When I was in college, two FOCUS missionaries that lived about 10 minutes away from campus would frequently invite me into their home. They didn’t have the biggest house or the nicest, newest things — most were donated to them — but the warmth, welcome and care I felt sitting in their living room, swinging on their front porch and washing dishes in their kitchen changed me and the trajectory of my whole life. I was being nurtured by these spiritual mothers in the comfort and beauty of life with them in their home — a true domestic church.
We’ve heard about and felt the ache of loneliness and isolation during the pandemic, and many of us have rejoiced in the freedom that has come from lifted restrictions and more gatherings. And as we begin to once again regularly encounter our neighbors, family and friends, my encouragement to you is to not be afraid to welcome others into your own home as well.
Welcoming someone into your mess
There can be a lot of fears and insecurities when it comes to bringing others into our space: Is it good enough? Clean enough? Hip and trendy? Will they notice I don’t have the latest and greatest things to wow them with? But when we take a moment to recognize the real reasons why home is truly important, we can start to wade through the lies of “not enough” to recognize the true gift our home might be to someone else.
The truth is that you are a gift. People don’t come to your house to see your house; they come to see you.
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Our neighbor told my mom this statement years ago, and recently my mom passed on the wisdom to me. Of course we want our home to be a space where people can feel safe and comfortable, and cleanliness and your unique decorative touch are a part of that experience. But ultimately they are there for you, to receive and be received by you, not for your house.
I always feel like my house has to be perfect before I welcome anyone else into it, and if it’s not, I feel like I can’t say yes to someone else stepping inside. While it is respectful to you and your guests to live in a clean and sanitary environment, no one is taken aback by your mess. We all have messes in our lives — our homes, our relationships, the balance of our many activities and concerns, our prayer lives even — and sometimes our mess can be a sigh of relief for someone else who realizes they don’t have to have it all together to be with you.
In college when I would go hang out with my FOCUS missionary, Andrea, we would often bake or cook a meal and then have to clean it up. Growing up, I hated doing dishes, and I was honestly a little taken aback the first time Andrea asked me to help with hers.
But I found that doing the dishes was one of the best places for truly encountering another person. No more than two or three people can fit by the sink, and while you do the work you find yourself in amazing conversations, sometimes with people you might not always get the chance to talk to, or even losing yourself in something silly. (I once saw the most incredible video of the Sisters of Life singing while doing the dishes.) On top of that, the accomplishment of finishing a stack full of dishes can be so satisfying, and can be such a gift to the person whose home you are being welcomed into.
So no matter the state your home is in, remember that we all have messes. And those you invite in might actually be able to help you with yours more than you realize.
Simplicity in experiencing home
It’s a great thing to have a beautiful home, but your home doesn’t have to be “magazine worthy” to be exactly what someone else might need.
Growing up, my family had a lovely home, but comparison often kept me from wanting to invite others into it. My friends mostly lived in homes that could have been featured in Southern Living, and I was always afraid that my house, and ultimately I, would be seen as a failure in their eyes if they were to experience my “boring” house without all the gadgets, systems and decoration.
But what I’m just now beginning to realize is that you don’t have to have a Pottery Barn inspired farmhouse to be a source of home to others. Often, a cup of coffee, a cushioned seat, and a listening and curious ear are all someone needs to truly feel at home.
My husband’s whole life was changed in college when he was welcomed into the home of a local family who prayed the Rosary together every morning. Their modest home never stopped them from opening their door to anyone — friend, neighbor, stranger. There was always a seat and a meal waiting for you, no matter how much advance notice you gave (or didn’t give) them.
Experiencing this home myself changed my own concept of what home and being at home meant to me. It’s not about the space as much as it’s about the love that is poured out there. So whether you live in a one-bedroom apartment, a tiny starter home, or the home of your dreams, your space is worthy of welcoming others into it.
Being prepared and seeing your home as a shelter for others will give you greater freedom to say “yes.”
Decoration should be an invitation
I remember as a FOCUS missionary I never wanted to decorate my home. Having moved three times in three years, I knew I wouldn’t be there long, and it just felt like too much effort to buy, hang, rearrange and clean.
What I wasn’t considering, though, was the great gift my home would be to my students. They were living away from their homes in dorms or small campus apartments, sometimes with total strangers, and I didn’t consider how much they might enjoy being in a decorated space that reminded them of being home. I wasn’t just providing a “space” for them, I was giving them an experience of home, family, familiarity and being known.
Thrift shops, Facebook marketplace, yard sales and donations are all great places to start and continue the ongoing journey of making a home. Over half the furniture and decoration in our house was given to us, and it’s come together in a beautiful and eclectic way that my husband and I could have never done, or afforded to do, without the generosity of others. It is truly a reflection of our family, and people get a great sense of who we are and what we care about the moment they step into our house.
It also helps to make space in your budget for hospitality so that it doesn’t have to feel like a burden to have people over. My husband and I have a spot in our budget for “entertaining” and always have a box of sparkling water or a bottle of bourbon so that, no matter who is coming, we have something special for them to make them feel welcomed.
No matter what stage of life you find yourself in and no matter what your home looks like, there are members of the Body of Christ who are yearning for an experience of home, and your home might be balm on that ache for them. Start planning now so that you, too, can have the freedom to be a home for someone who is needing it. And hopefully others in your life can be home for you as well.