The concept of home is one that is over-romanticized, over-marketed, and even a source of competition. I am not dismissing the need for shelter, quite the contrary. And I love creating a sanctuary from the world and its pressures. But the coziest home ever, following al the best hygge practices will only feel as safe as our own heart.
One of our favorite things to decry about today’s society is our endless methods of escaping our external realities. I love to read. Sometimes I binge British television. Sugar and sleep are favorites too. And sometimes I just go blank. The fiction is that we are trying to escape some external stress. The demanding boss, the grumpy husband or nagging wife, bills piled up on the counter: these are the things we are supposedly avoiding.
But the truth is deeper, more painful. We nestle down deep under the soft sofa throws and flip through the channels without really engaging. The goal isn’t to drown out the outside world. It’s the inside one we are running from. How surprising is that when the furniture inside our soul is a mishmash of ugly furniture? Grief, anger, trauma, and regrets, these are what make our homes unsafe. I am not talking about our physical shelter, but our spiritual and emotional ones.
If we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, the home of the Prince of Peace Himself, why then do we find our own selves so intolerable? The Son of Man had no place to lay His head and yet if anyone was ever at home to Himself, it was Jesus. When He prayed that we would be one like He and the Father were one, this is essentially what He was asking. Under all the deflection, painful memories, and regrets, he prayed that our true selves would find rest in the presence of the Holy Spirit in our own souls.
The goal is to be at home in ourselves. I think sometimes we think the Holy Spirit will be controlling. My great-grandmother, for whom I am named, had a bit of a reputation of being a less endearing Marie Kondo. She would visit my grandmother’s home and root through the closets, reorganizing and decluttering without much regard to her daughter’s feelings. I think we are afraid that He who dwells in us will rummage around our subconscious closets and angrily confront us with the monsters hiding therein.
In rest and repentance is our salvation and we will have none of it.
I taught a spiritual formation class at a Christian university for several years. One day I asked the class how many of them felt anxious. I expected at least half to raise their hands. All of them raised their hands. So I told them I was going to teach them the secret of the universe. Skeptical eyebrows up; expectations down. But since they were a captive audience seventy-five minutes twice a week, I forged ahead.
I told them to close their eyes and feel that anxiety as hard as they could. Really let that fear flow for as long as they could. We stayed silent for about five minutes. One by one, shoulders dropped and sighs were heaved. The grimaces on their faces relaxed, and hands unclenched. I didn’t tell them to pretend to feel ok. I didn’t even tell them to pray. I only wanted them to feel their feelings as long as they could.
Eyes began to open and I asked if anyone still felt anxious. A few did, but most felt relief. They came home to themselves and retook ownership. We spent the rest of the class discussing why they felt better. After all, they hadn’t really done much. Except they had. My students listened to themselves, acknowledged what was there, and then their minds could rest. Most admitted that once they allowed themselves to feel the anxiety, it no longer held much power over them.
I don’t mean to suggest that all we have to do every day is sit around and feel our feelings. Except that is the nature of confession. When we admit to ourselves and to the Holy Spirit that we have moved some ugly furniture into the living room, our minds begin to move it back out with His help. The psychological term for this is emotional acceptance. Denying and suppressing our emotions gives them far more power. When we absorb them, admit to them, well… they kind of lose their power.
I think of it as cleaning the kitchen. I have an unbroken streak of four years now of never going to bed with a dirty kitchen. Developing this discipline was difficult at first. I didn’t want to get off the couch. But once I determined that I was going to master the kitchen no matter what, it began to lose its power. I faced the laziness and dread. My dislike of getting my hands wet in the sink got trumped by the peace of waking up to a clean sink. Now it is a habit. What once had the power to fill me with guilt and disgust, even embarrassment, is now almost enjoyable.
Our emotions clutter our souls the way dirty dishes fill our sinks. We have to take each one out, wash it in the cleansing stream of the Holy Spirit, and put it away. One at a time. And yes, we will wash them again. Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. They didn’t need to be fully cleansed all over again, though they requested it. Neither do we. We are fully cleansed by the blood of Jesus. But the dishes pile up in our emotional sinks. Our feet get dirty as we wade through the emotions of the day.
But just as a cluttered home with dishes in the sink and laundry mountains in the hall make us depressed, so too our cluttered temples bring us down. The ancient priests used to store idols in the temple in Jerusalem. We are no better. But if we are home to the Holy Spirit, we have a helper who will cleanse our temples alongside us. Because if we are home to the Holy Spirit, we can be home to ourselves. And if we are home to ourselves, we bring a spirit of refuge to others as well.