I come from a family that has deep roots in the South. We love hard, are tough as nails, and feed people well. “Southern Hospitality” is not just a phrase – it runs deep. Growing up I had this idea that in order to “entertain” or to invite people into our home, it had to be perfect and we had to be fully prepared to lavish our guest with special things. My grandma always had a Sara Lee pound cake in her freezer just in case any guests came over unexpectedly. We didn’t entertain very much in my own home, but I just sort of gleaned it from my social contexts and thought that was the way it was.
Now I have four kids, I homeschool, my husband works two jobs and is getting his doctorate, two of my kids have chronic illnesses, we have a puppy, I work part time, and my life stays pretty much in a state of managed chaos. Who even knows what is in the freezer, but it is definitely more likely to be freezer burned chicken than pound cake. My kids are convinced that decorative pillows are actually supposed to be floor decor, and our walls have a fantastic texture because my kids just walk around running their grubby little hands all over them. We do periodic “pick ups” during the day and try our best to keep a handle on things, but the honest truth is that I have never been great at that. We recently moved into a much smaller house to be near our church plant, and even with all the purging we did, this old house is a struggle. Putting away everyone’s things sometimes feels like trying to get biscuits back in the can. Not sure how it fit the first time but it’s FOR SURE not going back.
If you relate to this, I have good news for you! Here it is: most people don’t actually care. It has been a journey for me to learn this. I used to stress so much and pray no one would just “drop by” because I wouldn’t be ready. We all think everyone else cares, but even my clean freak friends don’t care if *my* home is a wreck. Here is what people REALLY want: someone who is genuinely glad to see them and welcomes them like family. That’s it.
Welcome them into your chaos. If you are hanging out with someone and aren’t ready for it to end, invite them over! It’s OK if all you have for snacks is half a bag of pretzels and some raisins… offer them to the kids and make some coffee… or tea… or water. Whatever. Kick your shoes off, shove the laundry to one side of the couch (you know you have a laundry couch/chair/bed – no shame), and invite them to be a part of your life. In a world where so much of our interaction is digital or quick or meaningless, being invited into something real is refreshing. When I walk into a house that has toys and a random sock or granola wrapper laying around, I feel relaxed. This is a place where we don’t have to be tightly wound or putting our best foot forward. We can breathe deep and lean in. It doesn’t come naturally for me to live this out, but I am getting better because I believe it is true.
As a caveat, I haven’t completely abandoned the idea of having your space be set nicely. If you are throwing a party, have a formal kind of get together, or are hosting someone important in your life, there is definite honor shone to your guests by preparing your home for them. It’s also good to teach your children (and require discipline from yourself) to take care of their things and to be responsible in daily tasks. My point is that most of us have a lot of times when we haven’t gotten to the cleaning moment of the day or things get away from us and didn’t go as planned, but that doesn’t have to keep us from connecting with people. In fact, it can help us seem more relatable.
After 13 years of youth ministry and a decade of my own children, we have either put away or broken everything I care about already. Our furniture has experienced every vile situation you can imagine, and our standards have been significantly lowered in all areas of life. I always tell my guests to come in and make themselves and their kids at home; everything comes pre-broken for your convenience. We have nothing in any public area in our home that we hold a higher esteem for than the people who will be in that space. Hospitality has evolved in its meaning for me. It is more of an attitude about how you will welcome people in than it is about what you will offer them when they are there.