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If you’ve ever wished you could pick up the phone and call a more experienced set of Catholic parents and ask for their advice, here’s your chance. Soren and Ever Johnson are the spiritual older brother and sister you wish you had as you strive for holiness in the trenches of parenthood.
Their new book Heaven in Your Home Letters & Guide is beautiful to look at, but it’s not a lifestyle magazine, nor is it a self-help book. Instead, it gives real insight into Catholic family life, what they call “your Trinity House.”
Home as icon
The Trinity House is the framework for this book, but it’s not just an analogy, the Johnsons write:
We’re not trying to sell you on some positive-thinking mantra, that by repeating “my family is an icon of the Trinity” you can trick your mind into thinking that your family is like God. No. What we’re saying is that the Church teaches that your family is an icon of the Trinity.
I, for one, found this reassuring. A Trinity House isn’t something my husband and I need to build stone by stone by ourselves, it is our identity as Catholics, made in the image of the Trinity. We just need to step in the front door.
Their book is meant for reflection and implementation together with your spouse. It can also be used in parish small groups, in conjunction with the Johnsons’ Trinity House Community.
What is a ‘Trinity House’?
Like a mentor couple, the authors walk us through a Trinity House. Arranged in five conceptual levels, the first floor — the foundation really — of the Trinity House is a faith life. This is followed by a level that they call Persons and Relationships. The Johnsons make the reader step back and really consider the way faith and relationships are lived out in their own homes. Is my relationship with God and with the others in my home really an image of the love of the Trinity?
The practical suggestions they include are extremely helpful. They don’t come across as preachy and these parents of 5 kids don’t claim to know it all or to have done everything right. But they do encourage each couple to consider things like: Do I listen to my spouse? Do I notice my kids’ bid for love and attention? Do I sometimes try to solve my family’s problems instead of truly listening first?
In some ways I hate to mark up such an attractive book, but I soon found that I was underlining and starring different points, recognizing which ones would make a huge impact on my own family’s Trinity House.
Embracing the messiness
As if reading my mind, they addressed that familiar struggle of recognizing what seems like the ideal family life in contrast with all the messiness of a family that’s “not there yet.” Soren and Ever encourage us to embrace that life is, and will continue to be, a construction site. In fact, they tell us to “wear a hard hat” and embrace all the parts of our family life – including each family member’s challenges and weaknesses.
Level Three, Household Economy, is one where the rubber hits the road: family chores, family budgeting, and “How — oh how?! — do we have a peaceful household?” Some very real steppingstones then lead to Level Four and creating a Family Culture, which I have to admit, I found the most exciting. It can be easy to lose sight of what many of us have looked forward to in our vocation as parents — really living out our family life together.
Never too late
I think every parent can benefit from this book, so I’m not going to reveal what the fifth and final level of the Trinity House is – you’ll have to read it for yourself. And if you’re worried that you’re “too late” to live out the Trinity House in your own family, the Johnsons know from experience that it’s possible to “retrofit” your family life. At the end of the book, you’ll find a toolkit that enables the wisdom of this book to really come alive in your own marriage and family.
The Johnsons start the Toolkit with these reassuring words of encouragement: “It all starts with recognizing that heaven in our homes can only be a gift from God. We human beings are not capable of bringing it about ourselves.”
We can get going, taking as our inspiration the Trinity icon by Andrei Rublev that calls us to “Welcome. Listen. Serve” in imitation of the Trinity.