Choosing hospitality over a Pinterest home
My husband and I recently bought our first house. As we (literally) put our house in order, we are trying to be intentional about the kind of home we create, especially because of our desire to show hospitality to others. I have been thinking about houses I’ve felt comfortable in over the years, the houses that have felt like home. Their common trait is a sense of peace and well-being, or shalom, rather than anxiety. Not surprisingly, the owners of those houses were usually people who were at peace with themselves, too. Until you are at peace with yourself, it is very difficult to share the peace of hospitality with others. We all know how true this is for the guest; who among us can’t resonate with Nora Ephron’s comment, “I have friends who are nervous hostesses, and it just contaminates the entire mood of the evening”?((Nora Ephron, “About Having People to Dinner,” in The Most of Nora Ephron (New York: Knopf-Random House, 2013), 421.))
As someone who struggles to avoid being that nervous hostess, I know all too well the source of this anxiety. What scares me about homemaking and sharing its results with others is the perceived, but false, idea that I have to make it perfect, because my worth as a person is at stake. If I should make the grievous error of choosing the wrong curtains, I will be forever judged by my guests and my friends. When I give in to this fear, I am no longer showing hospitality; I am attempting to entertain. Karen Ehman defines entertaining as an activity that “puts the emphasis on you and how you can impress others.”((Karen Ehman, A Life That Says Welcome (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell-Baker Publishing Group, 2006), 18.)) Hospitality, on the other hand, is others-focused and is about helping guests feel “refreshed, not impressed.”((Ibid.)) When your goal is to validate yourself, you have no room to give to others. But if you already feel validated, complete, and whole, you and your house will have something to share.
I have noticed a particular way that certain houses reflect a presence of shalom by their owners. While they are beautiful and tasteful, these homes usually aren’t the most “updated” houses. They don’t look like every other house on HGTV. Instead, they are filled with belongings that reflect the owners and the things they love. My maternal grandparents’ house features my grandmother’s original paintings, books on history and the weather (two of my grandfather’s many interests), decorative baskets, and lots of plants. When you walk into their home, you get a sense of who they are: people who are artistic, creative, and inquisitive. You don’t even notice that the wallpaper or appliances aren’t on trend.
I am not alone in observing that the houses of my grandparents’ generation have a special kind of character. Danielle Henderson writes that these older houses have “soul,”((Danielle Henderson, danielleh.tumblr.com, 15 Feb. 2012. (Warning: profanity))) because their owners simply bought things they liked. They didn’t turn to Pinterest to determine their style the way we do today, leading to “identical rooms posted over and over again.” Perhaps our grandparents were less concerned with what the experts thought their homes should look like, or perhaps they didn’t consider constant updates a wise use of money. Whatever the reason, I have consistently noticed a personalized style in theirs and others’ houses where I have experienced shalom. When you know who you are and make peace with it, you no longer need to anxiously concern yourself with what everyone else is doing. Sincerity and stability in matters of style may be more important than originality or trendiness in helping others feel at home.
Of course, for my husband and me, chasing after this reflection of well-being and peace in our own home will only bear fruit if we are also seeking to be at peace with ourselves, trying to become people worthy of the kind of homes we like. We believe that the only way to have true shalom is to find our hope and identity in Christ, and as we grow in Him, our lives and home should show that peace to others. But I can use this marker of the comfortable home as a checkpoint; if I find myself anxious that no one will pin my house on Pinterest, it’s really time to put my heart, not my house, in order.
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