Henri Nouwen defines hospitality as one soul being able to make space for another, freeing them to be themselves. I love that definition, because that is something I long to offer to the people in my life. If hospitality is viewed from the traditional meaning, I am not so sure that it is a gift of mine. I love having people into our home and our lives, but having guests stirs up mixed emotions in my heart, if I am honest. It’s not the people part, it’s more the house part.
You see, I am neat. Everything has a place in our home and is often (definitely not always) in its place. Shoes have a place, folders have a place, keys have a place. Every night when the kids go down, G’Joe and I put our house back together to keep our house more or less orderly. But neat does not necessarily mean clean, an unwelcome fact I must face every time we welcome someone into our home. Out-of-town guests give me the necessary shove I need to face the guest bathroom as it truly is.
I awaited the deep cleaning muse, took a deep breath, and faced the music. At a cursory glance, the bathroom seemed fine, but as I got down on my knees, I was greeted by grubby Phin-sized finger prints, dust bunnies, and grimy tiles. After I got over the initial shock, a wave of deep gratitude came over me. Allow me to explain.
Before I had kids, I had extremely high standards for order and neatness and even cleanliness. Having an ordered home gave me a false but helpful sense of security that I could handle the changing scenes of college ministry. When we got ready to have children (which was a hot minute after we got married) I was so afraid that my controlling tendencies would make me miss the joys of motherhood. I prayed earnestly that God would loosen my standards and my task-mindedness so that I would be freed to see my children as people to love, not problems to solve or messes to clean up after.
“My, my, has God answered this prayer,” I thought to myself as I looked at the growing pile of dirty rags heaping up outside the guest bath. Lord, maybe I ought to pray that you would tighten me up a tad.
It’s not that I glory in my gross guest bathroom: I thoroughly enjoyed cleaning it well yesterday. It’s just that I am so thankful that God has blinded me to the less important, less significant things in this season of life. It is His grace alone that allows me to embrace having 3 wild little boys and all the disorder, dirt, and grime that comes along with them.
If I walked into my house and was able to see, really see, the tasks left unfinished, the sub-standard level of cleanliness, the layers of dust, I would be paralyzed and frustrated. Instead, God temporarily blinds me to these details, revealing them only when I am really ready to handle them (like when a guest is coming to our casa).
As with the home, so with the heart. Psalm 103 says, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. For He himself knows our frame, that we are but dust.” No pun intended on the dust part. His words, not mine!
The One who truly knows our frame and our fragility deals with us gently and wisely. I have seen a beautiful visual picture of this through Eli’s sweet speech pathologist, Mrs. Tina. You see, Tina has a list of over 30 sounds and blended sounds that Eli cannot articulate correctly. I looked at the list from his initial report and was completely overwhelmed and paralyzed. Where would we even begin? How would he ever get all of these sounds?
But Eli has no idea of that list. All he knows is that week in and week out, he is working on one sound until he masters it. Once he is able to use that sound properly, first by itself, then in the beginning, middle, and end of words, then in regular conversation, Mrs. Tina introduces another sound. Sound by sound, letter by letter, word by word, Eli is conquering his articulation giants.
Trial by trial, fear by fear, failure by failure, God deals with us in a similar fashion. He does not overwhelm us by opening our eyes to everything He sees. He lovingly blinds us, allowing us to focus on what He knows we are able to handle.
Thank you, perfect Father, for the blessings of blindness and dirty bathrooms. You are gracious to me.