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 farther.” And, although I never recall actually eating soup at her house, 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 very best meal each time. I wanted the house to be spotless. I felt like I had to plan entertainment. I worried about mismatched serving dishes. I fretted that my furniture didn’t seem nice enough. And 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 guests and a hostess who weren’t entirely at ease. 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. She had a basket of laundry on the couch, a few dishes in the sink, and there were toys on the floor. And she didn’t act apologetic or embarrassed about it. Because she didn’t scramble to hide the laundry, I felt as if I was 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 a couple 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 houses are in perfect order, and that doesn’t happen as often as we’d like. Your guests won’t care that there’s a cobweb in the corner, that you need to dust, or that your sofa is old and outdated.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 on a regular basis, 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. I wonder if a mother is unwittingly showing a lack of love for her family when she decides that a clean home is important for guests but that it is not important for her husband and children. I think it’s better to strive for a relatively clean home all the time. Then if you want to invite guests over at the last minute, you ought not sweat the small stuff: the dusty piano, the cluttered desk, toys on the floor. It’s okay for your guests to know that you’re actually living in the home.
I think 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.
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.”
Romans 12:9-13 says, “Let love be [genuine]… . Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another… . distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.”
|Addy Forrest has been a contributing writer for several BJU Press elementary textbooks. Her original children’s Christmas program, Tell Me the Story of Jesus, is available from SoundForth (Greenville, SC).|