The other day I heard a knock on the door and froze. I glanced around my living room. It looked like a toy store after a hurricane. How could I let someone see the house like this? After all, the house reflects the person inside — at least, that’s what the home decorating magazines say.
I considered diving behind the recliner, but resigned, I waded through the sea of clutter and opened the door to my neighbor. Strands of dark hair hung loose from her ponytail and her face looked tired, probably just like mine. With a weak and apologetic smile, I invited her inside. She waved aside my embarrassment and said she simply wanted to talk to someone who could understand what she was going through, since we both have children with special needs.
We shared a lot of pain that day and have become good friends since. It was through this I learned an important lesson. By being willing to let her see my messy house and even life, I gave her a way to connect with me on a real level. I’d done more than invite her into my home. I’d extended her an invitation into my heart.
Sadly, this wasn’t the first time I hesitated to let someone see me when I’m not at my best. For a person who used to alphabetize her pantry, I’ve come a long way. Of course, my alphabetizing days were before I had a husband and young children. So why do I hold myself to the same rigid set of standards that are not only unrealistic but also binding? What is the big deal with a little mess (or a big one, as is the norm at my home)? I suppose it’s because culture tells us external things are of supreme importance. Jesus, however, placed a high priority on people and spending time with them. I doubt he ever left a house because someone had left socks out (or Legos or Barbie’s winter wardrobe).
Under the best of circumstances, of course I would want to have my home in order with a homemade bread bowl filled with steaming dip made from artichokes I grew in my own organic garden. Who wouldn’t? There is nothing wrong with trying my best and taking care of my home. However, when my idea of perfection becomes more important than people it has moved past its proper place in my list of priorities.
Believing I must be perfect before I reach out to others leads to misery of my own making. I’ve even shied away from friendships because other women seem to “have it all together” while I can’t remember to put on lipstick. It seems this sort of comparison is one of the most difficult things for women to overcome. I do it without realizing it, and in doing so, heap trouble on myself. When I compare my situation to others, I live by the extreme standards of the world and lose sight of what is most important—people. I can’t take stuff with me when I leave this earth. Why then should I spend time worrying over things that are not eternal?
I’m not suggesting a national avoid housekeeping day—I’d probably get the date wrong anyway—but I’ve learned not to let something like an explosion of Lincoln Logs keep me from others. So what? I tell myself, as I sweep them out of the way when I walk past. Hospitality doesn’t have to look like a magazine spread. It’s more about the heart than anything else.
Perfection belongs to God
Just like I learned that day with my neighbor, I believe people want someone to be real and open with them so they feel comfortable enough to do the same. I often remind myself that perfection belongs to God. Jesus died on the cross so I don’t have to be perfect. It’s a gift of inestimable worth. So why should I hold myself to impossibly high standards?
My friend Amy suggested that I make a wreath for my front door out of those small and painful-to-step-on toys, and put a sign on it that says, “Welcome friends, but wear your combat boots.”
So, raise your glass—if you can find one that’s not filled with Play Doh—to the freedom we’ve been given from perfection. In doing so, you might find a good friend and one day discover her house is just as messy as yours—not that you’re comparing …
Used with permission of FamilyLife, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, www.familylife.com. Copyright © 2008 by Jennifer Dyer. All rights reserved.