One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is about our decision to host our open porch weekly: “How do you do it, EVERY WEEK? Isn’t it exhausting to have your house “guest ready” that often?”
This is such a great question, and one with a complex answer. Of course, yes, in some ways it is exhausting. I won’t pretend there’s not hard work involved in prepping large meals, and making sure we’re well stocked on toilet paper, plates, cups, etc. And certainly, there’s always a substantial amount of clean-up involved, either that evening or the following morning. But Ennie and I, (and now our kids) have discovered that the work is truly worth it. It’s worth the couple of hours necessary to prepare our home to receive our guests every week, and clean up after them when they’ve gone home -- because we are honestly, so blessed by their presence each week. It’s like most disciplines in following Jesus. They always seem difficult at first, but once you are doing it, they become a gift and a joy.
In addition to the work being worth it, my idea of what “guest ready” is, has evolved dramatically. I say this because early on in our marriage, I remember preparing for an event (a baby shower, I think) that was to take place in our home. I took an entire week to make sure that every part of my house would be gleaming. My oldest children were small then, but I practically ignored them in order to focus on preparing my home to have guests. I went so far as to vacuum the front room meticulously just before my guests arrived, and then (this is so embarrassing) purposefully walked carefully over the vacuum lines with clean shoes so that my guests wouldn’t know I had just vacuumed. I wanted them to believe that my house was just always this perfectly spotless! THAT, is WEIRD. THAT is what I now call “living inside other people’s heads”, thinking so much about what others are thinking, that I’m no longer free to be me. In that instance, my house was guest ready, but my heart certainly was not.
Thankfully, I’ve let that neurotic behavior go. Nowadays making my house “guest ready” is certainly not perfection, but it has its roots in respect. Out of respect for our guests we make sure our house is neat and tidy. Out of respect for our guests we try to hang a clean hand-towel in the bathroom, for example. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t pulled directly out of the dryer, or that there aren’t three loads of dirty laundry waiting to be cycled through behind it. Out of respect for ourselves we’re willing to be vulnerable and let our guests recognize that human beings live here, and that life with seven children can be messy, and even so, that they are invited into that reality. Imperfections and “mistakes” in hospitality are sometimes the best parts of our open porch, because life IS truly messy, it’s imperfect, and when others are invited into that reality, they are somehow more free to be themselves, vulnerable and real.
We were created for community, and before we make our house “guest ready” we must make our hearts “guest ready”. When we are willing to make room in our hearts for people, neighbors, friends, enemies, hospitality takes on new meaning. Community is built in vulnerability and presence to one another. We can vacuum all we want, but unless we are willing to share ourselves, our true selves, we will never find true community.