One of my favorite things is having people in my tiny house. We can never have too many people—perched on the edge of the couch; sprawled out on the basement floor; feet tucked up beneath them in the big, overstuffed living room chairs. I love any reason to cook up a big batch of something on the stove and then hold hands in a circle in the living room to pray, while candles flicker softly on the countertop and the coffee table and the window over the kitchen sink.
My heart is full when people bustle around in the kitchen, filling plates and looking in the freezer for ice and scraping kitchen chairs across the tired, old linoleum floors. When the laughter ebbs and flows and the breeze blows through the window, just so, I am convinced God meant for us to be together—breaking bread and building lives.
I get it honestly, because I grew up with parents who moved past practicing hospitality long ago. Both my mom and dad excel in this particular area, and I am used to having a new guest, a new dinner party, a new family in the guest room on a regular basis. But still, I had to grow into it. Because, what I didn’t realize is that perfection is not the goal. And, for a few years, at the beginning of my marriage, I made the hospitality thing a chore for my entire family.
It’s not meant to be that way.
In those first years, I’d bark orders at my husband about how everything needed to be just so, if we were going to have company over to join us for dinner. My anxiety would boil over like the pots on the stove, as I tried to prepare the perfect dishes, sending my family running for cover. By the time our guests arrived, we’d all be so bent out of shape—smiles plastered on, and nerves worn thin—that it never really seemed worth it.
The truth is, it was for show. All of it was aimed at making sure I made a good impression and received a few pats on the back from our guests as they rushed out the door to the safety of their cars and their own, relaxed homes. In the end, all I ever felt was defeated. And embarrassed.
Then, one day, I read a book by Karen Mains, called Open Heart, Open Home: The Hospitable Way to Make Others Feel Welcome & Wanted. I needed that book. In that book, Karen Mains told me people are really coming over to my house to see me. If they’re interested in what’s in my medicine cabinet, then they’ll get what they’re looking for when they look in there. But, if they’re coming to see me, and I’m all preoccupied with appearing perfect, and I’ve alienated my entire family, and stress is oozing out my pores, well, they won’t get what they came for.
So, I had to reevaluate my reason for practicing hospitality. Was I trying to be perfect, or was my desire to provide a safe, comfortable, and welcoming place to build relationships and to do life with some of the amazing people God has placed in the world?
It took a while, but, over the years, I was able to hand over my quest for perfection, and embrace the beautiful relationships God was unfolding before me. Because the truth is that we can’t have both. We can’t be perfect and have real, refreshing, fulfilling relationships with actual human beings. Perfection isn’t ours to own.
That book by Karen Mains rescued me from my relentless and fruitless quest for throwing the perfect dinner party. And now, Myquillyn Smith has written The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful. This book has rescued me, all over again. Because, it’s a message about which I need reminding. It’s a gorgeous book, filled with funny, practical advice, and truly heartwarming stories. It’s filled with incredible photos and it reminds us all to let perfection slip through our fingers.
Celebrate your release from trying to get your home or your style or your cooking or your parenting or your decorating or your countertops or your backyard or your wardrobe or your garden or your guest room or your family or your pets or your hairstyle or your schedule or your heart to “measure up” to whatever seems to be the standard of the day.
God made you the way you are, for a reason. He rejoices over you, just as you are, no matter your style. Are you quirky, or a little bit messy? Whoo-hoo! Do you like bold colors in a world of streamlined simplicity? Right on! Are you the only one in your crew who paints the woodwork in her home? Paint on, girlfriend! Do you want to hang a chandelier in your bathroom? YAY!
Last night, we had guests around our dinner table. We love them. They are young and smart and hip and sweet and they like to spend time with H and me. Being with them makes me better. Every single time. A few weeks before we sat together in my tiny kitchen, Vanessa offered to bring guacamole, and we agreed to have a dinner that built on that theme. Back in the day, I may have panicked at the thought. I don’t usually cook guacamole-type food unless it involves pre-packaged tacos shells and an envelope of seasoning. But, I quickly remembered, Vanessa and her husband weren’t looking for perfection. They were simply looking to spend an evening, breaking bread and sharing conversation with H and me.
The recipes I cooked yesterday were all new to me. In the old days, I would have tried the recipes out on H a week ahead of time, and then fretted over whether or not they were up to par. But, the truth is that I could just as easily have served Brandon and Vanessa those pre-packaged tacos shells and some ground beef mixed with seasoning from an envelope. Because the heart of the evening was the friendship we are building, and the beautiful way God has seen fit for our paths to cross during these seasons of our lives. That’s the truth. And, whether or not I ever throw a perfect dinner party, or figure out how to organize my medicine cabinet, the Truth of God is—always and forever—an incredibly beautiful thing.
How about you? Does the thought of hosting people in your home make you joyful, or does it make you break out in a cold sweat? Does your family get the short end of the stick when company is coming over? What would change if you could let go of perfection? Would it make a difference?