Our Transient Generation
By stephanie s. smith
December 14, 2011
For every twentysomething there’s a shift, somewhere along the way from college to graduation to career moves, in which we choose to stop calling our family’s house “home.” It can be subtle or sudden. We pause while filling out a job application at the line of our home address, we return to our childhood home on summer break to find our room evolving into a storage unit or we commit to serving overseas for a year and acclimate to a foreign culture that quickly becomes more familiar than our own.
This transitional time can be bittersweet, but our innate human longing for home is not ungrounded. As Kim Peterson proposes in her book Keeping House: A Litany of Everyday Life, “The Christian story of redemption … is a story that moves from home to home.”
Through many moves as a young adult—a dorm room, a city apartment, my childhood bedroom, a cheap newlywed apartment and finally to a cozy brick bungalow my husband and I are now privileged to call our own—I have found this to be true. Like many twentysomethings in transition, I have been vulnerable to emotional and physical displacement, but I have learned that the ache to belong is perfectly aligned with Scripture’s description of God’s people as rootless travelers, making the journey from Eden to Heaven, from home to home.
You don’t have to be a homeowner to make a home. And if we build our homes with holy intention, whether home is a rented apartment, a starter home or your parents' basement, the attention and care we invest in our physical spaces will make itself evident in our journey into adulthood and spiritual maturity as well.
Space Is Sacred
When my husband and I bought our first house, it became apparent to us that we were not moving into a neutral neighborhood. The region of Upstate New York where we live is the birthplace of Mormonism, populated by an abnormal concentration of psychiatric institutions and is historically known as “the burned over district”—a reference to the revival days when locals were so steeped in pagan spiritualism that they repelled the Gospel like water to oil. Moving into this neighborhood, into a house that had sat empty for five years with an Ouija board we discovered while cleaning out the garage, taught us in a very tangible way that space is sacred and that the land carries a legacy.
The idea of sacred space is not a nod to superstition or fear of what haunts; rather, sacred space is one of the most important themes of the biblical narrative, from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to the Israelite possession of the Promised Land, to the future cosmos that is reconciled with its Creator. Just as God instructed His people entering the Promised Land to tear down any remnants of the land’s former legacy of sin—the altars for human sacrifice, idols and shrines to false gods—we wanted to declare God’s reign over our home and dedicate our living space to His good purposes.
So with family and friends gathered around the fireplace, over a dinner with harvest flavors and bright wine, we hosted a house blessing. We celebrated with prayer and feasting the blessing of a new home and invited Christ to dwell deeply in this place and help us to open it up to others.
But you don’t have to wait for a house blessing until you own a home—the first house blessing I ever attended was for my sister’s apartment. Her Episcopal priest led us in prayer from room to room with a sprig of greens dipped in holy water. My sister still has the branch, tucked into the lampshade in her living room, illuminated every time she walks into the room. However big or small, temporary or permanent, take time to consecrate space as your own and as God's.
A Home Is a Sanctuary
If you’ve ever had a hostile neighbor or an unruly roommate, you know that an invasion of personal space disrupts not only your environment but also your sense of inner peace. We all need a safe haven, whether a house or just a room to call our own, and the sanctuary that a home provides is a basic necessity for us to retreat and recharge.
I was struck with the importance of this recently when visiting a friend and former roommate. Upon entering her apartment, I was suddenly flooded with a sense of homecoming just to see her things that used to be “our” shared things that punctuated college apartment living. Simple, unremarkable household items—a fruit bowl, the gold curtains that crowned the front window framing the Chicago skyline, the coffee mugs from which we used to drink deeply during late nights before finals—all conjured up the unmistakable feeling of home.
I realized that these relics of apartment living were sentimental because I was living in a state of transition at the time. I was in my last semester of college, on the verge of getting engaged and staring into a murky future with no promise of job prospects and no idea of where my soon-to-be husband and I would begin life together. I wasn’t sure where, or what, home really was. So my apartment, on a city street lined with yellow elm trees and filled with four friends all living in flux, became a soft place to land after every day filled with work and classes, and a haven for every night I would fall asleep wondering what would come next. It was the one place in a storm of uncertainty where I knew I could go to be myself, to put my feet up and be refreshed.
What makes a home a haven for you, provides peace and security no matter what phase of life you are in?
A Home Is for Hospitality
Retreat and rest are necessary to homemaking, but a home is never intended to be isolated and ingrown. On the contrary, once we have cultivated a space for ourselves where there is sanctuary, comfort and order, we are enabled to open wide the door to others.
This is just as true for physical spaces as our relationships. Just as a home that is secure is able to practice hospitality, the heart that is secure and at home in itself is empowered to open up to others.
Edith Schaeffer, who founded the hospitality-driven L’Abri ministry with her husband, held the firm belief, “We are an environment, each one of us.” You don’t need fine china or Good Housekeeping decorating skills to practice hospitality, because you create the environment where you are. It can be as simple as inviting a friend to coffee, hosting a soup night or a picnic on your living room floor or even asking good questions and listening. And as we practice hospitality, it transcends the physical space of our homes into a lifestyle attitude which welcomes, invites and generously hosts others in an environment that can help people to thrive in the way God wants them to thrive.
You don’t have to wait to make a home until you’ve traded your Ikea futon for a three-bedroom house—you can start now. Practicing homemaking in our physical spaces primes us to likewise balance sanctuary and hospitality in our spiritual lives, positioning us for ministry that may continue from the twentysomething years into the rest of our lives.
Stephanie S. Smith is a twentysomething writer, editor and literary book publicist addicted to print and pixels. She runs her business, (In)dialogue Communications, from her home in Upstate New York where she lives with her husband. You can find her blogging at www.stephindialogue.com about embodied faith, creative life and millennial culture or tweeting at @stephindialogue.