Hospitality and Shame: why we must open our homes and our hearts


Since becoming a mother, I have struggled with hospitality.  This seems counter to the way things should go.  To be maternal is to be nurturing and hospitable, right?

I come from a long line of people who turn the house upside down in a massive clean up effort before leaving for vacation.  A family gathering requires days of dusting, vacuuming, mopping, scrubbing, scouring, sorting, organizing, putting away, and arranging.  And that’s just for the interior of the house.  The lawn must be mowed, the garden weeded, the front porch swept, everything pruned and pristine.  This is my background.  But this isn’t me.  Somehow this compulsive clean gene was not transferred to me.

Perhaps I should rephrase that.  The desire to be clean and neat is there.  The frustration and anxiety that comes from a messy and disorganized house is there.  I just don’t seem to have the ability to care for my children, work, feed the family, maintain a certain minimal level of basic self-care and hygiene, and have a home that is spotless.

Consequently, my default is I can’t have people over.  People should never seen your dirty dishes.  When a friend sets a foot on your floor, it should always be spotless.  When they walk up to the front door, there should never be a scattering of Tonka trucks, a collection of autumn leaves, and nubs of sidewalk chalk to greet them.

Basically, they should never see how you really live.  So I have to ask myself—how do you truly build friendships when you must deny the daily workings of your life?  How do you nurture intimacy when you must hide the real way you live?

On Sunday, I had friends over.  True, beautiful, wonderful friends, whom I trust and love.  We tidied a bit, and I cooked a quick and easy (but tasty) chili.  In my single days, I threw elaborate dinner parties and prided myself on my cooking.  But on Sunday, I put out wine, cheese, crackers, Cheerios, and sippy cups.  And guess what?  We had a blast.  No one seemed to notice the imperfections of my home.  No one seemed to need it to be pristine.  What we did notice—what mattered—was the laughter, the great conversations, the warmth that came from being together.

I thought about my hesitation and dread when it comes to welcoming people into my home.  I really examined it and tried to get at the root of my worry.  I discovered fear.  And then I realized that the source of that fear was shame and pride.


When I have a clean house and cook an amazing meal, I feel pride.  Conversely, when my house is messy, and I throw together a meal, I feel shame.  My dirty floors elicit deep shame within me.  When friends enter my home and see how I manage—not slovenly, but not especially neat, either—I feel vulnerable and exposed.  But this shame gets in the way of building relationships.  It separates me from my brothers and sisters in Christ.  It leaves me alone, alienated, and disconnected.  This is not what Jesus wants for me or for any of us.

According to St. Pope John Paul II, “Shame limits our ability to see each other fully.  But Genesis 2:25 tells us that Adam and Eve were unashamed.  They were not afraid to open up to each other, to become vulnerable.  They saw and knew each other intimately, in the peace of their interior gaze.”

Vulnerability is the key.  We will never form true friendships, never develop intimacy with those around us, and never experience connection with God and our neighbors unless we open ourselves up to them.  That means being vulnerable.  It means letting them see us in our yoga pants and make up free face, with dishes in the sink and children’s blocks lining the living room floor.

Do you really want a friendship with a person who will judge you because of your floors?  Do you really believe that you can be close to someone who holds you in contempt because your baseboards have dust on them?  True friends don’t care about these things.  Real friendship isn’t built on this.  We need to set aside our shame and be vulnerable.  We need to stop fearing rejection.  The people we were meant to be with—the real friendships that will stand the test of time—will not care a bit about unfolded laundry.  I promise.

Let’s learn to overcome our shame and open our hearts to Jesus and our homes to his people.  He loves us no matter how full our sink is.  And so will they.


It means to remember.

Today I conclude a Novena.  I dutifully prayed the Memorare for nine days.  I know what my intention was when I started.  It’s still my intention when I awaken in the morning and when I lie down to sleep at night.  But somewhere around 2 a.m., awakened by my infant’s cries, groping in the dark, I start to wonder.


The loneliness, the utter stillness, the foggy, fearful, heart wrenching jolt from my sleep causes me to question.  Perhaps it is all wrong.  What if I’m asking for the wrong thing.  It’s happened before, and I lived to thank God for denying the very things for which I begged him.

I first truly learned and embraced the Memorare four years ago when I was expecting our first child.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  This statement always comes with an amendment, one that used to cause a sharp pain but now is more a dull acceptance.  I miscarried our first child.  Twenty-three days later, I found out we were expecting our daughter.  It was stunning and miraculous and terrifying and joyful all at once.  Almost too much for me to take in.  I spent the first months of my pregnancy just trying to comprehend it all.

At the time I was teaching and the job necessitated an hour-long commute across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, a 24 mile long bridge, and then a fight with rush hour traffic into the city.  I left the house in darkness, scraped ice off the windshield of the car, and was exhausted before I even arrived to work.  The day stretched before me as one endless trek I had to push my way through.  My classroom was on the second floor, and I climbed those stairs too many times to count.  Everything was downstairs except our classroom—the office, cafeteria, gym, music room, library, bathrooms, all essentials.  Once I actually tried to keep track and when I had reached 10 times up and down the stairs before 8:00 am, I decided to keeping track.

The Memorare was almost foreign-sounding to me, exotic, almost medieval.  Though a cradle Catholic, I had not been exposed to it before.  But in the midst of this constant, laborious, exhausting climb towards the end of my pregnancy and the end of those long hours teaching and commuting, I turned to the Catholic radio station.  Every day as my car’s wheels met solid ground and I emerged off the bridge, the station would broadcast the Memorare.  And just about at the same time, the sun’s rays swept across the lake, glinting bright against the waves, and broke across the high rise I steered onto.  The whole vista of the city lay before me, the breaking dawn enveloping us, and the ancient words to Mary spoke to my soul.

So every day when I heard the Memorare I would place my hand on my growing abdomen and beg—please, heart, keep beating.  Please, my sweet baby, live.  Stay alive.  Grow and thrive and be born and be placed in my arms and live long, long after I am gone.


She was born.  And she lived.  And I did, too.  But it wasn’t easy.

Severe preeclampsia, a placental abruption, and an emergency C-section.  We survived.  For a moment, it wasn’t guaranteed.

I am six months out from having my son.  Our second baby.  Polyhydramnios, preeclampsia, and my darling boy born not breathing and unresponsive.  He is fine now.  I am fine now.  Well, almost.  My blood pressure has not returned to normal.

I know this should mean no more babies.  I know that two difficult, complicated, dangerous pregnancies should mean that I have no interest whatsoever in going through it again.  Intellectually I understand.  Too risky.  I have two beautiful children.  Count my blessings.

But oh how I long for a third.  At least one more.  Honestly, I long for more babies with all my heart.  But I would take just one more.  Every day I struggle to make peace, to accept that this must be God’s way of telling me that our family is complete.  And every day my heart hurts.

My intention was for my blood pressure to normalize and for us to be able to have one more baby.  For me to be healthy and the baby to be healthy.  For us both to live.

Was this right of me?  Is it a good intention when I already have two healthy, beautiful children lying in their beds just down the hall from me and other women, suffering from infertility, are desperate to have just one?  Should my intention have instead been for God to help me make peace, for me to accept what must be His will?

I don’t know.  But I’ll keep praying.  To remember.  To remember what I went through, what my children went through, what my husband suffered with worry.  But also to remember God’s mercy and love.