I love being hospitable. Opening my home and welcoming others into it. Cooking for friends and loving them through service. It has always been something that has come very naturally to me. Up until recently, however, I was single. Now, with a husband and 15-month old son, it’s a whole different story.
Anyone who finds themselves in this stage of life will, I’m sure, relate to what we are experiencing. No matter how much we clean, organize and put away, the place is still a mess all day long! Until recently, our son was literally going through three sets of clothes per day–one ruined during every mealtime. We’ve now gotten a slight reprieve as we have found a smock for him to wear during meals, but I am sure it won’t be long before he figures out how to pull it off. And since we’ve entered this new stage of letting him feed himself, he gets more food on the floor, highchair and his hair than in his stomach. The messier the meal, the happier he is.
A couple of days ago, I was challenged by our Lenten 40 Days of Kindness challenge to invite a friend over while ignoring the mess. I decided to invite my friends Danielle and Erica over for lunch.
Even though the challenge was to ignore the mess, I of course still had every intention to clean up before their arrival. Curiously, however, morning mass and an unexpected trip to Costco, coupled with Erica’s early arrival, made it impossible for me to both clean up and start preparations for lunch. Seeing Erica’s text that she was a few minutes away and looking around at Felix’s toys strewn everywhere, I immediately felt a bit of inner panic.
How did the morning escape me like this? Is the bathroom ready for guests? I don’t think I changed out the towels. Did I light the candle? Before I had a chance to do much of anything (did I mention I’m also 7 months pregnant?), Erica was knocking on the door.
During my mini-panic attack, it wasn’t lost on me that this was exactly the Lenten challenge! To ignore the mess and have friends over. It wasn’t a coincidence my morning didn’t go as planned and I immediately felt this invitation to surrender to the experience. To let my friends in our mess and to allow them to experience our life as it really is.
Erica, having just had a baby a few months earlier, knew exactly the challenges of our life. We were able to have an honest discussion about the many life changes since having our children and what that has meant for each of us. Since my son is about a year old than hers, she was able to see firsthand the joys and challenges that come with having a toddler. We talked about the need to childproof our homes and how different it is now that he’s feeding himself.
The more I reflected on this experience, the more I think it has deeper lessons for our journey of restoration. Vulnerability and authenticity always lead to greater freedom. My need for a perfectly kept home comes from an upbringing where cleanliness was of utmost importance.
Although my mother worked, she was an excellent home keeper. My friends and I laugh at the memory of Saturday afternoons at our house when they would come over to play and my mom would make them join us in cleaning the house! When I look back on it, it makes me chuckle because with the amount of whining and procrastination my sisters and I did, wouldn’t it have just been easier for my mom to do the chores herself?
I have asked my mom this question. She responded with a resounding yes! Laughing, she told me that she didn’t hound us to clean because she actually needed our help; it would be much more efficient if we got out of her way. She did it because she wanted to teach us the importance of keeping a clean house. Knowing that cleanliness needs to be taught, she felt it was her responsibility as a mother to instill this in us. She wanted us to know we should never start our day without doing our bed or retire for the night with dirty dishes still in the sink. She wanted us to view Saturday as the day to do the weekly deep clean so that Sundays can be the day of rest that it’s supposed to be.
But what she also reminded me of was that my memories come from when we were older and more independent. What I don’t remember are the early days. The days when she had three children under the age of 8 and she was just trying to survive. Would the house have been so perfect then? Would my memories of her cleaning and cooking all weekend be an accurate reflection of that time? She assured me she experienced the same challenges that I am now.
What’s been so shocking to me now is how her advice to me currently is always just to relax and enjoy this time with my son. She tells me not to worry about the mess and just give him the attention he craves. When we go to visit my parents, she lets my son make a total mess and when I try to clean up after him, she tells me to sit down and let him enjoy himself. This coming from my perfect homemaker mother?! Having the wisdom that comes from age and hindsight, she’s able to see what’s truly important and she’s been encouraging me to relax and take in this precious time.
What I am learning in this new stage of my restoration journey, is that waiting to entertain until my surroundings are Pinterest-perfect, will kill my joy and probably never happen. I have to be ok with my new normal. Not only ok with it but I need to learn to rejoice and thrive in it.
Remembering always that this time is quickly fleeting and indeed precious, I need to realize that this mess means that my priorities are in the right order – God first, family second, the rest of the details of life third.
My son won’t always want to be in my arms more than anywhere else in this world and I intend to ignore the mess and savor every moment of it.