Being Hosts (Opening up our home)

Last week, we hosted people in our home four out of the five week days ranging from over 20 people to a handful of people to a single dinner guest. One day, we even had two separate events, one in the morning, and one in the evening. Every week on average, we have people in our home at least two days, often three. This week, though, really required us to stretch our hosting abilities and comfort levels. 

Can I tell you something? It's such a blessing. 

This culture of ours can be so very strange. The middle class (huge as it is) emphasizes making your home beautiful, picture perfect, and ready to host large groups. The newer homes feature large kitchens with islands perfect for setting up buffets full of food or drinks, with an open concept to keep everyone together even while a meal is being prepared or served. There are multiple bathrooms available. The larger living room offers more options for comfortable seating with sectionals, chairs, couches, and loveseats. Some homes even have mini movie theatres, complete with personalized recliners and elevated seating. 

Yet so often, these perfectly designed homes stay quite private. The movie theatres go almost unused since there are also large TVs in the other more commonly used rooms in the house. The family uses the home, sure, but the features that make these homes great for hosting do not get used for actual hosting.

Why is that? I cannot speak for everyone, but I know for myself there is a level of fear there that I have to work at to overcome. Part of the pressure to have a beautiful home means that there is a lot of room to fail, be judged harshly, and get burnt out. What if the people coming into my home look around and think, "This is it?" What if the kids destroy the rooms they play in, leaving little tornados everywhere for me to clean up later? What if I run out of plates or forks? What if I forgot to clean the lip under the edge of the table and my guest notices this? WHAT IF? The list can go on and on.

I actively fight against this. Well, I'm trying to actively fight against this. If someone comes into my home and thinks, "This is it?" the chances are they will not actually tell me. I may feel it when I watch them look around, or hear comments that aren't necessarily kind in nature, but ultimately, my imagination is really more of the problem here. I can only imagine what they are thinking and that does not usually work in my favor. The other side of this is a bigger issue. Am I actually closing up my home to others because of what others think? There's a word for that. Pride. The bible states clearly what we should do with this kind of pride.

Proverbs 16:18: Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

Psalm 10:4: In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.

If we are focusing on ourselves and what others think of us, we cannot also be focusing on God. We cannot be using our gifts given to us to glorify Him. That's bad! Right?? I mean, isn't that the point of our lives? To use our lives to glorify Him?

I've been wrestling with this for years. My husband and I both enjoy hosting people in our homes. We get a rush from it, energy that kind of bursts out while we prepare and enjoy our guests and then fizzles out leaving us exhausted by the end of the day. It's convenient for us that we both enjoy it, but that doesn't really make it less work. 

Hosting is a lot of work. It's helpful that we enjoy it, but that doesn't mean it's always easy. Whether or not you are aiming to impress or just trying to be prepared, your house needs to be relatively clean. I panic a little sometimes when I think of my standard of clean versus someone else's. Will they think we are huge slobs? Will they find that spot on the high chair that I keep missing, with layers of food stuck there for months? Will they notice that the floorboards in the bathroom are full of dust? Will they look at our floors and think that they are clearly not freshly mopped? 

After years of hearing that hospitality is something God requires of his children, I learned that I am setting up obstacles that He does not require. God does not require us to have every room perfectly cleaned. He doesn't expect us to spend the entire day deep cleaning areas that nobody will notice anyway. He doesn't expect every pillow to be in place, every piece of clothing hung up, every dish cloth to hang perfectly. Those expectations are worldly, placed in our minds by the enemy, giving us reasons to say no, turn away people you otherwise could share your lives with, and close ourselves off to other opportunities. It pains me to think that we have done this in the past. If God has given both of us the gift of hospitality, why would we let anything stop us from doing it?

