At our house, Sunday is a gathering day.
This tradition goes back to the early years of our marriage when Greg and I would often invite other couples over for Sunday dinner. We loved getting to know people by hosting them in our tiny apartment. When children joined our family, they quickly caught on to our love of Sunday gatherings. At three years old, Jordan started inviting entire families over for dinner without asking us first, which led to some awkward moments and fun memories.
We eventually migrated from dinner parties to dessert parties in order to simplify. We can now throw things together at the last minute because we almost always have ingredients for cookies and homemade ice cream on hand. And impromptu is how we roll.
Through nine moves, we have made many friends by inviting them into our home on Sunday evenings. These gatherings usually center around good conversation while the kids run crazy in the backyard, and the teenagers sit at the kitchen table with a game. It has become so ingrained in our family culture that every Sunday, without fail, at least one of our kids will excitedly ask, “Who are we inviting over today?”
Lately, however, with the busyness of life constantly looming over my head, my default answer has been, “I don’t feel like entertaining people today.”
Since I always enjoy it when friends come over (and the kids LOVE it), my hesitation usually translates into, “I don’t want to clean my house and make it presentable for company. I would rather take a nap.” (Does anybody else’s home look like a tornado blew through it on Sundays?)
While I cannot discount the importance of naptime on my only day of rest, what if I am missing the whole point? What if gathering people is not about having a sparkling house? What if people don’t care about that and prefer to be a part of my real life, even though it may be simple and a bit chaotic?
I don’t think I have it in me to invite friends over to a disaster zone any more than I have it in me to live in such an environment. Mess creates stress in my world, and that is the last thing I want people to feel when they come to my home. I want them to be comfortable instead, and that requires a certain level of cleanliness.
However, if you were to stop by my house on any given day, you would probably find a basket of laundry in the corner and a stack of papers on the kitchen counter that I haven’t gotten to yet. There would probably be toys on the floor and dishes in the kitchen sink because kids and cooking are a way of life around here. The kids’ bedrooms would undoubtedly look like war zones. And my bedroom? Let’s not even go there.
I freely admit that I would prefer to have no clutter and no piles of anything. Ever. But that is not likely to happen. So I am trying to train myself to see the inevitable disarray as evidence of life, and that should not keep me from doing something that I love: opening my doors to family, friends and potential friends alike. If they are going to judge me for my less than polished presentation, so be it. My guess, however, is that they will appreciate interacting with my family as we are, in all of our imperfect glory.
Many years ago, at one of our Sunday night gatherings, a friend said something that has stuck with me ever since: “We love coming to your home because what you see is what you get. You are who you are.”
That is one of the biggest compliments anybody has ever given me. She accurately described the kind of environment that I want to create for my guests. The good thing is that it doesn’t take a lot of creating. It only takes accepting that I do not need to stress about making my home presentable to invite others in. Or perhaps I just need to redefine the concept of presentable to include a little less perfection and a bit more reality. That, my friends, involves a few messes when we are talking about an active family of seven.
Hospitality and gathering people have never felt as important to me as they do right now. We are even working to modify our backyard to be more conducive to such things. So I am going to stop worrying so much about what my house looks like and whether my floors are adequately clean, and start building and nurturing more friendships by inviting people into my living room to spend time with my family, chaos and all.
By doing so, I will effectively tell them, “This is my life, and you are welcome to be a part of it.”
I believe that mentality is the secret for making any home into a gathering place.
What does hospitality mean to you? Would you be willing to invite people into your home to interact with you as you are? Why or why not? Tell me about in the comments section below.