SummaryAn article heralding scruffy hospitality garnered lots of positive views but Tara Brelinsky reflects that it missed the mark from a Catholic perspective.
Recently, an article was circulating around social media that heralded the virtues of “scruffy hospitality.”
It seemed to garner more than a few ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ in my circles.
Certainly among us busy, homeschooling parents, there’s understandably a general sigh of relief when someone suggests it’s perfectly acceptable to lower the standards and still make the grade in the housekeeping department.
But before you tell the kids it’s okay to leave their dirty socks poking out of the couch during Aunt Annie’s visit or you opt to ignore the piles of paperwork littering your kitchen counter tops before the next dinner party, maybe you should think again.
After reading the article, my interest was piqued and I sought out the meaning of hospitality (from a Catholic perspective).
According to Ignatian spirituality, hospitality is an attitude of heart that opens us to others and impels us to receive them on their own terms.
Hospitality implies an attentiveness to the other, and to the needs of others, even anticipating their needs.
Most often, people think of hospitality only in terms of preparing the house in anticipation of guests (hence, the enticement to read an article that seems to herald scruffy house-keeping).
However, hospitality is about so much more than entertaining if you consider that it is meant to be an attitude of the heart. Surely, such an attitude shouldn’t be temporary and only occasional; it needs to be exercised regularly.
From this framework we’re missing the real point of hospitality if we only mop the floors, put away the piles and scrub the kitchen sink before grandma drops in twice a year.
My mother used to insist that my little sisters do a pre-Daddy pick-up of the living room at about 4:45 PM every day.
Now, Daddy wasn’t a demanding man, so he wouldn’t have complained if he’d come home to a toy-strewn room. But my mother wanted to welcome him home into a space that didn’t look like a bomb had just been detonated inside.
Mom recognized that it was easier for Dad to de-stress at the end of a long day when the environment he returned to wasn’t chaotic.
The pre-Daddy pick-up was an active way for my mother and sisters to show respect and compassion. It was an act of loving which helped to train the right attitude of heart.
That pre-Daddy pick-up also benefited my mother and sisters. It meant my mom could safely relax in the evening without the risk of impaling her foot on a stray Lego while navigating across the living room.
Additionally, my baby sister always knew where her favorite stuffed animal was come bedtime because she’d dug it out from beneath the couch and put it away properly before her father got home.
I try my best to follow my mother’s example, although I sometimes I go overboard and end up in a pool of frustrated tears (like when I decided to repaint all of the trim in the house two days before my mother arrived from out-of-state).
That’s usually when my husband reminds me that our house isn’t a show place—it’s the place where lives are being lived and memories are being made.
He’s right. If I work to create a showy environment that’s worthy of a page in Better Homes and Gardens magazine, but I fail to consider the needs of my children to have a safe and comfortable place to study and to play, then I’m not being attentive to the people closest to me.
And by default, my children aren’t learning to be attentive to true needs either.
Think of how many times Jesus forgave sins before He performed miracles of healing bodies. He was always attentive to the deeper needs, and addressed them before working visible signs and wonders.
And then there’s Mary and Martha. Mary chose the better part, because she was attentive to Jesus while He was still with her. She recognized when it was time to lay the broom down for a while and give her undivided attention to our Lord.
Genuine hospitality was the hallmark in those parables.
The Uneasiness of a Martha Hostess
Conversely, I’ve been to parties where the hostess was wearing her Martha hat. Just after opening the door to her meticulously decorated home, she busied herself with pouring drinks, circulating appetizers, cooking, and serving.
Dropped crumbs garnered her immediate attention, causing me to second-guess my ability to nibble without incident.
And no sooner had guests taken their last bites when our still-aproned hostess jumped up and disappeared into the kitchen again with the pile of dirty plates and coffee orders.
Rather than recline at table and enjoy some easy conversation, as a guest I felt like the clock was ticking for my departure. Though the dinner was Bon Appétit-worthy, as a guest I left hungry for communion with the hostess.
The article that was circulating made a valid point in suggesting that we shouldn’t postpone inviting friends over or hosting family get-togethers until the hoped-for day when our yard is perfectly manicured and our furniture is all matching.
Real friends aren’t seeking 5-star accommodations—they’re wanting of our time and companionship.
Exercising Every Day Attentiveness
From a practical standpoint, if we teach our children (and ourselves) to exercise everyday attentiveness, then it’s becomes easier to welcome the guest in.
Simple, routine chores like keeping the bathrooms sanitary and uncluttered have a two-fold purpose—when the restroom is kept tidy, your daughter can easily locate her toothbrush in the morning, and guests won’t feel inclined to fashion a makeshift seat cover.
If children know how to help in the kitchen (making salad, cooking the vegetables and loading the dishwasher), they can lighten the load when you are juggling driving kids to soccer practice and getting dinner to the table.
Plus, they’ll be great assistants during the next family reunion at your house, which will free up your time to mingle.
Our homes don’t need to be picture perfect.
They simply need to be a reflection of hearts that are open to welcoming the stranger and treating him as though he were our dearest friend.