I received an email from my friend Kalan the other day about a church home group she and her husband are leading. In an effort to get some couples to open their homes for hosting and others to bring food for sharing, she said this: Food is not meant to be a burden, and neither is opening your house. It’s not about either of those things, it’s about us getting together, having fellowship, and getting transparent with each other. This can be done in a dirty house with bread and water. An immediate realization: Kalan is almost twenty years younger than me and she is way smarter than I was at her age. Sadly, I did not have the “dirty house with bread and water” mentality until a bit later in life. In my mid-twenties – and beyond – I was under the illusion that a cutely decorated, spotless, and fragrant house was the foundation for great fellowship. So in order to achieve this, I cleaned frantically, pulled out my supply of “guest” candles, and usually made a trip to the discount home decor shop to spruce up the knickknacks. I also attempted a made-from-scratch menu (not always a success), and threatened the kids within an inch of their life if they tracked, scattered, or cluttered on the day of. I don’t remember very many of those evenings of fellowship. I was probably in an exhausted daze after having spent myself on preparations.
Then, a funny thing happened on the way to middle age. My teenagers started bringing in friends for their own fellowship and I lost control of the preparations. Kids would appear at all hours for varying lengths of time – might be a half hour, might be three days. They tracked, scattered and cluttered. They slid down the stairs and sat on the pool table and cooked their own experimental desserts in the kitchen. We hosted, but this was a completely new level of hospitality. It was messy, loud, unpredictable and completely impossible to plan for. And we loved every minute of it. One particular evening during an impromptu swim party, Kyle and I sat in the den while kids came in and out of the house, dripping on the tile as they stood and talked to us about everything and nothing. It was one of the many moments I was reminded that my house didn’t really belong to me. It didn’t belong to my kids either. It belonged to God and there was really no reason for me to use it for impressing people with my slick decorating abilities or gourmet cooking skills (I have none). What was most important was that my generosity in sharing it reflected God’s heart for welcoming people into our lives. We opened our front door to these kids and invited them to walk through, even if the house was messy and all we had to offer them was bread and water. They came because they felt at home, which meant they were perfectly comfortable bringing in their own food and plopping down in the midst of our clutter. Those teenagers are gone now, but they taught me that the opportunity to share life trumps the necessity of spotless rooms and fancy menus. Sharing life means we let people see the way we really live, what we really eat, how the house really smells (okay, maybe I’m not quite there yet because I still have candles stashed in the drawer, just in case).
My young friend Kalan has taught me that perhaps many in the generation beneath me have already learned the lesson of how to relax our standards so we can really share life together. So I’m heading to a friend’s house tonight and when we talked earlier in the week about our evening together, I told her she had to promise she would do one thing: “Don’t clean.”
She eagerly agreed.