One time up I opened about my struggle with hospitality. It was revealing and a little painful to be so transparent, and I kind of wanted to pretend it was a guest post by someone else, but the feedback I received made it seem like I’m not the only one who wants to grow in the area of showing hospitality.
It’s a little frustrating that this has been such a struggle for me, especially given how many people in my life not only love having people in their homes but are also good at it. I have this one friend, Janie, and no matter what’s going on in her life when I drop into town, she’s excited to welcome me into her home and up to her table. She’s perfectly at ease chatting in her kitchen while rolling out pizza dough (and I will forever be grateful that she introduced me to the sauceless pizza which is now a staple in my home. A soft, bready pizza dough baptized in garlic and olive oil rather than tomato sauce and topped with feta cheese rather than mozzarella? Yes, PLEASE). Janie has no qualms about the dishes in her sink from cooking; she’s completely unbothered by the piles of toys her four boys have strewn about the house. She never apologizes for living life in her home, and I always feel 100% welcome to stretch out on her couch, knowing an exceptional cup of coffee will be ready without my having to ask. And if I had to ask, she certainly wouldn’t mind me asking. And there’s the crux: she makes me feel comfortable enough to ask.
Why is it that the piles of toys in my house bother me but the piles of toys in her house barely register in my brain? Why do I struggle to relax when my sink is full though I’ve watched her forget about the kitchen clean-up and settle on the couch with me as though she has all the time in the world for me?
I’ll be honest, I covet that welcoming gift of hospitality that she has. When I asked Janie what she thinks makes people feel welcome in her home, she said this:
“The more relaxed I am, the more relaxing our home is. When I’m stressed about cleanliness, or having everything just so, it puts people on edge. I want a 2-year-old to be able to come in, but me not have to tell them ‘no’ constantly, as well as an older lady to come in and know that we have kids , so [our house] won’t be immaculate. I had a party one time and several women commented on how clean my house was. And I had worked hard to clean, so I wasn’t sure if I should be offended or grateful. But then the next night we had tons of people over for pizza, and I didn’t want any of the kids to get anything out because I didn’t want it to get messed up. I realized at that point that I’d rather be happy and relaxed with people in my home than worried about having to watch every move. I think a home that looks lived in is a good thing and is hospitable. “
My youngest son just had a birthday, and we had family in to celebrate on what happened to be the same weekend that we’d signed up to host our church family for a hangout time. Being introverted to the point of rudeness, I recover from lots of people-exposure by being ALONE. It’s very stretching for me to have back-to-back social events in my home. And by “stretching” I of course mean STRESSFUL. But stretching sounds more spiritual, so let’s go with that moniker.
I’d decided to do an ice cream night, and since it was our last “summer fellowship” (because we’re Baptist and we call all hanging out “fellowshipping”), I figured we’d have a decent crowd. I had already preemptively failed by buying ice cream that had “been processed in a facility that also processes EVERY KIND OF NUT ON THE PLANET” which canceled out my call for nut-free toppings for the family with major nut allergies. People I’d never met showed up (early), and the heavy rain of the weekend had driven every ant within a square mile directly into my kitchen. Also, the baby massively blew out his diaper as people were walking in, so that smelled really good.
But I thought of Janie. And I decided not to apologize. Not even for my anty kitchen. (I did apologize beforehand to the nut-allergy family who kindly accepted my apology and brought their own ice cream. In that case, my apology was absolutely warranted.) I scooped ice cream for an hour and ignored the pieces of brownie that smeared onto the hardwood floors. I’m proud to admit there’s still caked-on brownie smears where all the little kids were eating ice cream Sunday night. I didn’t race to the Swiffer after everyone left (I feel like I should be a part of a Swiffer support group), and I chatted about different brands of coffee with a group of ladies who were pouring cups of decaf Hazelnut from my coffee pot that was sitting on the stretch of counter that bad been commandeered by the ant brigade.
The ladies in my kitchen didn’t seem to mind. Why should I?
Here’s the problem, I’ve discovered. Well, two problems actually, and they go hand in hand:
PRIDE and PROJECTION.
When I feel insecure about the water stain on the living room ceiling from that upstairs shower leak that happened eight years ago, or when I’m embarrassed by the peeling wallpaper I’ve not taken the time or money to replace in my kitchen, or when the image I want people to have of me comes off looking more authentic and less polished than I’m comfortable with, I take those feelings of prideful insecurity and I project them on to my guests, assuming that they’re judging me for my flaws and failures. I see the line of dust on the coffee table. I feel a bit ashamed that I haven’t dusted in half of forever. I fear that people will think less of me as a person for my dusty table or that they’ll assume I’m lazy and don’t clean my house (because obviously everyone is shallow and makes judgments like that). So I assume they’re already thinking those things about me when they inhabit my spaces of insecurity…and that assumption leads me down a path of pride-filled apologizing for things most people never even notice, let alone think about and indict me for. It makes me want to slam the front door, close the blinds, and turn off the lights so people will think we’re not home. Better to isolate myself than to risk someone noticing the fingerprints on the bathroom mirror.
Do you see how ALL of this is in my head? And do you see that it begins and ends with pride?
Shannan Martin says in her new book Falling Free
“Regardless of the visitor, whether I’m feeling the itch of scarcity or abundance, I can’t shake the feeling that hospitality is somehow, secretly, about me.”
Thinking about me, my insecurities, my messiness, my reputation as a hostess, mymymymy–this is the problem. Me. Me is the problem.
When I think of Janie’s home, I think comfort and safe. Why do I assume that others can’t think the same thing of my home when it’s not immaculately clean? Making hospitality about me and my assumptions is the biggest hindrance to opening my door to others.
I’ve mentioned this before, but the apostle Paul wrote about showing family affection to one another as people of God (Romans 12:10). Family affection is still a phrase that I have a hard time extending to people who don’t actually live in my house or share my last name. It’s not because I don’t want to but because I don’t quite know how to lay aside those silly expectations I assume people have of me.
But if I did attach the word “family” to the people I worship and serve with, the folks I sit with in the pew and pray for throughout the week–then I would worry less about ants in my kitchen or ice cream dribbling on the floor (hello—new place for the ants to set up camp). I’d be more concerned with making my guests not feel like guests but rather like beloved family members who are comfortable kicking off their shoes and not using a coaster.
I think that’s where my dear friend gets it so right: There are no apologies for life lived in this house when you’re family. And YOU are family.
Tonight our small group is gearing back up for what I’m calling “Family Dinner.” For some people, this is child’s play and maybe a little bit ridiculous. You might be thinking, Just get over yourself. (And that would be a fair rebuke.)
But for me it’s rebranding.
It’s replacing one lens for another.
It’s propping the door open in a climate of privacy fences and security systems and saying, “Come in. You belong here. Pull up to the table and let me feed you some taco soup because that’s what the family is eating tonight.”
My path to hospitality is a crooked one. I say is and not was because the path is still stretching out before me, and I’m not sure I’ll ever arrive, whatever that looks like. But with each time I open the door without apologizing, I’m taking longer strides down that crooked path.
I’m trading “Sorry about the—” for “I’m so glad you’re here!”
Here are some more helpful resources on Christian hospitality.
“Gospel-Motivated Hospitality” a podcast with Rosaria Butterfield, Gloria Furman, and Kathleen Nielson.
“The Important Poverty of Enough” by Shannan Martin
“Grace Table” a collaborative blog revolving around the subject of hospitality
This post originally appeared at GlennaMarshall.com.