There was more than charm within the inviting little home on the corner—more than carefully placed furnishings and tastefully chosen colors. There was warmth, welcome, rest, and gentle dignity—the refreshing fragrance of beautiful living. The pastor expressed his feeling for it: "After all the tensions of the day it's so delightful to come home to Mother and this quiet little cottage." It was a place where love dwelt, a place of song and laughter, a place of prayer.
I was visiting in the home of a much-beloved and deeply spiritual minister of the gospel (his name can be found on the directory just inside the General Conference office doors) and his wife and children. Five young people call it home—a married daughter, now with a home of her own, a son in medical college, and three younger daughters in nurses' training —all of them consecrated young people, filled with laughter, good sense, and devotion to one another, to their parents, and to God.
One quickly sensed the gentle pleasantness of the atmosphere permeating the entire home life of this devout man of God. It was not so much the cool green grass so neatly trimmed or the pleasant border of shrubs and flowers that surrounded the little house; not so much the fresh loveliness of the cozy blue-and-white kitchen, with its cheery curtains and simple convenience; not so much the soft colors in the living room or the gay flowers here and there. There must be many homes as carefully cared for (though perhaps not always so lovingly) and rooms as artistically decorated. Yet somehow not so many are so "beautified by love, sympathy, and tenderness" as this. "The sweetest type of heaven is a home where the Spirit of the Lord presides."—The Adventist Home, pp. 19, 15.
"The sweetest type of heaven"—the home of every minister of the gospel should be just that.
"We don't feel that we've reached the ideal," the pastor remarked as we talked that evening. "We've failed in so many ways, and come far short. But it has always been our ideal to achieve the ideal."
Our homes "should be a little heaven upon earth."—Ibid., p. 15. The ideal is high—nothing less than to achieve a home that is heavenly while we remain in a world most unheavenly. How can we reach this ideal? 'What are some of the qualities that will best make an ordinary home into a bit of heaven?
A Welcoming Refuge
Love? Yes, and more than love—compassion, that depth of understanding sympathy supported by unfailing love. And with it comes a spirit of welcome.
"The warmth of a genial welcome, a place at your fireside, a seat at your home table, the privilege of sharing the blessing of the hour of prayer, would to many . . . be like a glimpse of heaven."---The Ministry of Healing, p. 354.
Is there room within the minister's heart for all who may come? Do they find a welcome in the smile and heart of his wife? What of the passing stranger? Is there a welcome for him at the pastor's door? What of the poor, the outcast, the sick? Are they assured of welcome and help when they come? What of the morally sick? Can they come and not feel despised, find hope and understanding? What of that talkative little soul living all by herself? Does she find a listener there? What of young people seeking fun or shelter from the harshness about them? Are they welcome too? And what of a man's own children? Do they find in Dad a companion, a strength, a bit of fun? Can they come to Mom for counsel; can they turn to her for solace? Do they and their friends find a welcome in their own home?
A vast requirement? It might be. But some there are who fill it.
"Our home," the pastor mused, "has always been open for youth. The children's friends have always been welcome. We didn't have parties particularly. They were just invited in to share our home life with us. We'd have worship, then sing songs and perhaps play a few games—just enjoy the fellowship of the home."
"Our homes should be a place of refuge for the tempted youth."—Ibid.
The pastor emphasized, "The sanctuary of the home should be a retreat from the world. When the world comes in, it changes the spirit of the home." If our homes are to be a refuge from the world, how dare we let them be robbed of this vital atmosphere? There are so many ways for the world to seep in—TV, radio, recordings, books, magazines, newspapers. How carefully these things, like so many that have been perverted, need to be guarded and carefully selected lest the devil make ruin of our homes through these means that can be channels to convey either truth, goodness, and instruction or falsehood, evil, and destruction!
"The atmosphere of the home," continued the pastor, "can be set by the music and by the reading material. Our children lived with the music of great hymns; they lived with Adventist heroes and mission heroes. They learned appreciation of the beautiful and worthwhile. It's too bad when the heroes in a child's life become those of the comics or TV. We must saturate our children with the spirit of this message. If they are filled with the good, the worthless will be distasteful."
What, then, if the music of the home is cheap, degenerate noise from unregulated radio, phonograph, or TV? What if its reading material be found in sentimental stories, comics, crime reports, or infidel authors? The atmosphere of heaven is too easily and quickly shattered by these intruders.
Serenity pervades the heavenly home. Peace! Yes, but serenity transcends peace. Peace might be shattered by a little girl with a broken doll and a broken heart, or a wee laddie with a dreadfully skinned knee, either making the grief very audible. Serenity does not break so easily. It meets such small tragedies with gentle understanding and reassuring calm sufficient to heal the hurt. And serenity meets real tragedies—broken dreams, broken hopes, broken ideals, broken standards, broken lives—with faith great enough to match the tragedy; faith to cheer, to mend, to encourage, to strengthen, to lift, to go on and on, and to steady others to go on.
Serenity, that confidence and peace resulting from simple, experimental faith and entire submission to God's will in law and circumstance, will through God's power cope with every disappointment, distraction, and tragedy that may befall the home, still remaining strong and constant to reach out a strengthening hand to others.
Also contributing to the serenity of the home are order and organization. Serenity cannot be found in disorder and confusion. Neatness and cleanliness are a part of peace, too—not that demanding sort of spotlessness that makes life miserable for family and guests alike, but a comfortable tidiness, making the house a place to be lived in, played in, worked in with fresh, pure air and without needless bric-a-brac or dark corners accumulating dust and debris.