God does not require us to be perfect, either. There are things to consider and be aware of when someone is visiting. Where should they put their coats and bags? Do they need something to drink? Do they know where the bathroom is? The list can go on and on. If this is what overwhelms you, the need to be present and ready to jump up and serve your guest, I would like to remind you that our culture works in our favor here. In many other countries, the expectations put upon the hosts are nonverbal but very important. It would be rude to not offer drinks or food. Some countries expect slippers to be provided when guests arrive. Some countries expect there to be multiple courses to every meal. America's culture is so much easier than this! Most of the time, guests are welcome to grab a drink if they want one. They can leave their shoes on or take them off. There is not a list of things unsaid that are passively expected. America's culture is casual which makes hosting quite a bit easier.

In our home, we keep things pretty casual. I keep the bathroom relatively clean, I try to sweep the floor and wash the table. I prefer to have the meal at least mostly ready if the guests are coming to eat, but I don't mind finishing it up while visiting with them. Mostly, though, I am honest with myself that when we invite people into our homes, we are inviting them into our lives. They are going to see a little bit of our messes. They are going to see me disciplining my children because that's what happens when you are parents; you have to continue to do it even when other people are around. They are going to see that some of our rooms are much less clean than others. That's okay. In fact, most people are more comfortable when they see imperfection. It's a relief, isn't it? Personally, when I notice something imperfect in someone else's home, I think to myself, "Oh good! They aren't as perfect as they seem. I can relate much more now."

There are a few things that we do in our home and with our family that have helped make it easier to open up our homes.
  1. I work with the girls almost every single day to maintain a clean room. We take out most of the toys so there is less clutter, and I expect them to put away pajamas, dirty clothes, and clean clothes that are left out every morning before they can play. I also expect them to make the bed. Most days, if the bed was made the day before, it's quick and easy to make again. Most of it is done! You just need to straighten the blanket and pillow. It's when we don't make it for days that it gets completely pulled apart and messy. If they do this every morning, it's done in less than five minutes and they do it without grumbling. It's a habit more than anything. Sure, it was hard to get them to do it at first, but after a few weeks, they figured out that it was expected and that they could play quicker and sooner if they just did it. 
  2. I have streamlined how I clean the bathrooms. Keeping the cleaning supplies stored together, it probably only takes five minutes to wipe down the sinks and counters and clean the toilets. That's all I do! There's no need to clean the shower every time someone is coming over. The floor gets mopped when I mop the rest of the house. The mirrors are on an "as needed" basis. If there are toothpaste marks or finger smudges, I grab the Windex but if there isn't, they can wait another week.
  3. I bought a sweeper that is much wider than a broom, kind of like you see in schools. I can whip around the edges of each room in just a few minutes (that's where the dust and dirt always seem to gather) and the room is instantly feeling cleaner.
  4. Keep the counters clean! I hate when the junk drawer items linger on the counter, so I don't allow it to happen. Easier said than done, right? But honestly, it stresses me out, so I've just not let it happen, mainly by purposefully finding homes for the things that regularly end up there. Anything that can go in cupboards or be put away is put away on a daily basis. I've learned to throw the dish towel and wash cloth in the laundry room right before guests arrive. The less stuff there is to clutter it up, the easier it is to clean up quickly. 
  5. We keep folding chairs and disposable plates and cutlery stored in our storage room just off the kitchen so that they are easy to grab if we need them. They used to be in our basement, but it was inconvenient to go and get them. Just the thought of dragging them through all the twists and turns and up the stairs makes me break out in a sweat, so their new home is definitely better.
  6. I keep bottled water on hand (stored with the other things mentioned above) that I take out just for our guests. We don't use them when it's just our family at home, so I don't need to worry about us running out or not having enough for everyone. Having them on hand is just one more way to make our guests feel at home (it's easier to just grab a bottle of water than find the glasses and figure out our filtered water). We don't always do this, but for bigger events, it's handy.
My prayer is that our culture can be more willing to open up our homes. With fences and attached garages, it seems harder and harder to get to know your neighbors, and more and more we find ourselves engaging with our devices instead of the people around us. My hope is that we can actively fight against the urge to shut others out, and instead connect with each other on a personal level. For us, that is done best when we are at our home.

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