Lately I’ve been asking myself if I still enjoy hosting people in my home. Gathering around the table, feasting, having deep talks over plates piled high with food in the glow of candlelight is the goal, right? The adults belly laugh, dabbing tears from the corner of their eyes, then grab another steaming roll to dip in their homemade soup while the children run off to laugh together in the backyard. This is my expectation. No, this is my illusion.
Instead, hospitality looks more like this:
I wait until the absolute last minute to tell my three children we are having guests, because they turn into crazed creatures pulsating with energy the second they know more attention-giving bodies will be in our home. Instead, as soon as my pre-arrival stress is about to erupt, I plug them into a movie to do the last minute meal prep, sweep the floor, pick up the toys and issue marching orders to my husband-turned-servant. Seconds before our first guest arrives, we scan the house, noting that it is worth having guests over just to have a decluttered home even if for just a second. But then the reality check arrives.
The doorbell rings and one of my children hides, while the other rushes to the door, suddenly all disheveled hair and stained clothing and immediately drags any newly arrived kids to their messy bedroom. The guests make their way to the kitchen and plant themselves at the kitchen island. My husband delivers drinks while I try not to screw up the whole meal in minutes because I am now not only stressed and hungry, but distracted. The kids race through the house, dumping the toys from every basket, crashing trucks over our feet and racing them on the hardwood floors. They reach grimy hands over the counter to blindly grab at olives, cheese or chips at the edge of the counter.
I calmly and slowly remind my children of “what we talked about before our guests arrived”—they should play outside or in designated rooms. Go there right now. Please. They ignore me. I stand there, hands covered in garlic, knife in hand and keep smiling at my newly-arrived guests.
Welcome to our happy home.
We had a family over last weekend with three children the ages of our children and one man who came solo. We spent the entire afternoon preparing. The food was overcooked and too salty, and I learned the downsides of the popular “open floor plan”—namely that the child chaos ricochets around the room and is impossible to escape. The four older children (all five and under) sat alone at the kitchen island, dueling with the plastic knives they had snuck out of the drawer and turned their food into ships and guns. The other mom and I tried to feed our babies finger food and unsuccessfully police our other children all while trying to talk about plans for a new small group. The older kids finished and the three-year-old girl caught her finger in the sliding glass door and wailed the remainder of the time. We all stood up, leaving our one male friend eating his apple pie alone at the table.
When the baby, too, began to cry, the parents abruptly announced their decision to abort mission. What was meant to last 2 ½ hours lasted 1 ½ hours. They were all out the door in minutes, leaving my husband and I standing in the kitchen, counters piled high with dirty dishes and over-stimulated kids running through the toy and food-littered floor. “Let’s go for a walk,” I said.
And so in the quiet after the chaos, I did what any halfway sensible adult would do and reflected on the wisdom of continuing the stress, anxiety and humiliation of having people to my home during this season with little ones. Maybe this isn’t the time of life. Perhaps I just said I liked hospitality because it seemed like the Good Christian Thing to do. “God, is this really…” And before I could even formulate the thought into a prayer, God interrupted.
“You do it anyway.”
Do hospitality anyway. You do it in the stress and the mess and the raisins smashed into the carpet. You do it even though you are hollering over three preschoolers telling knock knock jokes with no punchline and talking about poop and pee at the table. You do it when your children throw tantrums and blatantly disobey you in front of your friends and family. You do it because doing life together means not hiding behind closed doors, but inviting people into your actual life. And real life is not pretty. It is not organized, perfect or pristine. Hospitality is not comfortable, clean or controlled.
Three of the four books in the Bible about Jesus’ life and ministry tell a story about his friends trying to keep the kids away from Jesus. I’m sure the children then were not so different from kids today. They had dirt under their fingernails, food on their faces, didn’t know how to use inside voices or walk—not run–inside. They didn’t know they shouldn’t ask people why they are fat or handicapped or black. They probably announced that food was “yucky” and peed on the floor when they forgot to go to the bathroom. They probably fought to hold on to their favorite toys and didn’t like going to sleep in the dark. Those Jewish children probably acted just like my kids.
And yet instead of being embarrassed, Jesus invited those messy, noisy, belligerent children to come to him. He didn’t tell them to clean up or straighten up first. Instead, he reprimanded his well-meaning friends who were eager for a constant atmosphere of contemplation and miracles. “Don’t stop them,” he scolded them. “For the Kingdom of God belongs to people like these.” The Kingdom does not belong to the perfect adults (ha), but the imperfect, loud, obnoxious kids.
I’m not advocating for a child-centered existence, but I am wondering if there is something to Jesus’ command that I’m missing when I expect my children to be anything more or less than what they are–children. Perhaps I need to hang a sign by my table as a reminder: “She is three years old. He is four years old.” Because I forget and expect them to act like adults.
My children are peeling away my masks, forcing me into true, messy relationship without the pretense of perfection. And Jesus says that if I don’t learn to receive the Kingdom of God like one of these kids we apologize for and try to hide, then we will never receive it.
So I’m doing hospitality anyway. In the noise, fuss, mess and chaos. Don’t wipe your feet at the door. Just come on in.
How are you doing hospitality anyway?