Wednesday, November 12, 2008


(No, this photo is not mine. Neither is the one below.)

Just over a year ago I wrote the following "article" for a newsletter that went to a group of young moms. I found it in my files and decided to post it here. This is for mothers of little ones, but it's also for mothers of older children, mothers with grown (or no) children, and for single people. It's for all of us. Making a good home is immeasurably and eternally important for everyone.

What Makes a House a Home?

Have you ever heard of the Danish word "hygge"? I hadn't until I ran across it recently in a restaurant review that said this: "The Danish have a word called hygge, which roughly translates into taking the simple and everyday and elevating it into something warm, inviting, comfortable and special. In fact in Danish, to say something is hygge is to give it just about the highest compliment of all."

And then I saw the word again in a travel article: "the word (hygge) describes a particular state of mind, an atmosphere, the creation of a little mental and physical space where the turmoil and troubles of the outside world is shut out and a warm, intimate, convivial mood is created."

I think that word-- hygge-- describes very nicely what elevates a house to a home. Have you ever been in a home that seemed really alive, thriving, warm, cosy, and happy, and you left feeling that you had just been in a special place? You felt comfortable and at home and maybe your spirits were lifted. And you may have wondered what it was that made that home so special. I've been in homes like that.

I've been in homes, too, that seemed cold and uninviting in spite of the beautiful architecture and furnishings. These places can feel almost sterile. According to architect Christopher Alexander, these places are not "alive" because "they are made with an outward glance. The people who make them make them the way they do because they are trying to convey something, some image to the outside world. Even when they are made to seem natural, even their naturalness is calculated; it is in the end a pose."

There is an entire genre of architecture books, including those by Alexander, that try to answer the question, "What makes a house a home?" What makes a place alive? What gives it that quality of hygge-- that quality that makes people feel comfortable, at home, relaxed, and open?

The charm of a building has much to do with the way it is designed and also in the style and arrangement of its furnishings, but "hygge" can be very much in place in a home that is not architecturally ideal or that has "make-do" furnishings.

I have a special friend who lives with her husband in what started out to be a teeny, tiny place. They gradually added on rooms, but the place is still small. This home oozes comfort, cheer, life, warmth, and creativity, and there has always been a warm welcome for anyone who comes to visit. It is one of my favorite homes ever.

So what is it that makes a house a home? What is it that transforms the ordinary, the everyday, the common into something special-- into "hygge?" I'm not sure exactly how the Danish would explain this, but I'm sure we could list lots of things. I want to focus on the one that I think makes the difference in a Christian home-- Mom. You! The Bible says that the wise woman builds her home, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. Dad, of course, plays an essential role in the making of a good home, too, but the Bible seems to single out women as playing the significant role in creating a home atmosphere. And it's a job that women can do well!

A woman has a huge impact on the spirit of the home and family that is either negative or positive. My own mother was a cheerful, positive woman who focused on being thankful. Her life was not always smooth and easy, but she determined to carry on cheerfully no matter what. And it made home a blessed and happy place for her children to grow up. In fact, her love and example and her making of a good home was what opened all of us to God's love. And that, of course, is our highest aim in making a good home for our families. If only we could grasp the power a home has for developing healthy individuals who are open to God's love!

Do you know that it's impossible to do a spiritual work in the lives of our family members? That is God's work. What we can do is to infuse the ordinary, everyday things with love and prayer. Ruth Bell Graham, late wife of evangelist Billy Graham wrote about this:

"We mothers must take care of the possible and trust God for the impossible. We are to love, affirm, encourage, teach, listen and care for the physical needs of the family.

"We cannot convict of sin, create hunger and thirst after God, or convert. These are miracles, and miracles are not in our department.

"My Part (the possible)-- love; love expressed to pray intelligently, logically, urgently without ceasing, and in faith. To enjoy being a mother, provide a warm, happy home, and minister to their physical and emotional needs as I am able.

"God's Part (the impossible)-- conviction of sin, creating a hunger and thirst for righteousness, conversion, bringing to the place of total commitment, showing us ourselves as we really are (without ever discouraging us!), and continually filling us with his Holy Spirit for our sanctification and His service."

That takes off a lot of pressure, if you ask me! I'm charged with doing the ordinary, everyday things in a loving, cheerful way. Am I focusing on making home a place that truly reflects us, our interests, our hobbies, and our history, or am I overly conscious of what others will think? When I decorate with an eye toward making home cosy and comfortable for family and friends rather than decorating to impress or to garner compliments, I am building a good home. When I cook and clean to make home comfortable and pleasant, I am making a home that feels nice to my family, and they will be more apt to want to be at home. When I devote myself to creating a warm atmosphere and I pay attention to the needs of my family so that home is, in fact, the perfect habitat for their development, I am building a good home. These are not old fashioned values that are no longer relevant for women. These are acts that have eternal importance.

It's the simple things that make a house a nice home for children. Be warm and affectionate. Smile. Look into their eyes. Be attentive. Be devoted. Be cheerful. Create a happy daily routine. Talk with your children throughout the day. Listen to them. Like them. Be light and flexible. Read good books together. Make good food and special treats. Create fun family traditions and rituals. Surprise them. Play with them. Listen to good music. Allow them plenty of free, unstructured play time at home so they can really relax and let down. Pray with your children. Teach them about Jesus-- by example and with words-- as you walk and talk and sit and eat... in whatever you do!

Missionary to India, Amy Carmichael, quoted Bishop Moule (someone she referred to occasionally in her writings) as saying of his mother, "Her feet brought light into a room." What a wonderful thing to have said about a mother! I want to be like that. I wonder what my children would say about me? What will they remember about our home atmosphere and the spirit of their mother? What would your children say?

And now that I'm living in my home alone-- thankfully, temporarily-- I'm convinced that making a good home is just as important as ever. Even for just me. A routine, an atmosphere, beauty, delight, creativity, caring, learning, worthwhile work, good meals, cosiness-- it all soothes, refreshes, and nourishes the spirit. It strengthens and equips. It makes for a peaceful, settled heart that has time and inclination to hear, to grow, to deepen.

Yes, when no one else is here (though God is always present), no one is watching (His kindly eye is always on me), and no one but me seems to be benefiting, bringing light into a room still matters. It has eternal significance. Even just for me.

And, very importantly, my home has a front door for me to open, to welcome visitors, to show hospitality, to share this place, this atmosphere, and this light and life with others. Making home matters. Every day. No matter what. And it's never really just for me.