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Mid-winter — time for renewal

In a famous winter poem, Thomas Hardy writes of the desolate landscape, “And all mankind that haunted nigh had sought their household fires.” No doubt the February weather makes it easier to grab a good book (no, not a smartphone) and plant ourselves in front of that household fire (no, not a flatscreen).

But these cold mid-winter days are also an excellent time to focus on home and the many systems that make life possible: personal finances, home improvement, decluttering, deep cleaning, meal planning, exercise, new activities and schedules. In other words, now is a good time to focus on your “household economy,” learning to use our gifts to care for one another’s basic needs.

Great things happen when a family cuts back on screen time and rolls up the sleeves together for shared work. For starters, individuals get to develop their unique gifts in ways that will particularly grace the family. The spouse who loves to balance the books can keep the family finances organized; a child who is gifted in the kitchen can bless the entire family; another child who takes pleasure in cleaning and organizing will make everyone’s life easier and more efficient.

But there’s another side of work — it’s not all about getting to do what we’re good at, and being appreciated for it. We can learn to be functional in areas in which we’re not especially gifted, all the while developing the family’s appreciation of teamwork as we help make someone else’s project happen.

In our nearly 20 years of marriage, my wife and I have seen time and again how quickly pressures and distractions pull us away from tending to our household economy. When we’re over-committed and using our home as just a “base” from which to do a lot of activity outside of the home, it shows. Sure, the kids are still doing their homework and practicing their instruments, dad is still doing the yard work, and mom is putting meals on the table, but it’s very easy for shared work to slip away. Yes, it shows in some visible clutter, but the deeper and more lasting harm is that our family enjoys little quality, productive time together — and our family culture suffers.

“A renewal of family life,” writes Christendom Professor John Cuddeback, “will require a renewal of the household, especially as a place of shared work and a center of shared experience and belonging.” Amen. He continues, “We are missing out on truly human living because we fail to live together.”

Not being together means not working together. And that means not coming to know one another more deeply, not helping each other grow into our God-given identities, not learning to communicate more lovingly, not building our family’s unique culture, and not benefiting from the magic that happens when a bunch of people get it done in half the time, creating abundance where there would have been only exhaustion.

So, let’s take advantage of the bleak mid-winter’s “desolate landscape” to recalibrate our household economy and renew our goal to “live together” as a family in large part through shared work and the sense of belonging — of caring for and being cared for — that it creates.

Here is a practical suggestion to get started: once a week, hold a “Life Meeting” with your spouse. This is your regular time to get on the same page (before holding your Family Meeting) with regard to the many facets of your household economy.

Begin your Life Meeting with a short prayer, and then be disciplined about thinking through the coming week. Look at the role of shared work: which house projects and chores are the highest priority? Who’s taking the lead, and when will they take place? Is the work genuinely shared?

Mid-winter doesn’t need to be bleak. During the weeks of ordinary time preceding Lent, we can invite the Lord to transform what could be a tough season into a hopeful one, a time of establishing a new vision — for our home, our family and the year ahead. Putting the screens aside and becoming radically intentional about the geography of our homes, we can form more loving and more human families who (yes, actually) enjoy working together. With Joshua, we can truly say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (24:15).

Johnson is co-founder, with his wife, Ever, of Trinity House Community.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020