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.