Hostess with the mostess

My childhood fantasy world didn’t involve dressing up in toilet roll and staging make-believe weddings or playing with dolls, pretending they were babies. That never really appealed to me. The one game that always made me happy was playing house. That was my dream. A space I could make my own and play the perfect host (although as a kid, to be honest it was probably more about bossing people around).

The day we got a playhouse at the end of the garden I was so excited. It was almost like a house of my own. I immediately kitted it out with all my best things. A chalkboard easel, a stack of my best crayons and some paper. I think maybe even a cushion. My mum had made little curtains for the windows – it was almost too much for me. Until real life hit. It gradually got taken over by spiders and I never set foot in there again.

Since leaving home I’ve lived in rented houses, always leaving me vaguely claustrophobic. No painting, no holes in the wall, little space for creativity. So I couldn’t wait to own a space of my own, like most other twenty-somethings.

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So when we finally got our feet on the property ladder did it fulfil my dreams? In some ways, yes. There are lots of things I love about owning my space. And yet… It didn’t take me long to discover my grown-up-house spider equivalent: how easy it is to spend so much time preparing, tidying, and wanting to make it like it is in your imagination (or on Pinterest). Whilst it might fool unsuspecting visitors that you totally have it together, you can also end up tired, preoccupied and busy. It’s challenged my ideas about hospitality.

Although it is nice to walk into a tidy, beautifully designed house and eat great food and enjoy nice drinks (and there certainly isn’t anything wrong with that, making an effort shows people you value them), what I’ve realised is that that isn’t why people accept our invitations. They come to spend time with us, get to know us more, be listened to.

In Luke 10 two sisters, Mary and Martha, are hosting Jesus. Martha is getting pretty frazzled making dinner, getting drinks, and making sure that everything was being done properly. She wanted Jesus to eat well, drink well and be comfortable. Meanwhile, Mary was sitting down, listening to the visitors. When Martha’s stress finally overflows, she asks Jesus to get her sister to help. We’ve all felt that, being left alone to do all the work – work that we see needs to be done. I always expect Jesus to agree with Martha – it was unfair. But Jesus’ response pulls me up short (as I imagine it did Martha too). He points out that, in the end, the thing that matters is spending time with him. That’s the reason he came.

Are we trying so hard that we actually end up stifling real hospitality and generosity? As well as the times we are willing to make an effort, are we also ready to invite people into our homes unexpectedly? What about when we haven’t got the ingredients for a proper dinner in the fridge and the house is more than a few dirty dishes away from a magazine show home? And once those people are sitting at our dining table among the piles of clutter, are we willing to give the time to share the vulnerability of our real lives and selves too?

Inviting someone into our home requires a certain level of vulnerability (what will people think if they notice that I haven’t dusted for months ever?). But it means we can create a culture of authenticity and trust.

Sometimes all that a person needs to feel welcome is a corner of the sofa, a listening ear and some undivided attention. And maybe that pizza from the bottom of the freezer.

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