I chuckle still when I remember the day our next-door neighbor rapped on our fence and shouted, “Are you people ever going to pick up your leaves?” Five maple trees in our yard dropped thousands of their colorful cast-offs until they were ankle deep on our front and back lawns. Prevailing winds chronically blew the offenders into our neighbors’ yard, unheeded in the front, and right up over the fence in the back.
As new home-owners, Ken and I struggled to master the art of juggling ministry and friendships with household responsibilities. Still in our twenties, we spent much of our free time hanging out with friends, playing touch football and softball, riding bikes, skiing, hitting the beach and such. Yard work didn’t even rank in the top ten list of how we liked to spend our off time.
I cringe now, when I think of how infrequently we mowed that lawn, how deep the leaves became before we bothered to rake. In general, we were “that” house in the neighborhood. You know the one I mean. The lawn is long, gone to seed and grows way out into the sidewalk. The gardens might be a mixture of plants and weeds or only weeds. Leaves are rarely raked, and snow is not cleared from the sidewalk. There is a general look of neglect and untidiness around the house and yard. If it’s located out in the country, there might be a rusting Chevy or a discarded Maytag in the yard.
Our relationship with the fence-rapping neighbor remained contentious the entire time we lived in that house. Worse yet, Ken and I privately dubbed him a “fusspot,” dismissing his concerns as silly. Isn’t that a lovely attitude for a child of God? God placed us in that neighborhood for his purposes. We missed some of them. Many times, we entertained church folks in that house, but never built authentic relationships with a single neighbor, especially that man. If we’d bothered to engage him in conversation, we could have gained knowledge and skills about caring for a home and yard and earned the opportunity to share Christ. We were too busy being smart aleck 20- something’s.
I know many of you reading this live in condos and other situations where lawn care is irrelevant. I’m asking you to reflect on your home in terms of the larger picture. Ask yourself these questions. How does my dwelling place reflect the beauty of God? Am I making the most of what God’s given me to steward in my home? When people set foot on my property do they sense peace? Are their souls inspired by what they see? Whether you live in a tiny dorm room or a five thousand square foot house, you are given the opportunity to display parts of God’s character in your surroundings.
People are attracted to beauty, whether they are believers or not. That’s the way God created us. Countless times I’ve struck up conversations with a stranger on a beach because we are experiencing a sunset together both trying to get that perfect camera angle. Shared wonder creates a bridge where conversations can start, and the seeds of friendship can be planted. I remember when we lived in an apartment, and people initiated conversations about flowers with me simply because I set a pot of impatiens outside my door.
One of the most inspirational books, on the topic of creating beauty around you is “Hidden Art,” by Edith Schaeffer. The premise of her book is that our Creator designed us to create also. Recognizing and highlighting the beauty within us and around us is part of our God-given nature and it will attract unbelievers to us just as it did to Jesus.
One of my favorite stories in her book tells of the days when she and her family lived in severely humble circumstances near railroad yards, in a small dwelling where most of their furniture consisted of cast-offs or homemade creations. Despite meager circumstances, God put her eyes on homeless men who walked past regularly. She and her two young children prepared simple trays of sandwiches, dressed up to look special with napkins and a few flowers, to leave outside for the passing men. They’d also slip in a little New Testament to feed souls along with stomachs. Creating and sharing beauty does not require wads of money but simply a willingness of heart.
I heartily encourage you to buy the book yourself (very cheap at Amazon) and gain inspiration for your home or office or whatever real estate God’s entrusted to you. In the same way that our personal appearance should not be off-putting, (check out part one of this series) neither should the places we live, and work repel or frustrate people. A chronically cluttered, dirty house and tattered yard do not tell the truth about who we are in Christ. We are sons and daughters of THE King and therefore, we should leave a swathe of goodness and beauty behind us wherever we go.
Please, please, please, don’t take on condemnation if your home or yard or office are currently in rough shape, temporarily. Many years ago, chronically ill with internal issues, dust bunnies and toddler crud took over my home. When I finally went through surgery to correct the problem, a team of eight ladies from my church came to clean my house, for four hours. Oh my. The deep-down dirt probably shocked some of them, but they never said a word to me. Sweet sisters. I felt such gratitude that they restored order and beauty to my home during a time when I could not do it myself.
You might be in a season right now that doesn’t provide time or energy to keep chaos at bay. If this is but a season and not a lifestyle, I believe God pours grace on it. However, if chaos is your norm, understand that those sorts of patterns do not flow from our Father. He spoke order and beauty into chaos at the beginning of creation, and his nature remains unchanged. Since God the Spirit lives in us, shouldn’t our lives reflect our true identities?