Regularity is important, but not all important. A well-planned daily program sensibly carried out coordinates the day's activities.
"We tried so hard to work toward an ideal home," offered the pastor. "We made many sets of rules and schedules. Something, it seems, was always interrupting—sickness, trips, and other circumstances. But we did try."
Mother smiled as she said, "We made out daily program after daily program to keep pace with our changing needs. Soon one would have to be scrapped and we'd try another."
"However," the pastor added, "when something came in to upset the routine, I always said, 'Now, Mother, the spirit of the home is more important than the letter. We mustn't let these things upset us so we lose the spirit of peace. We must keep the spirit even when it may be impossible to stick to the program.'
"Of course we tried to have worship regularly, morning and evening. Occasionally something would come in and there would be a break in our routine. But we kept the ideal before us. It isn't the occasional mistake or omission that makes the home life, it is the tendency, the habitual. There should be the daily habit of prayer, steady purpose, quiet trust."
Consecrated obedience is another rule of the home that is a bit of heaven. Obedience to all of God's laws—moral, spiritual, physical, natural; obedience to God's principles in diet, dress, speech, and entertainment. How can a minister preach obedience when he falls short of personal striving in any one of these areas? How can he preach love if he does not practice obedience, which is the fulfillment of love? If the children, the church members, and the world cannot see in the minister's own home a constant striving toward every right principle, wherein lies his influence?
What do our people see in their pastor's home—an example they can follow or one they will have to discount? Do they perhaps find there excuse for their own weaknesses?
Do youth drop in to find their pastor reading comics? Do neighbors hear strains of popular music coming through the windows of the parsonage? Do passers-by get tangy whiffs of rib roast coming from the parsonage oven? Do visitors see that outdated Western movie or catch the motion and raucous laughter of a popular comedian on the pastor's TV screen? Do the women come to view a fashion parade in the person of the preacher's wife? How can we hope to teach the truth in the church if we live a lie in our homes?
"We had lots of fun," said the pastor. "How the children loved to sing. We'd all gather around the piano and have a wonderful time. We've always had lots of music and singing."
The pastor is a deeply spiritual man with broad understanding and a keen sense of humor. His home has been always full of laughter. The pastor was not too dignified for a romp with the little ones, not always too busy for an outing with the older children, not too tired to open his home to his teen-age youngsters and their friends.
"Parents Create the Atmosphere"
How simple it would be if a welcoming atmosphere could be seeded in like grass, or serenity painted on the walls, obedience placed carefully about like furniture, and fun centered here and there like flowers about the various rooms. But it is not merely the good taste and care (although these offer substantial contribution) that bring warmth and happiness into a home. It is not nearly so much the place as it is the people in it. Under the influence of one controlled by the spirit of Christ, order will come from disorder, harmony from discord, beauty from ugliness, simplicity from gaudiness.
"To a large extent parents create the atmosphere of the home circle.... Make your home atmosphere fragrant with tender thoughtfulness."—The Adventist Home, p. 16.
The pastor spoke glowingly of his wife. "Whatever we've accomplished has been because of Mother, here. The credit goes to her. I've been away so much. The children have hardly known what it is to have a dad who lives a normal life."
Mother's face wore a quiet, appreciative smile, but she demurred, attributing the goodness of the home to Dad. And of course the importance of Father's share must not be underestimated.
The home is an all-important laboratory for experimental Christianity. A preacher, of all men, needs to be a living sermon. Speaking of himself as a preacher-father, the pastor said, "The genuineness of our Christianity is tested in the home. If there is a great gap between the father's preaching and his living in the home, the children are the sufferers. With me it is a constant challenge to be the man people think me to be. In the pulpit people see what a man should be at home."
Children are the completion of the family circle. Parents set the atmosphere, children absorb it, and as they mature, giving of themselves in sharing home burdens, in laughter and thoughtfulness, they lend to it, contributing in far larger ways than they ever realize.
The pastor remarked, "I've often told my children that they are the best background I could have for my preaching. I couldn't dare to preach to young people as I do if they weren't what they are."
"That word 'love' is a big word," said the pastor. "It means everything. Keep the bond of affection. We've tried to keep the confidence of the children. They share all their problems, their love affairs—everything—with us. Love is the greatest thing in the world. The spirit of love for parents and home is the greatest force in holding children to the faith."
The pastor illustrated this point by mentioning his boy, who at seventeen came to America alone for his education. In those early months away from home he was frequently tempted to try out the world's pleasures. When asked what held him, he replied, "Every time I was faced with temptation to let down the standards, I couldn't do it. I thought of Mom and Dad and the girls—and I couldn't let them down."
This atmosphere of family fellowship finds its origin in unity between father and mother, husband and wife. "A little time together is most necessary," the pastor emphasized, "if parents are going to keep a united front. There are bound to be differences of opinion, and these must be talked through. The only time we had to talk was after we'd gone to bed. Then we would talk and pray together. Never has my wife exposed my faults before our children. I don't think Mother could go to sleep at night if there were any misunderstanding between us. The children have never known the spirit of wrangling."
But talking together, important as that is, is not enough. Time to talk with God, to plan with Him, is the big essential. We need to practice waiting—waiting on the Lord, inviting Christ and the heavenly angels to complete our family circle. Only as we take time to talk and plan with God, only as we claim His promises, rely on His strength, rejoice in His love, can our home partake of the atmosphere of His home.