We all send messages all the time, both through our words and our actions. When a co-worker tells us of troubles, we give a clear response. Maybe we lean into that person’s struggle and pain; maybe we roll our eyes with weariness. When a child tells us a story, we may turn our souls toward them with genuine interest or chafe for us (or them) to be elsewhere.
As extensions of ourselves, our homes also communicate who we are and what we value. While austere necessity may force the decisions in some circumstances, most of us choose thousands of details that sculpt the messages our homes send to friends and family.
Some homes shout out “Hey! Look at me!” They seem anxious to impress. Other homes say: “I want to do what is expected.” All the usual furnishings appear in predictable places, as if a “normal family abode” template had been employed. And there are some homes that only mumble something unintelligible. They shamble along with no clear message being transmitted about the people who dwell within.
We subscribe to the magazine Architectural Digest in the hope that we will get tasteful and practical ideas for refining our home’s message. Once in a while we are inspired by what we see, but most of the time we’re amazed by the stark unfriendliness of conspicuous wealth. Many multi-million dollar homes are far less comfortable and inviting than the average tract home with worn shag carpet.
Jesus, in telling the parable of the sower, speaks of the “deceitfulness of riches” (Matthew 13:22). Sometimes wealth encourages us to show off. Sometimes it can become a divider rather than an inviter.
What have you chosen to feature in your home? What do visitors notice first? What is the message you are sending to friends and family members? Consider the following examples of how different choices affect what a home expresses about its owner’s inclinations.
One friend has tastefully painted a family motto along a wall of her living room. Comfortable seating, homemade quilts, and bowls of fruit set the scene. Any visitor feels immediately welcome and relaxed.
One elderly couple has light carpet and many breakables. When grandchildren visit, they are asked to sit demurely in the living room and touch nothing. The message to them is clear.
In contrast, another pair of grandparents has chosen a practical chair-and-a-half where grandchildren can climb in with either grandparent can read a book. They have dedicated one room in the house to toys and books. Grandchildren receive the message and come gladly.
A Different Approach
It is common for us to design houses according to tradition. A formal living room. And a family room. Maybe a game room. A library. A dining room (with nice furniture where people rarely dine). Such homes may impress the neighbors, but they are not very good for families and children. It is better to design a home that supports the activities and relationships that should develop there.
Ronald L. Molen (1974) suggests that every home should have several kinds of places.
1. A place to gather. Maybe around a fireplace or a conversation pit. A place where family members naturally gather in order to relax and visit.
2. A place to dine. Not just a bar where people grab their microwave dinners, but a place where the family can sit together for dinner and talk. Eating on the run or in front of television leaves family members leading separate lives. Eating together can be a great time for sharing.
3. A place to play and relax. Children need a place where playing and creating is encouraged, a place where they can finger paint or create with play dough without getting into trouble. Maybe there are murals or ladders, ropes, platforms, a fireman’s pole. It can be a place that is colorful and fun.
When our children were small we built a house with a great room with a vaulted ceiling that included the kitchen, dining area, living room, and office. Above the great room was a loft with the children’s toys, books, train, and games. They could build Lego castles or playhouses. But mom and dad didn’t have to see the mess or step on stray Legos. Yet the children were close to us. We could talk to them while we cooked. They could tell us about their inventions. This design worked well with our young children. As our children entered the teen years they needed more distance…in part so that they could make their own kind of musical noise without annoying us.
4. A place to be alone. Maybe it is a bedroom or quiet room where the child can read, think, study, build a model airplane or…
5. A place to remember. This might be an attic room, a dormer window, or a tree house. A place for reading mysteries and adventure stories. A magical place that children will remember.
May I describe the things that are prominent in our home? As you enter the living room in our modest home there are two facing displays. On the right side is an old podium with the family Bible on it. Behind the podium is a section of pew from the old Vernal Tabernacle where Nancy attended stake conference as a child. Hanging on the wall above the pew is a sign I carved in an old chunk of walnut: FAITH.
Facing the pew is a table with pictures of our family. We try to be sure that every family member is there.
We love books. So books are stacked everywhere: on the hearth, in the old wooden wagon by my chair, in bookshelves lining the walls.
As you enter the hallway, there are two objects facing you: a picture of Jesus and a framed gift from our grandson Max. On large lined paper are the handwritten words:
He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. 2 Nephi 26:24
My favorite room in the house is a spare bedroom that we call the family history room. But this may not be what you expect. Instead of a prison-like setting with a bare bulb, a computer, a desk, and a filing cabinet or two, the room explodes with family joy. On one wall are pictures and objects from ancestors. There is the stuffed kiwi that great grandpa Ben brought home from New Zealand in 1895. There is the old, hand-cranked 16 mm projector that Nancy’s dad used in childhood to watch cartoons. There is the campaign poster from the time almost a century ago when my grandpa ran for county attorney in Salt Lake County. The people who matter most to us are smiling down on us. We feel their goodness and their love.
On the opposite wall are pictures, books, and objects from our childhoods. (I love seeing Nancy as a child!) My first camera reminds me of snapshots and joys from my own youth. A cherished book reminds me of untold hours of learning and loving. We have pictures of us held by our parents in the earliest days of our lives.
Neighboring our childhood section are pictures and objects from our children’s childhoods. I cherish the rough-cut box that Andy made for me when he was eight. I admire the stitching Emily did in creating a doll for us. I treasure the pottery that Sara made for us when she was in elementary school.
When I relax in the family history room, I feel surrounded by love. The story of learning, loving, and hoping courses through my mind and heart.
When you come to visit us, we will try to make you feel comfortable and welcome. We have several cozy chairs gathered together to welcome you into conversations about life and faith. Almost surely we will offer you something to eat. Sometime during the course of your visit, we will probably invite you to our family history room. We hope you recognize that we are inviting you to be a part of our joyous family story.
There is more about our home that tells you who we are. We have constructed a backyard designed to host neighborhood pot-lucks, gatherings of the YSA’s we teach and the grandchildren we cherish. There are the deck and raised-bed planter boxes in the backyard. There is the fire pit where we cook ‘smores and the table we made so we can gather family and friends under God’s sky. There is the play set with swings, the sand pile, and the lookout tower. Maybe our pet squirrel will come down out of the tree to be fed. And don’t forget the zipline that runs 171 feet from the oak tree in the woods to the maple tree right behind the house.
We hope you and your family feel welcome in our home; we hope our home communicates that we love life and are glad to have you with us.
If you survey your own surroundings and find that your home’s message isn’t aligned with your heart’s desires, don’t fret—and don’t worry about blocking out a weekend for a mass redecorating frenzy. We designed our home’s atmosphere one choice at a time over the years. Repurpose a space here; display a memory-filled trinket there. Gradually choose the message you want your family and friends to receive. You may be amazed at the “conversation” you start.
Molen, R. (1974). House plus environment. Salt Lake City, UT: Olympus.
The discussion of Molen’s places is taken from my book, Finding Joy in Family Life.
You can find many of Brother Goddard’s past articles by going to www.DrWally.org
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