As I sit to write this blog, my heart is swelling with thankfulness. That happens quite frequently when our apartment has been filled with people we love. Tonight we shared a meal. We talked, we laughed, we prayed. We cleaned up, and we talked and laughed some more. It was nothing fancy; it was actually quite ordinary. Yet it leaves me feeling like I have been given a gift. I regularly find that the fullness of our home directly correlates with the fullness of my heart.
My husband and I love having people in our apartment, and we try to keep a revolving door of old and new friends coming in and out. But here’s the crazy thing: more often than not, I look for a way to get out of such gatherings. I love having our friends in our home, so why do I try to find an excuse to cancel? The surface answers sound like, “I haven’t cleaned our bathrooms,” “I don’t have time to go to the grocery store and cook,” “The dishes/floors/dining room/patio-that-we-won’t-even-be-using are dirty.” And those may sound like legitimate reasons; some days they may even be legitimate reasons. But usually they are just cover-ups for deeper issues. If I am honest with myself, I look for excuses because I am concerned about impressing people, and I am afraid they will find me unimpressive.
I make it about me. What will people think of me? How will this make me look? And then I think over all the work I will need to do to be the best host possible, and it feels exhausting. I turn what I know is a gift into a burden.
I may try to suppress my worries by telling myself that our guests will like my cooking and that they will overlook the dirty dishes piled in the sink, and even if they don’t, they’ll love me anyways. And that is all probably true, and I may even find it motivating enough to go ahead and have people over. But it is also affirming what my heart was already believing: that people being impressed with me and liking me is what really matters; that their opinion of me is what defines me. I just manage my fear of people not approving of me by reassuring myself that they will.
But I am not guaranteed that people actually will have a positive opinion of me. It is entirely possible that people will hate the food I serve or will think I should dust more often or will be annoyed because I talk too much. So I have replaced my fear of rejection with an insecure hope of acceptance.
I could go to the other extreme, saying, “Why even worry what people think? Their opinion doesn’t matter. They are no better than me. They may even be worse than me. Who cares about them?!” Okay, some of that may be sort of true. But mostly I am just taking an attitude of superiority and putting others in a lower position. Why would I even want to spend time with people if I really looked at them in this way? Rather than enjoying my relationships, I am turning them into an inconvenience or obligation.
So here is my real answer: stop making it about me and what people think of me, and put the focus on Jesus. I am reminded of the time Jesus was a guest in Martha’s home. While Martha was distracted by all her preparations for her guest, Jesus commended her sister Mary, not for being the perfect hostess, but for letting go of those lesser things to spend time on what really matters (Luke 10:38-42).
Elaine and Jenn both wrote beautifully about the Gospel recently, and that is the Truth I need to cling to when I start panicking about being rejected or looked down on by other people (even if they really are friends who will probably love me unconditionally). I need to remember that in Christ, I am wholly approved and accepted. God does not just tolerate me; He completely and utterly loves me. As I have written when I addressed identity, God defines me – not the approval of others and definitely not how clean or nice or comfortable I make my home.
Treasuring Jesus and trusting His view of me will free me up to serve others without the pressure to impress them. God’s grace is what liberates me to experience community as a gift rather than as my god. I can let go of trying to be perfect to earn others’ approval and can relish in the joy of loving them as Christ loves me. And I can humbly ask for and accept help from my husband or our guests instead of doing it all by myself to try to look like a pro.
This is not to say that I no longer put care or thought into creating a hospitable environment. But I pray that the heart behind it would be as Paul describes in Colossians 3:23-24 (ESV):
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
How about you? Do you ever turn a gift into a burden? What might help you to find joy in it again?
See y’all in the Round,
“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved."