We come at last to the fourteenth and last chapter of Edith Schaeffer’s Hidden Art of Homemaking, posting chapter by chapter with Cindy’s book club at Ordo Amoris. This chapter ties all the preceding topics back to the original concept of Hidden Art being a development and expression of oneself. In the beginning chapters, Edith wrote about how it is glorifying to God to develop and express your personality and talents and abilities, even if you are not compensated for it or recognized for it. In this last chapter, she focuses on how these expressions do not only benefit yourself or bring glory to God without reference to others, but how they – necessarily – affect others in a significant way.
We are an environment for the other people with whom we live, the people with whom we work, the people with whom we communicate.
The atmosphere that we create in our homes is made up not only of decorating the house, fixing meals, and playing good music, but also of our attitudes, tone of voice and manner, and our own habits and appearance.
We produce an environment other people have to live in.
It is everything we are, as well as everything we do, that creates the home environment.
We should be artists in doing something about the environment we are creating
And we are creating not only our home environment. We emit an environment everywhere we go, to all we interact with.
Our conversations, attitudes, behaviour, response or lack of response, hardness or compassion, our love or selfishness, joy or dullness, our demonstrated trust and faith or our continual despondency, our concern for others or our self pity – all these things make a difference to the people who have to live in our environment.
We are an art form, whether we think of it or not, and whether we do anything about it or not.
All the areas Edith has previously developed work to form the aroma of our homes and of our lives. These things aren’t neutral things, and are not there only for those who wish to develop themselves. These things communicate about us, whether we are intentional about them or not, whether we like what they are saying, or not. The aroma we give off must be and will be inhaled by any we come into contact with, and will infuse the air our families breath, whether fresh or foul. Our expressions in our home, in our activities, and in ourselves become not only an extension of and expression of ourselves, but an environment for others, an atmosphere that anyone around us must breath and that always contains contagions. What will those around you catch?
Most moms have already considered this at least to some extent. How can a mom with young children not take note how her mood affects the rest of the family or how a messy house affects her mood?
Perhaps to hear the idea developed so boldly and plainly cuts. It burdens our already aching backs. “Do it all,” we hear, “AND be happy and pretty while you do it, or your family will be miserable.”
That is a lie. That is a twisted accusation and not the message you should be hearing. I’ve heard it so twisted in my own head many times; I’ve felt the pressure of bearing that burden myself.
Hear it, rather, this way:
You are God’s work of art. You are an expression of God’s hidden art.
We are the art form God can use in this area of environment to involve others who come into our presence.
The difference is in the sentence type. It is not an action-verb sentence where you are doing these things in order to make other things come about. It is a subject-complement sentence, stating what you are. And God is the one doing the creating.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10
Of course we still must act; we still must walk in them. We still must make hard choices that sacrifice our selfish desires and instead choose to love and obey God rather than our own inclinations. However, as we do so, God is the One at work, changing those inclinations and working through us, despite our imperfections, in the lives of others.
We are now enabled to work out these expressions in freedom through gratitude, precisely because we do not do it to effect our own salvation or anyone else’s. Being approved by God, we have the freedom to make ourselves and our lives an art for His glory, for His eyes, rather than for the eyes and approval of man.
As the Heidelberg Catechism declares in answer to the query about why we should still do good if our salvation does not depend upon it:
Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit to be His image, so that with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God for His benefits, and He may be praised by us. Further, that we ourselves may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and that by our godly walk of life we may win our neighbors for Christ.
The pressure is not on us to do it all. God has done all things needful to give us the grace and ability to better and better live out His image the more we walk with Him in the light. Living as an expression of God’s art is a responsibility, but it is also a joy and a privilege that we fulfill through gratitude, not so that we might earn a particular outcome.
In other words, we don’t obey so that He will bless us as much as we obey because He has blessed us already. More than that, He has empowered us with the Spirit to walk as His workmanship in the good works He has already allotted for us.
May we not shirk that path, but find ever more fulfillment as we stay in the light and seek first His kingdom rather than our own.