Two nights ago my oldest child returned from 8 days in the poorest country in Europe, where she had been part of a team living in a village and working alongside a local church. They brought food parcels to those most in need, chopped wood for the elderly, read the bible and prayed with the sick, shared the lives of their hosts, and learned more about what it is to serve others.
The stories she has told us already, of the implications of poverty on family life are shocking, and desperately sad.
And on Sunday, here in my big home with everything I could possibly ever need or want, I felt ashamed of my attitude towards it all. Yes, I am grateful and aware of how much I have, and I try to be generous, but I am not a tidy person and so I don’t take care of things as I should.
I’ve always felt that was ok, and in fact I’ve joked at how it makes other people feel better about their homes, because mine will usually be messier. I’ve also felt that it’s important that hospitality in our home is never limited by the tidiness of the house. I have tried to be welcoming whether I’m a bit embarrassed about the dog hair on the kitchen floor or whether everything is clean and tidy.
But yesterday I realised that I’m being careless with what I’ve been given. What would my daughter’s host family feel if they came to my house ?
I hadn’t gone to church yesterday because the church is choosing a new minister, and given my history with the last minister it’s not something we can be involved in. But sitting at home I sensed that actually my worship yesterday was to work at the things that don’t come easily to me. To show that I appreciate all that we have. I talked to my husband about it and he agreed, and we explained to the children why we were going to spend part of our Sunday doing jobs which aren’t usually done on that day. They understood and worked at cleaning up their own rooms.
And maybe because I was approaching the work as worship, I learned how to do it without being a martyr or resenting anyone else’s contribution to the mess or the tidying. I said to my husband that I thought that if I had to work on my youngest’s room I would despair. I tidy that room so often and his untidiness is on a par with my own, so it descends into chaotic mess almost instantly. My husband got on his knees and sorted through lego and marbles, books and games, whilst I got on with cleaning the bathroom. I felt utterly loved and cared for.
We have had a hard time worshipping together in these past years. We don’t think about God, relate to God or talk about God in the same way. We are not a couple who have ever managed to pray together. For the past few years we’ve not even been at church together, because mostly I haven’t gone. But yesterday, as we tidied our home and appreciated all that we have, and worked together, it was shared worship. It was a joint acknowledgement that this life is not about our comfort and ease. That all that we have is a gift, and that nothing should be taken for granted or because we feel we’ve earned it. That life is so much bigger than ourselves. That what God requires of us is our lives, our service, our connection with those around us. We want our home to be somewhere that others feel welcome in, and making it the loveliest we can is part of that.
These past few days I’ve been getting a bit hung up about a few wobbles in my Lenten resolutions, and yesterday it was like God was saying to me,
‘I’m after love that lasts, not more religion.
I want you to know God, not go to more prayer meetings.’ (Hosea 6 v 6 The Message)
Yes, giving up things for Lent is all well and good, but my life is so much more than whether I can keep to some resolutions for 6 weeks.
So today I will not leave my clothes on the floor.
And I think that’s because yesterday I got to know God a little bit more.