Learn to host with confidence in imperfect conditions, replacing self-consciousness with guest-consciousness, generosity and grace.
“I’m so sorry for the mess!” “Please excuse my clutter,” “Please don’t go in that room, it’s messy in there,” “My house isn’t fit for company.”
Have these words passed your lips when faced with company or just the possibility of guests?
Hospitality is a generous, heartfelt gift of time, space, and attention you get to give to others.
Awareness of the condition of my home never stopped me from having people over. However, in my desire to honor people and serve them with my best, I used to be very self-conscious about any lingering clutter or dirt upon their arrival, and I would promptly apologize for it after welcoming them inside.
It went something like this: “Hello! It’s so good to have you here! Come on in. I’ll take your jacket. Please make yourself comfortable, and please excuse the mess over here…”
Unthinkingly, I continued this bad habit until the day my kind brother in law stopped me. “You call this a mess? Your house is one of the cleanest I’ve seen.”
I relaxed and thanked him, fumbling to explain it just wasn’t as tidy as I'd like it to be.
I believe that was the last time I apologized for my house. I began to think of how it might make others feel, instantly comparing my house with theirs. True, I’d prefer my house to be picture perfect, but it’s not, because we live in it, and I would never want a friend to be ashamed of their own living space, or mistakenly think I am scrutinizing it when I visit them. Comparison is a vicious game nobody should play.
Here are some reasons I now offer hospitality as an unapologetic gift:
1. Showing contempt for your own mess can indirectly express contempt for theirs. Friendship is a gift of grace and kindness in real life, and our example creates an atmosphere for its growth.
2. Apology highlights perceived flaws. Talking about the dirt and clutter actually directs guests' attention away from admiring your home and toward offending issues they may not have otherwise noticed.
3. Apologizing for imperfection is a poor mask for insecurity. Not only does it not conceal insecurity but it magnifies it. Do you think you are assuring your guests that you want to honor them with the best because you think so highly of them, or that you are more accomplished than what they can see? What it can sound like is, “I hope you don’t think poorly of me because of how I live, or what my house looks like. I hope you think I am clean, organized, elegant and successful so you will be impressed and like me.”
You may want guests to think this mess or dirt just happened to be a rare occurrence from extenuating circumstances beyond your control, that you see it as unacceptable and will deal with it promptly. Do you see? It can be a shoddy mask begging for acceptance based on expectations and wishful thinking. Good relationships are based on truth and people will accept you just as you are, wherever you are in your journey of housekeeping, cooking, hosting and everything else.
Here are some things to consider honestly:
1. If your mess is not good enough for a guest, why is it good enough for you? If it is truly good enough for you, then it is good enough for a guest. If not, then honor yourself by tackling that dirt and clutter to the best of your ability and cultivate for yourself a house in which you can thrive. Honoring people and loving others as ourselves is the outworking of the love of God.
2. If you don't have time to keep house the way you like it, ask yourself where you have been investing your time? Is it worthy? If so, don’t apologize for caring for those other duties. Is your house being renovated and your living conditions difficult and unsightly? Why would you apologize for the process involved in progress? Are you feeding and changing babies and toddlers and just can’t sweep the floor? Rest assured that you have given your energy to the most important task. Make the best of what you have, and understand there is a time for everything.
3. Do you want to reassure others that you are aware of flaws and moving toward improvement? The best goals are effectively worked toward quietly, diligently, patiently. Allow your progress to speak for itself, and be an eager student of excellence. Only bring up your struggles and shortcomings in what you are offering guests if you are seeking advice or help from them.
If you do something, give it your best and leave it at that. Strive for excellence with perseverance, humility, and grace.
Remember, we spend our whole lives growing, building and improving our character, talents and habits. Don't allow mistakes to steal your focus!
What if a problem needs to be addressed?
Serving and making your guests comfortable in your home is the goal.
You can graciously address an issue by quietly moving that pile of laundry from the living room to the bedroom, calmly wiping off a sticky table or sweeping crumbs off the floor. Unless a pet peed on the floor or a toddler destroyed the diaper waste can (been there), there is little need to mention a mess, and you can discreetly clean it up. Politely excuse yourself or send a family member to quickly touch up a dirty bathroom or take out the trash, being mindful to never abandon guests while you clean the house. (They came to see you, not the house!) In their presence, only fix a problem that directly affects their activity in your home.
Once guests arrive, time with them, setting them at ease and making them feel loved and welcome is your highest priority.
Your friendship is a gift you are giving people. Time with you is a privilege. A place in your home is an honor. A seat at your table is something special. Kindness and sincerity make the warmest welcome, and genuine interest makes people and relationships the focus. Not the decorations, the sparkling baseboard, or the elegant china.
A clean home is desirable, but dirt and messes happen in every house. The layout and ambience of a house impacts our five senses, but authentic friendship fills the heart, from which flows the substance of living.
Take what is, and give it with the best attitude that you have, and joy will be certain to mark the moments that you share with others in your home.
You might even be surprised to find that your unapologetic welcome sets your guests at ease far more than your perfect presentation ever could.