Years ago, my uncle and his family were in town for the holidays. We didn’t get to see this side of the family very often, so our time together was always too short but so sweet. It still is.
I’ll never forget this particular visit because I very much irritated my dad by using a “nice” bath towel, rather than letting one of our guests use it. This was wildly confusing to me, mostly because I didn’t realize we had varying levels of bath towels, some of which were intended for specific people during an overnight stay.
This is hilarious for me to recall now, as an adult, because I definitely have nice bath towels—even today, some sit in the closet STILL TOTALLY UNUSED. Because what if Prince William and Kate Middleton come to stay at my home in Dayton, Ohio? I’m saving the new, fluffy bath towels for them.
My husband and I recently began hosting a small group in our home. One night a week, this group of 8-10 people come over and we eat together, share about our week, and discuss the sermon we heard at church on the previous Sunday. It’s wonderful, life-giving, and, you guys, these two little hours of a meeting could potentially STEAL AWAY HALF OF MY WEEK if I let them.
One of my responsibilities as the Community & Discipleship Pastor is to oversee all of the community groups within the church. It’s incredible. I love it. I love hearing from the leaders about how their groups are growing and connecting. When the groups began meeting several months ago, I remember telling the leaders not to be afraid to let other people see their messes—the dust on their windowsills, marks on the mirrors, or mail piled up on the table.
“This is what it is to invite people in to do life together,” I would tell the leaders. “People are going to see the imperfections in our homes and the imperfections in our lives.”
Beautiful, right? I mean, really, it’s a lovely sentiment.
Then, my husband and I opened up a community group in our own home and I cleaned for approximately 49 hours before our first meeting. (BYE, so many hours of my week.) I don’t want you to see my messes! I don’t want you to see the dog hair or the dust or the toilet bowl rings.
I also don’t want to clean for 49 hours/week.
Last week, I told the group it is the cleanest they will ever see my home. I hope that’s true. Because I don’t want to be a person who invites people into a polished version of her life. My house isn’t always spotless and my life’s circumstances aren’t, either.
I’m not saying you need to forego all hygiene and force people to sit in your home’s filth. Please don’t do that. However, it can be freeing to allow others into our messes. We can stop pretending we have it all together and, instead, be just as we are. And, our messes may be the unspoken invitation for others to be just as they are, too. After all, who among us never has dirty mirrors, toilet bowl rings, or relational hardship?
I have not yet arrived at this real and messy way of being in community. It’s hard for me. I have a lot in common with Martha. I’d like to think that if Jesus Christ were in my living room, I’d be hanging out with him rather than putting dishes away in the kitchen, but I’m not always so sure. The way of Martha is what comes naturally to me.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with keeping the house clean, just as there was nothing wrong with Martha being as practical and efficient as she was. The problem arises when the tasks we want to complete prevent us from living authentically with others. It may be that we can’t stand to see a sink of dirty dishes, so we let friends converse in the living room while we clean up; or it could be that we are so afraid someone will see the blemish on our face or well-used towel in our linen closet that we expend all of our energy trying to appear more put together (read: perfect) than we are.
Our imperfections can invite authenticity. There is freedom, deep connection, joy, and rest in authenticity. It’s work—I know because I’m still working on it. I want to open my home to others, give them a comfortable place to sit, and serve them food. But then, I want to sit there with them, brushing away dog hair on the couch and leaving a ring of water on the table because of a forgotten coaster as we share about the real and raw things happening in our lives.
At the end of the day, people don’t care if your hair is perfect or your bathroom towels are as fluffy as a marshmallow. What matters more is that we are being who we are with them, and allowing them to do the same. Life is messy, but it’s better when we’re in the messes together.