The doorbell rings. My heart stars racing. My eyes scan the room. My mind quickly races through all of the possibilities of who could be on the other side of that door. Maybe it’s just a package being delivered. It could be an obnoxious door-to-door salesperson. It’s probably not anyone I know. I squint through the peep-hole, praying for once that it’s someone trying to sell me something.
It’s not. There in all of her unannounced glory is a lady from our church.
I don’t want her to see the way we really live. Dishes cover the entire surface of my sink, reaching sky-high like a dirty dish mountain range. The dishes that couldn't fit in the sink teeter haphazardly on a nearby counter.
I didn’t vacuum last night, although, judging by the current condition of my carpets, you’d think I hadn’t vacuumed in over a year. A half-eaten peanut-butter cracker lies on the floor in the entryway next to a sippy-cup that anoints my floor with a sticky, juice drip.
I take a deep breath. I open the door and invite her inside.
She doesn’t pass out. She doesn’t even acknowledge that my house still smells faintly of the last dirty diaper I changed. She comes in and has a seat on my stained couch and we have a chat. She just wanted to stop by and see how I was doing. I almost cried. Sure, people ask me all the time “How are you?” but you get the impression that they don’t really care to know the honest answer. I could tell that she genuinely wanted to know how life was going.
I apologized on the condition of my house. I ticked off all of the valid reasons that my house was a disaster: my youngest was gassy and I was up half the night with him, my oldest loves to dump all of his toys directly onto the floor. I failed to mention the fact that I really don’t like doing the dishes and that I opted to play a game on Facebook instead of attending to my housewifely duties.
Am I allowed to say that? Can I admit freely and openly that I don’t like to do housework? That I will put off doing the dishes until we run out of clean ones to eat off of. That I would rather write a twenty-page book report than spend twenty-minutes ironing clothes.
The sad thing is that I feel like I’m supposed to WANT to do these things. I think, if I was a really good wife, I would keep my house looking immaculate. If I was a good mother, I would have taught my children how to separate and store all of their toys in carefully labeled bins (I tried that once, they learned that they could dump the toys out of the bins and use them as stepstools to reach the cookies I placed on the kitchen counter. Mom-0; Toddlers-1).
I struggle with balance and expectations. Could I have a spotless, show-case worthy house? Yes, probably, but it would come at a price. It would mean little rest and one stressed-out mom. It would mean hiding my children’s toys and spending hours scrubbing the floor instead of snuggling with my little ones.
I’m getting to the place in my own journey where I’m learning how to be comfortable with my own imperfections. I’m learning which expectations are realistic and which expectations are likely to cause me to have a nervous breakdown. I’m learning that despite my own pre-conceived ideas, very few people actually live in immaculate houses.
I read a quote by author Shauna Niequist that said “People aren’t looking for perfection. They’re looking to feel at home.” When people come into my house, I want them to feel at home. I don’t want to give the impression that I have it all together when in reality I don’t. I don’t want them to go home feeling guilty that their home is less than perfect because I gave the illusion that my house is always this way. It’s not.
Should I take care of my home? Absolutely. Should the appearance of my home determine my self-worth and value as a woman? No. I think that’s where I got myself into trouble. I made the mental leap from a messy home meaning that I myself was less than worthy. If they saw the condition of my carpets, they might think that I’m a bad human being. When you write it down, it seems ridiculous, but in reality, that’s the leap my mind was making. Messy house = bad person.
It can be terrifying to open the door and let someone else see your mess, to let the world know that you don’t actually have it all together. You are forced to face the fear of rejection and judgment, and the very real possibility that they might tell someone else that your home smells like sauerkraut and that you have socks on your floor, but, what if they do? What if the truth is out there? What if we are free to admit that we are less than perfect?
I think we would feel relief. I think the tension of holding up this mask of perfection would slowly fade away, and I think we might find that we are not alone. If we showed up unannounced at a friend’s house we might discover last night’s dishes in the sink or an overflowing laundry basket. I think a true sign of friendship is a willingness to let someone else to see who we really are.
When people come to my door these days, I welcome them in. If the house is a mess I say “Hey, sorry about the pile of socks on the sofa. We live here." I don’t tell them all the reasons I failed. I don’t give excuses; I just acknowledge the fact that my home is less than perfect and then move on.
That is the ministry of the messy. It's the freedom to invite others into our mess, to drop the masks of perfection, look someone in the eye and hear them say "you too?"