Shame and Hospitality

Shame and Hospitality February 8, 2013

Haley had scheduled the get-together a week in advance. I knew all about it. And then we both forgot.

Haley called me at 4 in the afternoon, “Do you remember that we have people coming over at 6?” My whole day came crashing down.

We hadn’t cleaned the house that weekend, because no one was feeling that well. There was a mountain of laundry in the kitchen in front of the wash machine, and the sink was full of dishes. Toys were scattered throughout the house along with used tissues from all the snotty noses. I had nothing on hand to serve a guest. I wanted to cry.

I snapped at the kids, I turned up the radio and buckled down to cleaning as fast as I could. I cleaned up the bathroom, moved the laundry and swept the kitchen. I felt panicky. We had invited them! We couldn’t cancel now. These people had less children and more money, the least I could do was have a clean house. What would they think if they walked in on the piles of toys in the kid’s room and saw all the floors that hadn’t been vacuumed in 4 days? Do you know how many crumbs can be produced by 4 kids in 4 days? I bet this guest didn’t. They would think I was a horrible slob, a negligent mother, letting my kids grow up in filth.

I folded blankets, I threw toys into buckets. Ms Action started to cry. “I don’t want to clean the house mom, I worked hard at school all day, I’m tired.” She went outside to hang out with her little neighbor friend. I tossed in another movie for the babies and tried to keep cleaning.

Who did these people think they were anyways? They didn’t want to have us to their house because their place wasn’t “childproof”. Did they think our kids were crazy maniacs? Or were they just too good for us? We didn’t know them that well, enough to know they were LGBTQ affirming, but very religious. I thought about a recent conversation where they had implied that Haley should go back into ministry in a more friendly denomination, and not waste that calling and those skills in a different career. Was that why they were coming over? To try to re-evangelize us and tell us how we had let down the church?

Haley got out of school at 5 and when she walked in the door and saw my face, she was like “You know what? I’m going to cancel. It was unfair for me to expect you to clean all this up by yourself just because we forgot we’d scheduled this. We are still fighting that cold anyways, so lets just call it off.”

I was hugely relieved, but felt like such a failure. I felt like I had emotionally shut down. I couldn’t talk about it at first, and it took several hours to pinpoint where the shame was coming from.

When we were first married I promised that Haley could bring home friends or ministry guests anytime, the house would be ready. As a pastor’s wife I was committed to modeling great hospitality. While we church planted, we had every family who showed interest in our little ministry over to our home. When we took an established church, I was so burned out from trying to keep the house perfect at all times while juggling multiple toddlers and usually pregnancy, that we drastically reduced the number of people we hosted, from several a week, to only several a year.

Gradually, Haley began to help around the house, and now we are too the point where household care is done in full co-operation together. But I still carry that shame with me sometimes. A godly home is clean and organized and presentable at a moment’s notice. At times it could feel like a competition, as if the family’s spiritual condition could be determined by how clean the house was and whether or not you had cookies and tea on hand for a guest. Inviting people into your home was a way to show God’s love.

Until Haley got home and decided the stress wasn’t worth it, the thought of cancelling had not even occurred to me. The old ideas of our family image had taken over and I felt like I HAD to be ready, no matter what.  NOT being hospitable was not an option. Turning people away from our home was like turning people away from God.

I am still learning to claim ownership of my space and my time. I’m still learning that having people over can stem from actual desire and interest and not mostly obligation or evangelism.  I don’t have to worry about giving people a good impression of god and the church. I want to get to the point where I can have people over at a moment’s notice if I want to, and not because my house is always clean, but because I am comfortable with being human and having normal messes in my home.


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