Discovering the Secret to a Happy HomeTim Kinnard
There’s a painting my wife and I stumbled across several years ago that we were immediately drawn to and have been strangely encouraged by. The name of the painting is “Home Sweet Home” by artist Dianne Dengel. Sometime you might Google it dto see a picture of what I’m talking about.
To describe it to you, it’s a painting of what I have to assume is a small, old farmhouse bedroom with a husband and wife sound asleep in bed, along with their six young children piled in bed with them.
The size of the bed doesn’t appear to be much larger than a full width mattress, so, in order for everyone to fit, you see three of the kids burrowed in at the foot of the bed, one with his feet dangling off the bed, while the other three kids are cuddled up closer to mom and dad, either resting literally on top of them, or balancing right up to the edge of the mattress.
At first glance one might think the reason everyone is piled up together is because the family is poor and, perhaps, not everyone has their own bedroom. Clues of the family’s poverty in the painting can be seen in the fact that the bed in view is lacking a proper foot board and shows the mattress frame resting on a couple of large bricks. Instead of a proper curtain over the window, there’s an old dangling newspaper helping to block the light. The old wood stove in the corner of the room has a stove pipe that seems to be leaning, suggesting, a fitting of some kind has come lose closer toward the ceiling.
Speaking of the ceiling, or more accurately the roof above it, there’s a clear leak happening somewhere out of frame because there’s a steady dripping of water coming down into the room, and as a kind of comical element to the picture, the father has propped up an umbrella over the bed to divert some of that dripping from falling on top of them. So, the house is clearly not in the best of shape implying the family isn’t on the wealthiest end of the scale.
However, if you study the painting just a little closer, I think you have to rule out that it’s on account of their poverty that the whole family is piled up together, because if there was only one bed in the house, one would have to wonder how the man and his wife have found the needed alone time to produce the six kids they have (if you know what I mean).
Another assumption might be that it’s cold in the house and everyone is piled up for warmth, especially with the view of that old wood stove in the corner, and there appears to be an old family quilt they’re all tucked in under. But, there again, you have to rule it out because the window with the dangling newspaper is clearly open with two morning birds sitting in the window seal and a blooming flower bush in the background. You also know the kids aren’t overly cold because of the pairs of bare feet dangling over the edges of the bed.
So, why are they all piled in together? Well, I’ll give you two reasons I like to imagine. The first is on account of that dripping water from the roof. Clearly it has rained during the night, perhaps during a passing thunderstorm. If the kids in the painting are anything like mine, all it took was a couple claps of thunder for them to all come running into mom and dad’s room for comfort. The other theory I have is that it’s simply part of the morning ritual this family enjoys. As the sun comes up on the old farm, perhaps the kid’s are in the habit of jumping in with their parents to share some early morning snuggles before they get started with their chores.
Regardless of what the artist intends for you to imagine with all the details she includes in the painting, one impression I think is clear. And that is, despite the poor condition the family is in, including the stream of dripping rain penetrating into the room, everyone in the picture has a clear smile on their face as they’ve all fallen back to sleep next to each other and take genuine comfort in one another’s presence. They are, without a doubt, content to be together and show no dissatisfaction with their poor circumstances.
Again, the name of the painting is “Home Sweet Home” by artist Dianne Dengel.
Well, as I said, Amy and I really appreciate the painting, perhaps because we’ve lived it. Sometime we’ll do an episode on our journey as homesteaders, particularly when we first got started, having just built our own house from the ground up and having needed to move in before everything was completely finished. We’ve experienced the bare mattress on the unfinished plywood floor. We’ve experienced the tacked-up sheets over the curtainless window. We’ve dealt with the dripping roof, and the pipe fittings that don’t fit as tightly as you originally planned. The list goes on and on. We’ve got some stories to tell.
And while I can’t claim to you that we’ve kept a smile on our face the whole time, or that the sponge bathing we’ve done in front of a wood stove in the dead of winter when our tank-less water heater couldn’t keep up, is something that we necessarily wish to repeat—(oh, how we’ve got the stories)—Amy and I have discovered something through all the ups and downs that we wish we could pass on to more families. And what we’ve discovered is this—that true joy and contentment in life is not dependent on one’s circumstances but has everything to do with one’s contentment in Christ—chiefly in the redemption and saving grace we receive through him, but, I would argue, also in the common grace we receive from him in life’s simple blessings that point us to God’s love and care for us.
Writing to the Philippian church about the concern they evidently had for the hardships and rough circumstances Paul and his missionary team had endured during their missionary journeys, at one point he writes (this is Philippians 4:11-13):
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
What is the secret? How can one be content in whatever situation they’re in. How can a family be at peace and find rest even while their roof is leaking? Or as the check engine light clicks back on? Or as the biopsy report comes back with less than desirable results? Or whatever the issue is? How do we handle all the ups and downs with an abiding attitude of joy and contentment?
Paul tells us the secret is found in Christ himself. Particularly we know he’s talking about the discovery of redemption in Christ—that is forgiveness and reconciliation to God. Those who truly discover that spiritual experience, and further come to understand the eternal implications of it, are able to see their circumstances with a much broader lens and, I believe, are able to keep it all in the proper perspective.
What is a leaking roof compared to the waterfall of goodness that comes in knowing God for all eternity!?
Well, in addition to the discovery of redemption, I believe contentment is also found in better appreciating the examples of the common, everyday grace we receive from Christ in life’s simple blessings that point us to God’s love and care for us. Whether that’s the love and care shared between a man and his wife, or between a parent and their child, or in the enjoyment of blooming flowers outside the window, or the songs of morning birds, God has blessed us in life with all manner of examples of his grace, intended for our good and ultimately for his glory.
I believe one of the big reasons couples, families, individuals appear to be so miserable in life, isn’t on account of not having steak regularly on the menu for dinner, or not having acquired that ideal dream home. The reason they live their lives in misery is because they don’t appreciate the value and the joy of what’s right in front of them in what God has given them. And as a result, they undervalue and ultimately neglect what is right in front of them, allowing it to fall apart, in what becomes a vain pursuit to build up whatever preferred lifestyle they’ve chosen to adopt for themselves.
A few Proverbs that I believe help paint the picture…
- Proverbs 15:17 says, “Better a dish of vegetables where there is love than a fattened ox with hatred.”
- Proverbs 17:1, “Better a dry morsel in quietness than a house full of feasting with strife.”
- Proverbs 21:19, “Better to live in the desert than with a contentious and ill-tempered wife.”
- Proverbs 25:24, “Better to live on a corner of the roof than to share a house with a quarrelsome wife.”
Here’s the big question—which is better, to afford expensive foods and the experience of fine dining, or to be loved by others? Which is better, to have the best and most comfortable living accommodations, or to enjoy a really good relationship with your wife?
I’ll tell you, Amy and I are discovering which of those are better investments to make. It’s not to say it’s a bad thing to set aside money for expensive foods, or to work towards a nicer home, or whatever you equate with having better circumstances, but the warning is to not pursue those “better circumstances” at the neglect of that which God has already given you to enjoy and to devote your real attention to. The key isn’t to dwell on the things we don’t have but would enjoy if we did, but to enjoy as much as we can the things that we do have for as long as we have them.
If you aren’t able to grasp that concept, Dianne Dengel’s painting won’t make any sense to you. It won’t make any sense that anyone in such poverty could have such smiles on their faces. But, I tell you, if you can grasp that concept—if you can learn the secret of contentment in any and every circumstance—the vegetables shared in love, the morsel shared in quietness, the desert tent or roof-top shack shared with a happy spouse will be far sweeter than any grander lifestyle you would choose for yourself.