will support a household of God. Time will reveal how strong and durable our household is. Hopefully, when we come to the land from whence the shadows fall, and enter the dwelling places prepared for us there, it will feel like coming home, for us and for our children.