Hospitality has nothing to do with the perfection of your home

If you're aiming to impress your dinner guests, you've missed the point. 

It was a few hours before our new friends were coming over for dinner, and I was frantic. It seemed that, no matter how much I cleaned the carpet, it looked dirty. Everywhere I looked, something seemed out of place. Why hadn’t we painted the kitchen a different color? How had we not managed to redo the bathroom yet? When would we ever get a new couch? 

As my friends’ arrival approached, my anxiety ratcheted up. I snapped at my husband, and he responded with a retort that we should really stop having people over for dinner.

With a clenched jaw, I reminded him that it would be fun. Then, with plastered on smiles, we opened the door and shared an evening with our guests who could undoubtedly sense the tension under the surface.

For years, my husband and I had dreamed of owning our own home, and when the time had come, I was over the moon. Having lived in apartments our entire marriage, I was astounded by the extravagance of owning rooms we didn’t enter every day.

I relished our friendly neighbors, I marveled at the ideal proximity to the playground and the splash park. I dreamed of how we’d makeover our fixer upper and turn it into a beautiful, charming home.

Yet, as time marched on, I began to feel inadequate in our quarters. Our house was far less expensive than the homes our friends owned. Smaller, too. And much, much older. Come to think of it, it wasn’t in the nicest part of town. It really would be better if we had a separate space where our children played, so that the entire first floor was covered in toys at all times. What made us think it was a good idea to buy a house with only one bathroom?

Deep down, I can see now that the shame I felt was never about our house, it was about my level of perceived “success.” Our ownership of a small, old home said something about our life choices, our income, and thereby, our value. Each crack in the plaster, a window to a deep sense that I had, along the way, chosen a foolish pathway in life. 

At that time, a wise friend gave me a copy of Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table by Shauna Niequist. Niequist writes, “The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It's about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.” It was then that I learned that hospitality is about the people I welcome into my home feeling nurtured and loved.

Those words were a mindset shift for me. I realized that I had never once felt welcome in someone’s home because it seemed perfect. I realized that, maybe, the imperfection of our space was exactly what made it charming. I recalled the lasting memories I’d shared in our tiny apartments over the years, the way I enjoyed opening my home to friends regardless of how low rent the apartment was. 

Soon, I found that I relish in welcoming friends to the table. While I still clean my home to welcome guests, now it’s primarily an excuse to get the toys put away by our children. I am finding deep joy in preparing a hearty meal for our guests. I cherish our conversations and laughter around the table. As they go, my husband and I find ourselves feeling grateful for our sweet, small town and for the smart, kind people we get to know.

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