It’s a terrible habit (though not my worst) but I love to look through other people’s windows as I walk past them. I love the fleeting glimpse into domestic scenes, parents cooking shepherd’s pie or kids playing with train tracks (as if they still do that now…), or families gathered around Saturday night TV with a takeaway.
I love to look because what I choose to see in those scenes is a reflection of something that a deep part of me longs for. It’s a romanticised ideal of settled family life.
Now, I’m not one to wish my time away.
I’ve barely begun independent adult life, not having been out of university two years yet, and I still struggle to do things like put the bins out and organise bills with my housemates. I’m the woman who recently gave a heartfelt talk on the joys of casual dating. I’m the woman who would rather make plans made at the drop of a hat than use a diary, just to enjoy the spontaneity. I’m the woman who relishes time alone with good coffee and my MacBook, and who doesn’t like to go much more than a week or two without a night of red wine and my best friends setting the world to rights.
I’m very aware that this is a stage of life to enjoy and to treasure. There’s a freedom and independence I might never have again. Because no-one else is dependent on my time, I can keep up with more people than I’d otherwise be able to. Because nothing is set in stone, nothing tying me down to any place, any job, any plans, there’s more potential inside and more possibilities outside than I’ll ever have again.
And at the end of a long day, I can sit in bed with 4oD and a plate of chocolate cake without anyone to tell me off. Yep, this is a wonderful time of life.
That’s how I deal with the ache for something different, the pull of the warm glow from a family home I can only look in on. I remember this is just one season. Everything in its time. When my colleagues leave the office at the end of the day for school discos and Ikea trips and visits to the in-laws, I put the pang of longing into a box marked ‘one day’. It’s not for me right now, and I wouldn’t trade what I have – but I’ve always assumed that life follows a trajectory towards cosiness.
I’ve sort of taken it as a given that one day it’ll be my warm family scene that someone else looks in on longingly.
That I’ll have a space to make my own, an attic to collect memories and a mantelpiece to fill with photos. That I’ll experience the desire to commit my life to one person, and I’ll feel the world-changing love of a new mother holding her child for the first time. That I’ll make packed lunches and iron school uniforms, that I’ll be a taken-for-granted taxi service and a tester of spellings, and that I’ll take joy in sitting down to watch Countryfile with the companion who’s with me for life. That my priorities will shift and the mundane routine will become my comfort blanket. That family will be my anchor and my calling home wherever I’ve been.
Everything in its season.
It’s only now occurred to me that life doesn’t come with a cosiness guarantee. My story might go in a different direction.
There’s every chance I might never meet someone right to settle down with. There’s every chance we won’t have the money for the ideal Ikea home. I might not be able to have children naturally, I might struggle with my mental health, I might face disability or profound grief.
It might be that in trying to use the talents I have, trying to follow the passions I have, trying to change the world from the place I’m in, trying to listen to God’s voice as I choose doors and paths, trying to take up my cross and deny myself – it might be that the trajectory towards cosiness is swapped for a much less comfortable adventure. It might be that my heart has stronger desires than its longing for comfortable domesticity. It might be that God has other plans for me than marriage and motherhood.
And I think I could be okay with that. Because lovely as the money and dogs by the fire and the corner-sofa and the marriage and the kids would be, they’re just manifestations of what I really want: companionship and commitment, intimacy and nurture, stability, purpose and passion. Those things are not just for a season. They’re desires right at the heart of what it is to be human, made in God’s image, made for relationship, made for life in abundance.
Whether or not the life I’ll grow into looks anything like that cosy scene, I know there’ll always be family. The journey towards adding adopted siblings to our tribe reminds me of that. There’ll always be companionship. The beautiful faces on my WhatsApp list remind me of that. There’ll always be people to nurture, and people who nurture me. My humble, human, grace-filled church reminds me of that.
So next time I find myself looking into a softly lit living room and sighing wistfully, it won’t be, ‘Everything in its season’ that I speak to my achy soul. Instead I’ll try, ‘Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.’