Open Homes and Open Hearts

welcome-matFoot traffic in a house is a good sound. The low hum of conversation around kitchen tables, and on the deck or in the living room is beautiful. I love it when our home is busy with friends and guests. Playing host to others is a great way to grow my affection and develop my role as a friend. An open home helps to cultivate an open heart.

We often think of this relationship as working in the reverse. That is to say we tend to think that if I have an open heart then I will open my home. There is of course truth to that, but I have found that hospitality lends itself exceedingly well to helping me cultivate more affection. When I shrink back into myself, when I am more inclined towards isolation and self-indulgence inviting friends over brings a corrective to this hermetic tendency. If I wait only for the open heart I might not invite people over, but if I welcome people into my world on a regular basis my heart begins to follow along.

Take for an example having extended house guests. A house guest is not convenient. There’s that initial awkwardness, which can grow as we encounter each other in our pajamas, pass each other on the way to the shower, or simply run out of things to say as the evening wares on. There’s the added pressure of cooking for extra people, or worrying about entertaining guests over several days. But if we can get past all of that, if we can ignore it, overcome it, or not buy into the pressure, having extended house guests is a great way to cultivate affection. This kind of hospitality allows for more extended and personal conversations. It invites others to see how you live and to be part of your routines for a few days. You learn new things about people as you eat together, as you pass each other in the hall at night, as you sit quietly in the morning hours sipping coffee. You experience people in totally different ways over a few days of staying together than you do simply in a few hours of eating pizza. You get to experience one another in the normal rhythms of real life. That’s where genuine affection is best developed.

I’ve written elsewhere about the value of “small intimacies.” It’s in the extended stay, in the rhythms of real life, that these intimacies develop. People know more about me as they encounter me in my morning pajamas sipping coffee half-awake. I learn something about others as I see their pink fuzzy slippers and their bed head. My heart delights to listen to the late night giddiness of friends who don’t have to rush off. Perhaps what makes the extended stay so valuable is that it shifts the roles of our relationship. The extended guest doesn’t stay a “guest” for the duration of their visit; they become part of our family for a few days. We wash dishes together and discuss the real struggles of life. We flip burgers on the grill and laugh about our cooking failures. We smoke pipes on the porch and enjoy the sweet silence of a friendship that doesn’t have to constantly talk. They pray with us and giggle with us as our kids pray too. This shift is a move away from “house guests” and into “family.” In these moves we are not simply playing host, we are inviting people into our lives. The open home drives us towards open hearts.

I am increasingly experiencing this with our small group. Week after week we have the same group of people in our home. We eat together and clear the table. We laugh and poke fun at each other. We talk about books, music, comics, and movies. We pray together and for one another. Our kids fight in the basement and parents enter the fray to resolve the conflict together. This is not just Bible study this is doing life together. This is being part of one another’s world. This is not my wife and I playing host, this is us doing life with friends. It would be a lie to say that some weeks I don’t groan at the thought of having small group. Sunday comes and I think, “Do we have to do this. I am so tired. The house is a mess. The kids are driving me crazy. Can’t we cancel?” But then small group happens and my heart is warmed at the sight of these people, at the sound of our conversations, at the sincerity of our prayer requests. They leave and I think, “I am so glad we do this.” The open home leads to the open heart.

Recently, Krista and I thought we’d serve brunch to our friends. We cleaned the house, I made a play list of fun music, Krista made some delicious food (the maple brown sugar bacon was especially savory) and we invited a small gaggle of friends to visit with us. The event turned however into an all-day affair. What started at 10:30 ran until almost 4:00. But there was no pressure, no annoyance, no frustration. It was wonderful to visit without the constraints of time.  No conversation was cut short. No one was thinking about what they had to do next, or where they had to be. There was only right then, in that moment, attention to and appreciation of each other. What I thought would be a simple brunch, became an occasion to build into one another’s lives with intentionality.

These sorts of occasions most readily present themselves in open homes. Hanging out in the hall at church is nice, going to dinner is fun, but being in someone’s home, or having them in yours, is totally different. The open home feels different. I can let my guard down here. I can be at ease, comfortable, and forget myself in a home (especially one where I spend a significant amount of time). That’s what I’ve always loved about visiting my mom or visiting my in-laws, you can be at home even when you’re not at your home. It was like this when we visited with friends for Easter. We weren’t with our biological families, we weren’t at our house or in our backyard, but I felt at ease. I felt like I could rest and relax. That’s what open homes can do for us; they can help us to feel like we are part of another family.

The desire for all of us is that we would have open hearts. We know that to be a good friend we need to cultivate affection for others, interest in others, investment in others. Sin, however, makes this difficult. We are tired, we are needy, we are selfish and so we tend towards isolation far too often. Opening our homes to others can help us to cultivate the open heart that we need to be good friends. Foot traffic in my house may start out as annoying, but the longer it’s there the more enjoyable and beautiful the sound becomes.

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