It was an affectionate, memory-filled email from our daughter, living far from home while working at her first job after college, that reminded me of the song “Love at Home.” Her reflections on the traditions and ways of our family filled me with fond remembrance, as well.

I was somehow aware of this old song as a child; it had gotten lodged in memory as true art always does. But even though we believed in introducing our own kids to the rich poetry and teaching of traditional hymns, somehow this song wasn’t one that my wife and I had sung or talked about around them.

When it came wafting back to my consciousness at the time of our rapidly emptying nest, I realized it captured the essence of something our little tribe had been blessed enough to actually experience. Verse 1 begins:

There is beauty all around
When there’s love at home;
There is joy in ev’ry sound
When there’s love at home.
Peace and plenty here abide,
Smiling sweet on ev’ry side.
Time doth softly, sweetly glide
When there’s love at home.

The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square (formerly the “Mormon Tabernacle Choir”) does a lovely rendition of it, a song that members of the LDS church love. A version of “Love at Home” also appears as number 652 in the SDA hymnal, though I’ve never heard it sung in an Adventist church and some of its lyrics were changed for reasons I can’t discern.

I do love the poetry of hymns–much more than any book of poetry I’ve ever picked up.

And the lyrics of “Love at Home” have the distinct flavor of an earlier era, when language was more flowery. (The composer/author lived from 1829 to 1891.) And yet in its rather romantic language I find golden threads that weave an unforgettable picture of domestic harmony.

I particularly like the concept of “joy in ev’ry sound.” Every home has its own joyous sounds, like a crackling fire, children practicing their music lessons, or perhaps energetic boys and their Dad cheering a big touchdown on TV (for those who know our family, that last sound has never been heard in our four walls). In our home, I find reassurance in my wife and daughter chattering and laughing like happy chipmunks, something they have done continuously since our girl arrived. We are a project-oriented family, so I have also found joy in the sound of my wife creating home decor with the sewing machine, my son using the cordless drill as he worked on an invention, and–when they were about four and nine–both kids making “radio shows” on an old cassette recorder. And of course, there was the sound of nightly story time, a prayer at bedside, and finally the soft breathing of a sleeping child.

Verse 2 is literally flowery with phrases that include “garden sweet” and “roses bloom beneath our feet.” One can picture a particular nineteenth-century architectural ideal in the reference to a “cottage” full of joy, a kind of domestic dwelling which has been super-sized for many in our era (with, unfortunately, no corresponding rise in overall family happiness or harmony).

What moves this hymn to the realm of the Almighty is verse 3:

Kindly heaven smiles above
When there’s love at home;
All the world is filled with love
When there’s love at home.
Sweeter sings the brooklet by;
Brighter beams the azure sky.
Oh, there’s One who smiles on high
When there’s love at home.

Though the vision of domestic peace this song portrays is a pleasant to ponder, it is imagining the God of the universe smiling when his struggling, imperfect creations manage to achieve domestic harmony that brings tears to my eyes. The thought of a loving, protective Father encouraging me to create a nest of safety, trust, and acceptance for each member represents a serious responsibility, a duty that I have always believed was more important than any job or title or public acclaim.

None of us grew up in a perfect home, nor can any say they never made mistakes as a parent. Along with domestic moments where “all the world is filled with love” are seasons of worry, and tears, and doubt. During the peak of our parenting we don’t even notice the Victorian-sounding joys of the “brooklet by” or the “azure sky” that the lyrics reference. We are in a rush to go places, do all the things we’re supposed to, and keep our households running.

But creating an environment where “peace and plenty here abide” takes real work, too, sometimes by consciously opting out of societal expectations. I’ll explore that in future writings.

We live in a fallen world, and God is with us in our brokenness, solitude, and longing–whether surrounded by many family members or none at all. Building a home where husbands and wives, children and parents are surrounded by pure affection, kind consideration, and mutual respect is not simple or guaranteed. But the long-term dividends are a blessing beyond compare, a priceless heritage given to children who will seek to re-create what they have known, a place where “time doth softly, sweetly glide.”