Unkempt houses tell people we’d rather not be bothered with visitors

print

Serenity marks a well-kept home, whereas disorder makes inviting guests difficult.

By David Tulis

My son’s room is a mess. A clothes basket sits in the middle of the floor, piled high (these are clean), with other clothes nearby (reeking, presumably). A bookshelf under the window is piled with miscellany — used drinking glasses, a stray piece of U.S. currency, gadgets. Parts of two rifles are piled on the dresser. Books are piled under a clothes rack without order.The young man’s parents take the predictable course. They chide, accuse, question how he can live this way. “Mom, you don’t know how busy I am and how much I have got to do!” the young man cries back, exasperated. He is ungrateful that I am giving supporting fire to his mom in her repeated strafing runs across his dissheveled lunarscape.

In truth, the parents of this household are only slightly better in spirit than the son. We differ not in kind, just degree. We live in our dominion to the very corner of it, to such a far reach that if we were farmers not a sole grape would be left for the gleaner. I mean, we live in a house as if we own it to the exclusion of all others, a house so fully occupied that we might fairly be accused of being inhospitable.

THE OTHER DAY at Panera Posse the men who share the messy house dilemma explored the problem. The explanation might be rustic, a little artless, but here is what we decided, led in conversation by Andrew Huffman, a lawyer and a minister.

Our loss of hospitality comes from being too busy to think of other people or even the possibility that we might be called to open our homes to them. We are unable to think of any friend — or any stranger — appearing at our door, needing a meal, a talk or a place to nap. We don’t expect anyone to show up needing to pour out a grief or seek counsel in an agonizing talk that lasts past midnight and steeps the Corn Flakes next morning. We have lost a sense of invitation, of openness. We are a throwaway culture of big consumers. So great has the genius of possession claimed us that the tsunami of our property has lifted the self-storage industry into a great inland tide of prosperity.

Who is responsible for making homes orderly and neat again? Is it the wife and mother? No, the burden is not hers. It falls rightly on every member of the family, from the dad down to the smallest squeaker.

Easy invitations to visitors seem uncommon. This perception may not be true for you or among your friends, but it seems to be true for my family. Is the fact of the family pigsty the cause that we are reluctant to invite? I ask the question not insinuating in the least that anybody in my house but me is responsible for the status quo.

AN UNKEMPT HOME is abandoned to the silent control of one’s possessions. To each pile we assign a jealous prerogative, and that pile remains unmolested even though the sum of all these claims make a veritable murmur in one’s heart. We hasten by doing our chores, going from one room to another, drowning out any thought of tidying up. As upon an abandoned house on a dreary city lot, home life is subject to the gusts of personal calendars, the hailstorms of obligations and duties, the scorching sun of baseball schedules, the monotony of late evenings home after work, the drip-drop of meals and shopping expeditions. Before too long, all is sagging, rotting, in disarray.

Christianity has much to say about the welcoming home. Points to consider:

➤ Rahab the harlot hid the spies in her house in Jericho, honoring their secret when pressed by the authorities. Abraham and Sarah invited and feasted the three strangers who were angels of God. David invited for life Jonathan’s crippled son Mephibosheth to his table in 2 Samuel 9.

➤ The holder of church office is required to be gracious with guests: “For a bishop must be *** hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled” (Titus 1:7,8. See also I Timothy 3;2). “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9), we are told.

➤ Our Lord admonished the Pharisee who hosted him for a meal but did not wash his feet. He exhorted his listeners to make great places open to the lowly. “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you *** ” (Luke 14:12).

➤ David in the 23rd Psalm describes the comfort God gives His children in affliction, welcoming them to his table. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.” These lines suggest the welcome God gives His people at the Lord’s Supper, where they are invited to sup with Him.

➤ The laws enunciated by Moses give a duty to be gracious to strangers. “Therefore love the stranger, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19).

➤ “Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13: 1, 2). The verse that follows is about bringing home-oriented graces to those locked behind bars. “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them — those who are mistreated — since you yourselves are in the body also.”

An occupant of what one family calls “the boys’ office” looks haplessly over a disarray whose long duration is justified this way: “Mom, I am organizing.”

AT MY CHURCH the governors see it as their duty to visit families and check up on whether the head of the household is living out a godly example to his wife and children and exercising godly government in his sphere of authority. (This duty is called church discipline, one largely discarded by the modern church.) We had the minister and a student minister to dinner, and I invited my near neighbor, my mother, who wore a formal green dress and was a lively contributor to the conversation. The Tulises had put their house in order. The front room and living room were clean, Jeannette had put lovely flowers in the window sill and on the table; she had cooked a feast. As Bertie Wooster is wont to say, everything was right with the world.

Yes, there were some points regarding my government of my sons and daughters I knew the elders would press me on. To head off questions about my faithfulness as a dad and husband I opened several hot topics, including my sons’ claims that Presbyterians care far too much about truth and doctrine, which makes them ready to contrast their understanding of the scriptures with those of other sects (i.e., to criticize).

Providentially, as the evening passed, I found there were so many topics to pursue that orderliness escaped coming into view. Still, I know good order is something on which I need to work, a matter of improved family government.

—–
Sources: David and Ruth Rupprecht, Radical Hospitality (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1983)