“I think you lied a little bit in your last post – the one on “8 Essential Steps to Creating a Sense of Belonging at Your Table”. Kara looked up at me from her seated position in the bleachers and smiled as I was getting myself settled in the space next to her, “Your house is spotless every time I’m over for dinner.”
This is how my dear friend greeted me recently at our sons’ little league game. And she was referring to Step 1:
Step 1 is not cleaning your house, redecorating your dining room, or taking a cooking class. It is simply inviting one, two, or ten people to your home whom you’d like to know better. Preparing a place for loved ones at your table begins with being willing to let people see you, and your home “as is”. If you welcome people into a space that is genuine and offer a relationship that is real – rather than perfect – your guests will feel like they can be real and imperfect too. This is how meaningful connections begin. Creating a sense of belonging, not entertaining.
I replied, “Well every time you’ve come over for dinner it’s been for a holiday or celebration and I do clean my house because that’s entertaining. The 8 Essential Steps apply to practicing hospitality – what I do every Monday and Thursday when I open my home for a community dinner. They’ve seen my house messy lots of times.”
Kara chuckled and said something about not believing that my house is ever messy.
The timing of our conversation could not have been more perfect because my college roommate was sitting on my other side. Elizabeth literally laughed out loud because she lived with me when I was a complete slob. She was more than happy to defend my honor that I have the potential to be absurdly messy.
Since then, I’ve been reflecting on the path that prepared me to root hospitality into the foundation of my home right through the center of my dining room table. It certainly wasn’t a straight road, nor did I travel the path quickly.
Many years ago – when we were at the beginning of our parenting journey – Ryan and I visited a family who practiced hospitality in a way that was different than anything we had experienced. John and Karen’s home was open to college students in their community who were invited into their home weekly to be a part of their family and share a simple meal. There wasn’t anything fancy of formal about it, and John and Karen’s kids were immersed in the conversation and the activity. It felt so ordinary and yet magical.
Ryan and I left with our hearts on fire to do something similar in our home, but 10 years passed before our Monday and Thursday night dinners began. We didn’t make a conscious decision that we were going to wait that long to begin inviting twenty-somethings to weekly dinners. We were just busy raising young boys and figuring out how who we were as adults.
My transformation from slob to well-kept began with the realization that if I wanted peace in my home, then I had to learn how to keep my life in order. Growth happened through years of bible study, prayer, talking to mentors, and practice. It’s the only way to explain going from leaping over a mound of dirty laundry to get into my dorm room bed every night, to letting filthy dishes pile up in my apartment sink for days, to keeping my home orderly so that it doesn’t feel like chaos.
I still rarely deep clean my house, but I have mastered the art of tidying. I spend a little time every day putting things away and wiping off surfaces so that my house is rarely a disaster, so that we can find the things we need, so that my home can be a place where my family can rest from the demands of the world, and so that my home is inviting when people pop in.
I whole heartedly practice Step 1 AND most days my house is tidy. Both practices are true because my motivation for a well-kept home is not for the people we invite in, it’s for the people who live here all the time.
For the past nine years I have gathered our community around my dining room table every week even when our home is under construction, or our patio is invaded by sewer cockroaches, or a swarm of bees, or the dog throws up on the living room rug, or I’m not feeling well, or the house is messy, or my family is going through a tough season. There have been numerous Mondays and Thursdays when I have a few people cleaning up the kitchen, while a few people make dinner, a few people wipe off the outside dining table and chairs, and I’m tidying my bathrooms and putting away the last load of laundry because the previous day was hectic. And I’m honest with our community when I’m cranky, exhausted, sad, frustrated, or any other negative emotion. I don’t put on a fake smile and pretend to be great when I’m not. I ask them for more help – I ask them to make dinner, to pray for me, and to listen when I’m sad or anxious.
Step 1 means that even though my house is generally tidy, I don’t stop inviting people into my home when life is messy.
This is the reason people keep coming back to my table. Not because I keep an immaculate home – rather because my home is an authentic space where they belong.