Does the importance of a family decrease when children start to leave the home?
Is a homemaker still needed when the laundry pile is small, “chauffeuring” duties are done, and there are fewer places to set at the table?
Does an “empty nest” signal it’s time for a mother to reinvent herself?
These are some of the questions I have been musing over as Leo and I fly home after visiting our adult children on the other side of the country.
Our boys are living full and independent lives—one married, one single. This could lead me to conclude that the days when I am needed are over and that my role is to recede into the background. And to some degree, that is true. They don’t need me telling them what to wear, when to shave, or that they need to put on some sunscreen. But I still have a role to play in their lives. The home I create in Florida is still to be an oasis for all, and my heart can be a home that my family travels to whenever needed.
The Catechism tells us that the family is the original cell of society (CCC 2207). But this doesn’t mean that a family is like a basic building block where one unit can serve as well as another. Each family is unique, and all are strengthened when the family affirms that each member (whether the mother, father, brother, or sister) is a distinct and unrepeatable person, imbued with dignity. When family members see themselves in this way, they are better able to fulfill their mission of being “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). A Catholic family has a mission to spread the warmth, hope, and peace of Christ into the communities that they are a part of. Saint John Paul II summed up this truth with the words, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” This mission doesn’t end when children leave home.
Most people navigate fear, confusion, worry, and hopelessness on a daily basis. They exist in a world that values them in relation to their productivity. Far from being seen as irreplaceable people of dignity, they are expected to fit into a framework which leaves no room for God and sets a very high bar for success and significance. Even at the end of the day, true rest and restoration is elusive. Many return home just to dash out to evening activities (there’s still more to achieve and accomplish) or to numb out in front of a screen.
Our homes are meant to be sanctuaries in the midst of the world—to be life-giving alternatives to a sterile way of existing. Our families are called to be the church in miniature, a place of welcome and healing. If we could grasp this vision and reorient ourselves around it, I believe we would find that the need for this kind of a homemaker would never diminish. We’d quickly discover that there is always someone who longs to be invited into this kind of environment.
I recently watched a video about the transcendental of beauty by philosopher Roger Scruton. In it, he describes two different kinds of beauty. The first is grand and perfect. You know it when you see or hear it. It’s the rose windows in Chartres Cathedral, the face of the Blessed Mother in Michelangelo’s La Pietà, and Andrea Bocelli’s tenor voice. There’s a harmony and a perfection. The second kind of beauty is the type that matters most in our homes. It’s the everyday kind of beauty—the ordinary beauty. We express it in the way we garden, cook, set the table, and fluff the pillows. The reason this beauty is important is because it’s the way we cultivate an environment where things and people fit together, creating an atmosphere that restores. Although this beauty lies all around us, Scruton notes that we need eyes to see it and hearts to feel it. But the most ordinary event can be made something beautiful when people see into the heart of things.
Scruton considers this kind of beauty as an instrument of peace. It creates a sense of home. It’s an imperfect beauty, but nonetheless, it settles us. It’s not the beauty of a perfectly clean house, a designer interior, or an updated color scheme. It’s the beauty of a space that’s become a haven for all who enter. It’s a place that has been cultivated by a committed woman who has made it her mission to create an atmosphere of warmth and welcome. She has prepared for each person’s homecoming (whether a family member or not) by focusing on each person’s unique dignity and unrepeatability. When we think of home in this way, it’s clear that the significance of a homemaker’s role continues throughout the decades.
Author Leila Lawson writes, “A lot of homemaking consists of being ready for those times when someone needs you—and it’s hard to justify this way of using time to a world that measures productivity in equal units and output.” The world is pulsing, action-oriented, and distracted, rewarding the self-centered. But if we have chosen to center our lives on God, we no longer need to justify the way we use our time to anyone other than Him. He invites you to measure your days by how you love, not by what you produce. And loving well means being available.
Your heart and home can be a sanctuary. Just being available is a tremendous gift you can offer to those you love. An empty nest is not a signal that you need to reinvent yourself. Those in our care will always need a shelter—a place to come home to where they don’t need to produce something to be considered worthy, where they are received as the gifts that they are.
Perhaps, as Dostoevsky claimed, beauty really can save the world. What might change if more women responded to this high calling to cultivate this kind of home?
With you on the journey,
 “Why Beauty Matters” by Roger Scruton, https://vimeo.com/128428182, accessed April 4, 2022.
 Leila Lawson, The Summa Domestica (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2021), 208.
“Beauty will save the world.” Fyodor Dostoevsky
What do you think of when you hear the word beauty? My mind first goes to breathtaking sunsets, softly falling snow, a blue sky reflected on a still lake. When I move beyond nature and think of beauty in people, it isn't exterior beauty that comes to mind, but what emanates from the soul. That's what truly takes my breath away.
When asked how to evangelize in a culture that is indifferent to God and religion, Bishop Robert Barron has said that we should begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which points you to the truth. We need to show that Christianity is attractive. As Blaise Pascal famously said, we are to make good men wish it was true.
So how do we do this? How do we begin with the beautiful? One way is to increase our exposure to beautiful and good literature, art, and music. The imagination can offer a spiritual opening as we begin to consider the possibility that there is something of meaning, something that moves us, something more than the superficial things that surround us. But nothing beats the beauty of a life well-lived. This is especially true of someone who is able to find beauty, meaning and hope while suffering. When we see this, we lean in. We wonder how it is possible. When a person of faith faces adversity with grace and grit, a watching world wonders if perhaps their beliefs are true.
While beauty can be found in the ashes, that's not the only place we find it. There is something incredibly attractive about a woman who knows who she is and what she is here for.
Our world is disarmed by genuine transparency. People know how to spot a hypocrite. This means that the way we live is critical. Who we are is intricately tied to what we do. We can't separate the two. The choices we make are forming who we are. Our actions, our choices, are not disconnected from the person we are becoming. In the words of author Brittany Rust, “The definition of who you are belongs to the Creator of the Universe and it is left to you to decide who to become.”
Have you ever said, “I'm a good person deep down, despite what I did last weekend”?
There is a serious disconnect in a statement like that. Why? Because in large measure, you are what you do. If I were to tell you that I'm a good soccer player despite the fact that I never make a goal and don't know how to dribble the ball, you would say, “I'm sorry, but you're actually not a good soccer player. Your desire, your good intentions, don't translate into that actually being who you are.”
So once you determine who you are at the core- a beloved, precious, chosen, daughter of God, you then need to decide, “What kind of a person do I want to be?” When we feel lost-like we can't figure out who we are-it's often because we have never answered the question, “Who do I want to be?”
At the end of your life, how do you want people to remember you? What kind of a person do you want people to say you were? I challenge you to write your answer down. Not a treatise-just five things that you want to be true about you, things that for you would make you feel that you were a person who had lived life well. Then use your mind to start making the choices that are consistent with those goals. Some of those choices will be really hard because you will have to suffer in the short term in order to get what you want in the long term. But as you consistently make those choices, you will start to know yourself and be known as the kind of person who is…whoever you have chosen to be.
Your current actions and choices are forming who you are-right now. You are becoming a certain kind of persona-and this plays out especially in the little things.
I've heard it said that there's no treading water in the spiritual life-you are either moving forward or going backwards. Each and every action is reinforcing a habit and all the habits together are forming who you are becoming-what kind of a person you truly are.
As Coco Chanel said, “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.” When your true self is a beloved, chosen, forgiven daughter of God, you have an irresistible beauty to share with the world. I pray that we would bring beauty, goodness and truth to a world aching for all three, whether it realizes it or not. In doing so, we will be pointing them to Christ.