Hospitality among the chaos28 Jan 2020
When the fantasy of being an ideal hostess meets the reality of cooking, cleaning and managing a large family.
I want to be a hospitable person. I really do. I fantasise about friends and neighbours dropping in at any time and feeling nurtured by my home.
Can you picture it? My house wafts with the smell of baking cinnamon teacake, there are fresh-picked flowers on the table, my kitchen is immaculate, and I somehow have a perfect hour-glass figure, which makes my handmade apron look really cute. Then I set out a casually effortless meal so delicious and lovely that my friends scrabble to take Instagram pictures (#impromptucatchup #friendlyf #sospoiled) while I smile and shrug and look relaxed.
I have six children. That was part of the plan, you see. I’ve always wanted the vibrancy and hospitality of a large family. But, while I’ve acquired the children, I haven’t quite got the hang of the hospitality.
A messy welcome
Here’s where I get stuck: my house is in a state of constant disarray, and that’s putting it politely. I’m looking at the book-case at the moment. It has bath toys in it. Why? And there are swimming goggles on the kitchen bench. A tower of clean washing glares at me from the couch: ‘why won’t you fold me?’ And in every, every corner and crevice are marbles, Lego pieces, random play money, and Coles Mini Shop collectables. I’ll invite people over when the house is tidy. It’s bound to happen one of these days.
In the meantime, hospitality remains a vague ideal that I do nothing about. I’m ashamed to admit this, but the idea of inviting my parish priest over for dinner – to an oppressively messy house and chaos cooking – so paralysed me that our last PP finished his term and moved away without ever receiving an invitation. I’m determined to make amends with our new PP, but I worry: what if word gets back to my old PP that I’m having dinner with the new PP even though I never invited the old PP in his entire seven-year term? He’ll think I secretly hated him the whole time. These thoughts keep me awake at night.
Let’s be together
When I hear the story of Jesus telling Martha, who was stressed-out with hosting, that she should sit down and be present, like Mary, part of me wants to roll my eyes and say ‘Typical man! He doesn’t recognise the work that needs doing!’ But then I realise this means I think I know more than God, so I tone it down. Perhaps I do need to take Jesus’ message on board: it’s not important whether the house is perfect or the food impressive. Let’s just be together among the mess!
So what if I find the idea of dinner intimidating? There are plenty of other ways to be hospitable without hosting dinner parties.
I’m getting pretty good at the post-school-run morning tea that sometimes becomes also a cheese-toastie lunch. Lately, I’ve been playing with the idea of setting a fire in the backyard firepit and inviting friends over for some roast chestnuts and experimental damper. Or maybe I could make a trip to the playground with another mum a bit more special by bringing hot chocolate and biscuits. A friend of mine did this for me once and ever since I’ve considered it an Ultimate Life Goal. Meanwhile, I don’t own a thermos. Or maybe I could host a potluck? Come over for dinner – except I need you to bring the dinner.
In the meantime, as I wipe crumbs and mop spills (I maintain that it’s actually OK to cry over spilt milk, if it’s the fifth spill that morning), I can remember that what I am doing is not mere drudgery. It’s a form of ministry.
I am making my home fresh and welcoming for guests. And if guests arrive after the 15-minute window in which my house remains tidy, I’ll invite them in anyway. Because that’s what hospitality is about.
This article first appeared in Madonna magazine summer 2019/20 edition.