Two weeks ago, my kids headed off to school. One week later they were back home, sick with the first round of school-bourne illnesses. I got the call from the school nurse around 11:30. My eight-year-old son had a fever—slight—but just enough to send him home. By bedtime, the rest of us were beginning to show signs too. Unfortunately, it was the kind of sickness that was just bad enough to make you miserable but not bad enough to knock you out completely. The kind where you can’t muster enough energy to go about your normal routine but you’ve still got enough energy to bicker and fight. The kind that brings out the worst in you—irritability, whining, helplessness.
And that was just me.
As difficult as last week was, I found that it reminded me of the importance of home. Stripped of the externals–the housekeeping, the pinterest projects, the car pools–the purpose of home became clearer; the fundamental purpose of the home is to teach us how to live in relationship with God and with each other. Every day, as we interact with our spouses, parents, children, aunts, and cousins, we are learning the basics of how to interact with other human beings. So when my family is at our worst; when we are not loving or kind or patient; when we have “one of those” weeks, I remember exactly what I am fighting for.
In philosophy, there is a concept called “moral proximity.” Moral proximity says that we owe our greatest responsibility to those closest to us. So when the Scripture says you are to “love your neighbor as you love yourself,” it is teaching you both how to love and who to love. You are to love whom ever God has providentially placed in your life. The genius of Home is that it teaches you how to do this by putting you in close (difficult, irritating) quarters with people who are committed to loving you as well.
Because here’s the rub: Loving people close to you, loving your neighbor, is often more difficult than loving those at a distance. It is easier to love those whose quirks you don’t have to live with, whose Legos weren’t left all over the family room floor (again), who don’t take your hard work for granted. Learning to love those close to you means learning to love in the face of frustration. For my children, this means figuring out how to love their siblings who irritate them and learning to love mommy and daddy who tell them to do things they don’t like.
When the young lawyer asked “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered with the story of the Good Samaritan, a parable about moral proximity. In it, both the priest and the Levite fail to show true love because they fail to love the person right in front of them. But the opposite is also true. If today, we learn to love our closest neighbor, the people in our own homes, chances are we’ll be able to love another neighbor when we pass him in the road.
Trust me, our family has our share of bickering and meanness. This last week proved it. But every time I find myself refereeing, every time I get overwhelmed by the work, the sheer work of discipline and correction, I think about my kids’ futures. I remember that the boy who dismisses his mother and sister today will likely dismiss his wife some day too. The girl who pouts and whines to get her way will likely grow up to be a woman who manipulates others in her workplace and church.
But children who learn to love today, children who see grace and kindness and peace modeled, children who are expected to offer grace and kindness and peace in return—these children will flourish. They will flourish because by learning to love the people closest to them they will also learn to love their neighbor as themselves. So that when they finally do fly away, when they leave the safety of home for broader society, the world be a better place because of them.