A corner of my current home.
Home is on my mind because in two days, I'll leave Portland and start working my way back there. I've been thinking about the different places I've lived and how we settled into those places and made them our own. I remember the warmth and laughter and fun that happened within our walls (there was trouble and grief as well), and, it occurred to me that when I picture this, others from outside our family are often included in these memories. Home was for our family, but it was also for others.
I am a big proponent of making home the best place in the world—the place where all members of the family can grow and thrive. It is the place where we can become who God created us to be. There really is no place like home, and we benefit from spending lots of time there.
But humans weren’t meant to be insular. God made us for community. Both individuals and families need other people in their lives. I have felt this need deeply at various times in my life, but I’m thinking of one instance this morning, with gratitude in my heart for how the Lord puts the lonely in families.
When our family moved to England way back in the 1980s, we had two young girls— a one-year-old and a three-month-old. Soon after arriving in the UK, we bought our first house, a new brick home with a bright red door in a development called Cloverfield Estates.
That house became a wonderful home for our family. We painted the rooms, decorated with British scrubbed pine antiques, built a wooden playhouse for the kids out back, and planted beautiful English flowers all around the house. We added two more children to our family while we lived in that house (four kids under the age of five!), so it was brimming with energy and laughter (and sometimes screeching tears—mostly from the kids, or exhaustion—mostly from me). The place was adorable and radiated warmth and cosiness. I’ve never loved any house I’ve lived in more than I loved that one.
It was sort of picture perfect. But it wasn’t.
I’ll never forget the sharp, painful loneliness I felt when we first moved to England. I spent long days with two little ones who didn’t yet hold conversations about books or cooking or hobbies or interesting things to see or do in our area of the country.
Our young family had only one car, and my husband often left for work as early as 4:00 a.m., so it didn’t make sense to take the kids from their beds at that horrifically early hour, buckle them into their carseats, and drive the half hour to my husband’s workplace to drop him off, only to drive another half hour back home—all so I could have the car.
Hence, I was home alone so much of the time that I began to feel almost exiled. And because we didn’t have a TV or radio in our home, it was totally silent. Internet, wifi, and smartphones didn’t exist back then, and long distance phone calls to the states were too expensive to make regularly.
I spent my days changing diapers, rocking babies, reading endless picture books, playing little games, singing silly songs, lulling babies to sleep, and so on. I adored my children, and this mothering role was exactly what I wanted. I joyfully embraced it, but a young mother alone, for long hours on end, day after day, with very little adult interaction, becomes lonely. And I was desperately lonely.
Home was sweet, and it was a refuge and a place for our family to grow and blossom, but it was not enough. We needed people in our lives, or maybe I should say I needed people in my life. I had such an ache of homesickness and loneliness inside that it sometimes made me cry, and I began to ask the Lord to help me meet people and give me friends.
And the Lord answered. It wasn’t long before I met other people from the US whose husbands worked with mine. I gradually became good friends with some of them, but I didn’t have the opportunity to get together with them regularly until we got a second car almost two years after moving to England.
But the Lord had gone before us. He knew what we would need, and He gave us what we would treasure most about our time in England—our neighbors across the street. We quickly became fast friends with them, and by the time we left the country to return to the U.S., their extended family was like our family. We loved them deeply.
These neighbors were older than my husband and me, and they had two girls who were younger than us. One of their daughters was married and lived just two doors down the street with her husband, and the other daughter—a 15-year-old who still lived at home—became our babysitter.
We became comfortable, everyday friends with these neighbors—with the whole extended family. We shared meals, enjoyed cups of tea together, and popped in to each other’s homes daily just to say hello. I had an ongoing book exchange with the son-in-law. They taught us to flower garden. They were part of every birthday and holiday we celebrated. We didn’t need excuses to get together daily; it happened easily and naturally.
We adored our British neighbors, and they enriched our lives immensely. Having them become so much a part of our home life greatly expanded the joy we had there. Our home was a great place for our family, but it became so much more when we shared it with others.
When we share our lives with others—talking, laughing, sharing food, playing games, or whatever—we:
encourage each other
support each other
sharpen each other
strengthen each other
refresh each other
We don’t contrive to do this. Just by welcoming people into our homes and lives, it happens. We fill each other’s hearts with love.
If we want to make this a natural everyday thing, we can’t worry about style and perfection. Some of us will never feel ready. The house will sometimes be messy. The meal won’t always be amazing. We won’t always feel prepared or in control.
But so what?! We aren’t putting on a show; we’re building meaningful connections. We are just loving each other.
Our society is highly individualistic. We look out for ourselves and can get protective of our space. This can be isolating and unhealthy. Or perhaps we have friends, but we stick to our own tight little friendship group made up of people who think, look, and act similarly to us, but we rarely reach beyond it.
Part of building community is definitely having those like-minded kindred spirits in our lives. They are just so easy and so much fun to be with. They are the iron that sharpens our iron. These easy friends are a true gift from God, and we should value the time we spend with them (which is, hopefully, often!).
There’s a balancing act families need to play because we definitely need to know when to say no and where to set limits and boundaries for our families. (Even Jesus withdrew at times to be alone, and He didn’t try to heal or impact every single individual in the land.)
But some of us also need to say yes a lot more to sharing our homes and lives with others, not forgetting to include the lonely, the friendless, those who are older, widows, single people, and others who are sometimes marginalized. They are all around us.
I’ve known loneliness. Have you? It is a deep, dark, sad ache in the heart. If God puts the lonely in families, as the Bible says, how is that going to happen if we don’t reach out and make it happen? The litmus test of whether or not we love God is whether or not we love others. Jesus said that when we love others, we’re loving Him.
Does this sound intense and difficult? Because it shouldn’t. We don’t need to feel obligated to invite every lonely person into our home, one by one, and then sit there in an awkward attempt to make conversation. (The idea of that makes this introvert sweat.)
Invite that lonely person to join the hospitality you already share with groups of close friends. Include them in your little community. Also, pop in on them at home, maybe with a little token to brighten their day. It doesn’t have to be for long, and this means a lot to those who live alone.
This isn’t about you saving the world. Because you can’t. Only God can. He simply asks us to shine His Love and Light as we live in community with others.
God’s community includes everyone, not only those who are just like us. And community is at its best, I believe, in our homes.