I’m excited to introduce you to Jen Pollock Michel about her new book, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home. Jen is a wife, mama to 5, award-winning author, regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog, and more! My Bible study group recently went through her book and Rightnow Media video series Teach Us To Want and learned so much from it.
Jen has written a book that I believe is timely for us as women. How should we properly view our work in the home? What about this heartache we sometimes experience for our heavenly home?
Thank you, Jen, for your time and willingness to answer a few questions about your book. In Keeping Place, you challenge us to consider the ordinary and beautiful spaces of our homes and how taking care of them is, in fact, sacred. How do you define a faithful homemaker?
Jen: I really think we can look to God as a Homemaker. I know that’s not traditionally a title we would give to God, but I think Genesis 1 and 2 give us this wonderful glimpse into God’s acts of homemaking. He’s making a world for his children to live in!
I’m struck by the idea that making a home isn’t about beauty for beauty’s sake or comfort for comfort’s sake. Homemaking is a work of welcome, and it’s always in service to others. It’s a work centered on people and a work anyone can do. You don’t have to be a married woman with children. You don’t have to live in a big, fancy house. You can be a young professional. You can be an empty nester. We can all make home for others in the world by following God into his work of hospitality, and this is all about seeing people, helping them to find belonging, and loving them in concrete ways.
Samantha: How has understanding God as your Homemaker drawn you closer to himself and those under your own roof?
Jen: First, to consider God as Homemaker inspires in me a very real sense of his love. I think that’s what the Psalmist had in mind in Psalm 8 when he looked at creation and said, “How could so big a God care about someone so small as me?” And Scripture does testify to the very personal and intimate care that God takes of us. He numbers the hairs on our head. He knows our words before we’ve yet spoken them. He collects our tears in his bottle. He wants to know us—and dwell with us.
Because God’s care is so intimate and personal, I want to know that kind of love to my children. This kind of intimate, personal love requires a lot of patient listening. It means drawing people out with questions, being available especially at inopportune moments. I want to be better at this: just loving my husband and children by being present with them and seeking to know them intimately.
Samantha: What encouragement can you offer to those of us who struggle to “keep house” (ahem, such as myself J) and live out the daily grind with an eternal perspective?
Jen: It’s tempting for all of us to want home without the housekeeping. And what I mean by this isn’t so much that we should be mopping and dusting more, although maybe we should be doing that, too! Instead, it’s really just this idea that you can’t have the welcome of home apart from the work of home. I remember this every time we host overnight guests, which means washing lots of extra towels and sheets. People in our homes, whether children or friends, creates work. It’s work to feed people, work to make a home welcoming. Especially with young children, home is a lot of repetitive and seemingly meaningless work.
But maybe we can think of it through the lens of John 13, where Jesus took up a basin and a towel to wash his disciples’ feet. He didn’t just say to his disciples, “Man, I love you guys!” He demonstrated that love by taking their dirty feet in his own hands and washing them clean.
When we pick up socks and wash towering stacks of dishes and wipe the table for the fourteenth time of the day, we are following Jesus into his housekeeping work. A home can’t be made apart from those menial efforts.
Samantha: After knowing the unconditional love, acceptance, and welcoming arms of our Savior, what is our responsibility to those who have yet to receive the gospel?
Jen: Similarly, it’s just this idea that we must love our neighbors in concrete ways. A lot of this is about being present to our neighbors’ suffering. What is breaking the heart of the person next door? What is the particular grief in your neighborhood or city? Do we take that suffering to God in prayer? Do we look for ways to practically meet needs? That kind of practical love doesn’t replace a verbal witness of the gospel, but it sure goes a long way toward improving its reception!
Samantha: What were some of your favorite reflections throughout Keeping Place?
Jen: A borrowed reflection in the book is something from Henri Nouwen in his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. Henri Nouwen talks about his own realization regarding this familiar parable of Jesus. For so long, he’d read the story and identified himself as one of the sons. He’d been the younger son, estranged from God because of his overt rebellion. He’d also been the older son, estranged from God because of his inner resentment. But as he continued to read and reflect on the story and on Rembrandt’s painting of this story, he began to see that in Christ, God moves the church into the role of Father. That we aren’t just the ones who are being loved, but that we are the ones who do the loving. That we aren’t just the ones being welcomed, but the ones doing the welcoming.
I think that’s where the biblical story of home really takes us: into the work of mission.
Thank you so much, Jen!
Jen Pollock Michel is the author of Teach Us to Want, Christianity Today’s 2015 Book of the Year, as well as Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (May, 2017). Both books have been produced as original video series by RightNow Media. Finalist for The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association New Author Award in 2015, Jen writes widely for both print and digital publications. Additionally, Jen travels to speak at churches, conferences, and retreats. Jen holds a B.A. in French from Wheaton College (Wheaton, IL) and an M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University (Evanston, IL). She is married to Ryan and together, they have five school-age children and live in Toronto.