Everyone called her “Mom Steel,” though the only ones in our group who could really claim to be her descendants were Matt, Shannah, Ruth, and John Mark. The rest of us were college kids excited to have a home-cooked meal and a place to fellowship on Sunday nights. Mrs. Steel’s motto was “All are welcome. I can always add another cup of water to the soup to make it stretch.” Although she never actually served us soup, her actions and attitude showed that she was willing and ready to accommodate any strays who showed up at her house without advance warning on a Sunday night.
As a new bride, I was excited for the opportunity to show hospitality to others as Mrs. Steel had, but I worried about the details. I wanted to make my best meal each time, I wanted the house to be spotless, I felt obligated to plan entertainment, I worried about mismatched serving dishes, and I fretted that my furniture wasn’t nice enough. As a result, I don’t think my guests felt entirely comfortable in my home. My anxiety over wanting everything to be perfect translated into a stressed hostess and uneasy guests. I wanted to be a good hostess, but I just didn’t understand what I was doing wrong.
It finally clicked one day when I was visiting a friend’s house. Despite the laundry on the couch, the dishes in the sink, and the toys on the floor, she was not apologetic or embarrassed. Because she didn’t scramble to hide the laundry, I felt as if I were being invited into her life, not into a pretentious exhibit of the perfect home. I thought about the homes where I’ve felt the most comfortable and cozy as a guest. They weren’t necessarily the most spotless homes or the most affluent ones. My comfort had more to do with the love shown by the hostess, the acceptance I felt as a guest, and the kindness shown to me. Most of Mom Steel’s furnishings were several decades old, and she didn’t keep up with decorating trends, but there was a coziness in the Steel home that no interior decorator could replicate.
Most of us hardly ever invite others over because we’re waiting until our house is in perfect order, and that doesn’t happen as often as we’d like. Guests won’t care that there’s a cobweb in the corner, that you need to dust, or that your sofa is old and outdated. What will matter is the love and kindness that you share with them.
On the other hand, if your house could be declared a national disaster, you may have a hostessing problem. Many homes are filthy until it’s time for guests, and then a miracle transformation occurs throughout the house. Is a mother unwittingly showing a lack of love for her family when she decides that a clean home is important for her guests but not for her husband and children? How much better it is to strive for a relatively clean home all the time. Then, if you want to invite guests over at the last minute, you should not sweat the small stuff; the dusty piano, the cluttered desk, the toys on the floor. It’s okay for your guests to know that you’re actually living in the home.
I’m a happier hostess, and my guests are more relaxed now that I’m a little more “laid back” – a little more authentic – in my hospitality. Of course, I’ve had to make sure that the “authentic me” is showing hospitality to my family first by keeping a clean home and teaching my children how to help. I love being able to invite people over as opportunities arise, without worrying whether the house measures up.
“Let love be [genuine]…Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another…distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.”
In a few months, my husband will return to a Christian college to teach. I’m looking forward to inviting students over for meals and fellowship. And maybe – just maybe – my hospitality will so impact some of the students that they’ll feel compelled to call me “Mom.”
Written by Addy Forrest. This article was published in the Summer 2007 edition of The Beautiful Spirit magazine.
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