I love delving into C. S. Lewis’s many essays—mostly unknown even to those who appreciate his books—and finding pearls. This morning I came across one in God in the Dock that I had read long ago (I know that only because it is marked up) and had forgotten. It’s called “The Sermon and the Lunch.”
Lewis relates what appears to be a true story about listening to a certain vicar give a sermon on the home, a talk filled with platitudes about how dear home life is to everyone. Yet Lewis noticed that the vicar lost the attention of many in the congregation, especially those under thirty, as the sermon became more unrealistic about the incessant joys of life in the home.
What followed was lunch at the vicar’s house. Even before arriving there, the vicar’s daughter whispered to Lewis that she was hoping he would come because “it’s always a little less frightful when there’s a visitor.”
What Lewis observed during lunch was a man—the vicar already mentioned—constantly interrupting both of his children with his own views that they must not contradict, and a mother going on about how badly a neighbor has treated her. When the daughter attempted to correct the impression given of that neighbor, she was quickly and forcefully silenced by her father.
The disconnect between the vicar’s sermon and his actual home life was disconcerting. “What worries me,” Lewis reflected, “is the fact that the Vicar is not telling us at all that home life is difficult and has, like every form of life, its own proper temptations and corruptions.” Home is not a “panacea, a magic charm” that automatically produces great happiness. As for the vicar himself, Lewis is rather blunt: “The trouble is not that he is insincere but that he is a fool.”
The remedy, Lewis asserts, is to be realistic.
Since the Fall no organization or way of life whatever has a natural tendency to go right. . . .
The family, like the nation, can be offered to God, can be converted and redeemed, and will then become the channel of particular blessings and graces. But, like everything else that is human, it needs redemption.
Where there are people, there are problems.
Lewis also notes that the natural affection common in a home is not the same as genuine love. In fact, affection, left to itself, has a tendency to become “greedy, naggingly solicitous, jealous, exacting, timorous. It suffers agony when its object is absent—but is not repaid by any long enjoyment when the object is present.” Sadly, Lewis laments that “the greed to be loved is a fearful thing. Some of those who say (and almost with pride) that they live only for love come, at last, to live in incessant resentment.”
But isn’t one of the principal attractions of home that it’s the place where we can set aside the disguises we use in public and can be truly ourselves? Lewis comes down hard on that sentiment:
What chiefly distinguishes domestic from public conversation is surely very often simply its downright rudeness. What distinguishes domestic behaviour is often selfishness, slovenliness, incivility—even brutality.
And it will often happen that those who praise home life most loudly are the worst offenders in this respect: they praise it–they are always glad to get home, hate the outer world, can’t stand visitors, can’t be bothered meeting people, etc.—because the freedoms in which they indulge themselves at home have ended by making them unfit for civilized society. If they practised elsewhere the only behaviour they now find “natural” they would simply be knocked down.
Lewis is not, of course, trying to belittle the home; he’s merely saying that all areas of human life—even in the home—have to be submitted to the Lordship of Christ. “It will never be lawful simply to ‘be ourselves’ until ‘ourselves’ have become sons of God,” he reminds us.
Home life has its own rule of courtesy—a code more intimate, more subtle, more sensitive, and, therefore, in some ways more difficult, than that of the outer world. . . .
In a word, must we not either cease to preach domesticity or else begin to preach it seriously? Must we not abandon sentimental eulogies and begin to give practical advice on the high, hard, lovely, and adventurous art of really creating the Christian family?
Only by being realistic about the challenges of life in a home can we ever hope to model what a Christian family should be.