One Monday night a month, I gather all my energy to corral the chaos of my house by 6 so that I can make it to my writer’s group by 6:30. I strive to have dinner at least in process, have some sort of food in my bag, milk pumped and in the fridge, children not screaming, and plans laid out for my husband’s next hour and a half.
This past Monday, I was not too successful. Every room was an explosion of stuff: dishes in the sink, toys on the floor, laundry piled high on the couch. The meal I was planning to make consisted of ingredients sitting out but not-yet-mixed, an oven heated but not yet cooking, and two little boys crying for food. My husband rides his bike home from work 30 minutes and had left the office early to make it in time for me to leave. He’s exhausted and sweaty when he gets home and needs a couple of minutes to change his clothes, gather himself and shift from employee to Daddy. He needs transition.
I was too chaotic to help in that front on Monday night. He arrived and I talked his ear off about the day for five minutes while I mixed my salad and packed my bag and reminded him about the milk and the food and the bedtimes and the need for baths and kissed my boys’ heads and kissed my husband and yelled “I love you people!” as I fluttered from the house, giddy.
I came home to a grumpy husband, who had faced a poop incident, a frustrating boy who didn’t want to go to sleep, a crying baby who is getting two teeth at the same time. Chris was out in the back yard picking up toys I’d carelessly allowed to be left in the grass. He was frustrated.
Last week I had a discussion with a friend who explained how she attempts to allow her four kids the Crazy from 3 to 5 in the afternoon, then calm them down, clean them up, and bring peace into the house by the time her husband comes home. Though her perspective of making home inviting for her husband is much more conservative than mine, I still felt a twinge of guilt.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t feel guilty because I believe my job is to be Donna Reed in my apron, stirring Mr. Hohorst a martini, roast in the oven, while I rub the difficult day at the office out of his feet, the children rosy faced and smiley on the floor staring up at him. I didn’t feel guilty because Chris’ job is so much harder than mine or because he does the “work” for the family. What I felt was an acknowledgement that space is important, that moving from one space to another is difficult and requires cushion.
As I’ve embraced the liturgy and begun to recognize our needs for times of celebration and ritual, for the acknowledgment of what is significant in our years and weeks and days, I’ve come to see that space is sacred. The physical helps us shape our reaction in the spiritual.Though our culture may stress moving quickly from work to the gym to home to social activity, I’ve beginning to think that the healthy spiritual response to stress is to transition slowly between spaces, to build room into our routines for making that shift.
I mentioned last Friday that I had the opportunity to listen to my new friend Christine talk about how she has instilled ritual into her family’s daily, weekly and yearly life. One of the things I was most taken with is that she has begun to practice “afternoon tea” with her elementary and early middle school aged kids, acknowledging that the transition from school to home is difficult, and that kids sometimes need a calm snack and a little bit of family cushion before embarking into the world of homework and extracurricular activities.
Do you remember coming home after school? The warmth of entering into that sort of safety, after the uncertainty of learning, of negotiating friendships, of struggling to understand math? Because my childhood was healthy and sweet, my memories of entering into home are comforting. I ate cookies and drank milk. I sat on the couch.
Transition is spiritual work and as a spiritual leader in my family, I have a responsibility to offer that transition with as much grace as possible. So, as much as I may want to wag my mouth at Chris and talk about how frustrating this day has been. As much as I may want to yell to the sound of the door opening, “You’re home! Somebody do something about this child!” my responsibility is for Chris’ spiritual health. I want him to come into our family space with joy. So, I want to be a friend to him. I want to offer him the same sort of grace that God gives me: a moment for rest, for quietness, for renewal; a moment to take off the work clothes and all that they represent: every frustrating conversation, every stressful deadline, and allow him to walk into our chaos with a willingness to tickle and laugh and tell stories and correct with love.
And in order to offer sacred space, I must learn to offer grace. Not Donna Reed style, but Jesus style. Not by offering the roast but offering my rights, my selfish demands, my need to have my work justified. And in doing so, I may just create a home in which everybody else offers me grace as well.