I’m a little pressed for time, so I’d just like to highlight one small part of this essay. In “The Sermon and the Lunch,” Lewis recounts his dismay at hearing a preacher expound on the charms and wonderful qualities of family life after being invited to eat at the same man’s home—and seeing him and his wife and children treat each other not with kindness and courtesy but rudeness and contempt. Surprisingly, Lewis doesn’t call the preacher out for his hypocrisy so much as for his harmful and deliberate ignorance. No one’s family life is perfect, or even anywhere close to it, and the preacher is no exception. Where the he errs is in not admitting that fact. By continuing to make lofty, naïve pronouncements about the benefits of domestic life despite his experience to the contrary he forfeits the trust of his congregants (who know better) and loses the opportunity to say something useful on the subject—to educate people about how to deal with the particular problems of interacting with one’s family.
Lewis’s third point and onward reminded me of my own experience of living among family, and how my relationship with them has changed since I came to college. At the end of this past summer, I admit, I was ready to leave home. I was eager to get out from under my parents’ watchful eye, away from my brother, with whom I constantly fought, out of high school with all its rules and drama and pressure. And, once I arrived at college, I enjoyed my newfound independence. I found simple pleasure in learning to do my own laundry, in making my bed and scrubbing out my dirty tea cups and running errands (albeit, with the help of my grandmother, since I don’t have a car). At the same time, however, I had to learn to live with people who weren’t my family—with my roommate, suitemates, and floormates. I had to get used to thinking about others’ needs and how to balance them with my own. I learned to wear ear plugs to bed, to block out the noise of people talking late at night. I compromised on bedtimes with my roommate, staying up later so that she could have more time to study. I learned to share the food I bought, and to buy things we both needed—soap and Kleenex and dish detergent. I took my turn cleaning the bathroom, and vacuumed when I had extra time. And I began to miss my family. Once I was away, I remembered all the things I loved about them—walks with my father, long conversations with my mom, playing video games and watching movies with my brother.
When I went home over Christmas break, I noticed something incredible. For the first few days, I didn’t fight with my family. I ate the food my mother made without complaining—gladly, in fact. Wasn’t anything she cooked better than dining hall food? I didn’t hassle my brother when he sang or whistled like I used to. What was that compared to my suitemates blasting pop music at 1 in the morning? I happily volunteered to help with baking and running errands. Every moment I could get with my family was precious after being away from them for so long.
After a week, however—less, even—all that began to change. I began to snap at my brother again. I spent more time alone in my bedroom like I had before I left. I went back to my old habits, forgetting to put my dishes away in the dishwasher, letting my mom do all the work. I complained about the food. Suddenly, it was all about me and my needs. I was taking my family for granted.
This is, I suspect, exactly what Lewis is talking about when he says that we “[value] home as the place where [we] can ‘be [ourselves]’ in the sense of trampling on all the restraints which civilized humanity has found indispensable for tolerable social intercourse.” I would never have treated my roommate the way I treated my own family, and I would have been offended and angry if she had treated me that way. Living away from home forced me to develop good habits, to treat others with respect, to think of someone other than myself all the time. And, for a little while, those good habits lingered when I returned home. Eventually, however, I went back to my old ways. Why? Because my family are the people I am most comfortable around. At home, my guard is down; the reins of my temper and selfishness slip out of my grasp. I know that, no matter what I do, my parents and brother will always love me, and I take advantage of that love shamefully.
There is hope, however—the way to check the free reign of one’s selfishness at home is to allow one’s self to be reigned by Christ. It is when we submit to His lordship, when we find our home in Him, that we can truly be ourselves.