The knock at the door startled me. My family was in our typical “after church” stupor, and I was nearly asleep. Who would be coming to the house without texting first? And on a Sunday?
It was our new neighbor friends from Nigeria. We met at the service that morning and realized we lived just a few apartments away. I panicked. My house was a mess. The dishes were not done from the day before. We had all changed from church clothes to pajamas again. To not let my visitors in would have been incredibly rude, but to invite them into the chaos seemed just as offensive. My husband opened the door, and we quickly kicked the toys off the couch so they could sit.
We had a wonderful time. Mama Sarah, Baba John, and their sons became a beloved part of our family until they were called to move back home. We learned so much through our relationship with them, but one of the most impactful to me was a new understanding of hospitality. Making your home welcoming to guests does not have to mean that your carpet was spotless, that there was a cake baking in the oven, that the kids needed to sit quietly on the sofa. I’ve never been close to a Southern Belle, but always felt constrained by the unattainable concept of “Southern hospitality”. Inviting friends for dinner required weeklong preparation. I had to clean, meal plan, dust, hide half of our clutter in closets and under beds. It was a nightmare. It was so much stress that I rarely asked guests into our home. That one visit from uninvited guests made me rethink everything. As a new stay-at-home mom, I was dying to talk to other adults, but had been terrified to invite them over to a house that was home to two toddlers. I wasn’t going to sit in the house alone anymore. If new friends could accept us as we were, surely our old friends could. I began to invite people more often.
For some of you, this may be horrifying. You love having a neat and orderly house, baking bread for every guest who enters your home, making sure the silver tea set is sparkling. That is wonderful. It is a gift, and you absolutely should not be embarrassed for being that “perfect hostess”.
If, however, you are like the old me- wanting to show love to others through hospitality, but worried that your messy life isn’t conducive to playdates or dinner parties with friends, here are some baby steps you can take to become more comfortable with “real life hospitality”.
Think about what makes YOU feel welcome in someone’s home.
It’s probably not because it’s super clean. Is it a hug? Perhaps it is the fact that your friend always has a snack waiting. Whatever that thing is, translate that into your go-to gesture. For me, that’s brewing a fresh pot of coffee (or tea for my friends who don’t drink coffee) and light a candle. It’s a small gesture, but I feel like it shows I put special effort into preparing for them.
Start with people who know you well.
Close friends probably already know you hide your clutter in the bedroom closet, so they aren’t going to be shocked when you still have a pile of unfolded laundry on the living room floor. They won’t run their fingers over the baseboards looking for dust. Ask these people over first. Tell them that the house is crazy, but you’d love to hang out for bit and catch up.
Pick one “most embarrassing” thing that you do clean or put away.
For me, that’s usually the dishes. If I don’t have time to wash and put them all away…I stick them in the sink and fill it with enough suds to make it not look gross.
Don’t let one culture’s version of a “perfect hostess” stop you from having people in your home. Decide for yourself what that kind of love looks like, and enjoy the company!