“Tell her it is not a good time for a visit!” my mom barked as she ran a hand through her flat hair and glanced disapprovingly at her reflection in the mirror behind me. “And don’t you dare let her see the house like this,” she hissed before slinking away into the laundry room. She waited for me to dismiss our unannounced guest who was waiting in our foyer holding a steaming pot roast with mismatched oven mitts.
My father had recently undergone back surgery, and the recovery proved to be much harder than expected. So my mom called me to come for a visit to help them get back on their feet.
Word must have leaked to my mom’s Bible study group that she was taking care of my father. Things weren’t going smoothly, because her phone had been ringing off the hook with Christian concern all day. Seeing how my mom had reacted to the doorbell that evening made me realize that she liked her prayer requests printed in the weekly bulletin announcements with forethought and correct spelling. Not urgently spread word-of-mouth, which left her vulnerable to actual in-person check-ins and surprise dinners.
I was perplexed, because my mom was known for her beautiful dinner parties, gracious hosting, and service to others. She loved people and loved having them in her home, so why wouldn’t she let her friend come in and say hello? Why wouldn’t she welcome her and this gesture of support with open arms as she did her holiday dinner party guests? My mom had been on the verge of tears all day trying to set my dad’s pain medicine and bandaging schedule. Surely she could use an encouraging chat with a dear friend — a chance to unload some of her burden.
But I knew better than to push back against my mom’s hissing voice. I thanked her friend profusely for the roast and promised it would go to good use. Even with my assuring thanks and whatever excuse I could manage for my mom’s absence, the sting of unrequited kindness was evident as the friend nodded awkwardly, put her shoes back on, and let herself out through the door that I had opened for her only a moment before.
I thought about the occasions when we had visitors growing up in that house, and there was always a lot of premeditation and preparation. The lighting was set just so, mood music tuned in at the perfect volume, glasses polished and curtains drawn open across perfectly clean windows to let the glow of our welcoming home dance out into the night street.
This week, the same curtains hung heavy and dark, like the worry and fear that hung over my mother. I imagined her welcoming her friend through her undusted, messy home to the single light at her kitchen table, placing the pot roast down and allowing the divine scent to fill the dim kitchen. I imagined my mom allowing her friend to see her under that bad lighting, in all her need and weakness. What a gift that would have been for both of them.
It made me think that maybe being hospitable in our communities is more about being seen as you are than about being seen put together, because we can only have a purpose in one another’s lives if we know there is a need for it.
After my mom recovered from the sleepless weeks and emotional strain of seeing her husband through a difficult surgery, she apologized to her friend and admitted that being caught off guard, even by a dear friend, made her feel vulnerable and exposed.
But that’s just the thing. In true Christian community, there should be no fear of exposure. If we only feel like we can be living in the light when our lives are manageable and tidy, then we aren’t reflecting the Gospel. The beauty of our faith isn’t found in our ability to not need help. It’s actually in the very essence of our need for it, because that’s where Jesus meets us. Our community is there to normalize pain and difficulty and to slowly let in the light of grace wherever we have drawn the curtains and told others to stay off the furniture.
It might not be realistic to live with an open door policy of our physical homes. I hope we can do the humble work needed to be able to live with the doors of our hearts open. May we be so filled with His love for us that we have the strength to make the pot roast when a friend is in need. The grace and humility to accept the pot roast when we are the friend in need.
Messy House Hospitality
The Nesting Place