I sat on the squeaky, sheetless Murphy bed, gazed at the moldy walls and wept. The tiny two-room flat felt claustrophobic. The gray, muddy carpet matched the gray sky outside. Our lives were packed into half a dozen suitcases, scattered throughout the flat. Alien bugs flew around the room after we’d opened the windows to let in a breeze. Life in England was certainly not starting out as glamorously as we’d imagined.
How would I ever be able to make a home here?
The flat had 450 square feet, no dressers, no washer or dryer, no shower, no bathroom cabinets, and a tiny corner of the living room that served as the kitchen. We had no sofa, no comfortable chairs, and a tortuously vindictive Murphy bed whose thin mattress barely covered the steely bed frame.
I hated my life in the United Kingdom pretty seriously for the first six months. My husband and I were far from home with our four-month-old son and we knew no one in the entire country. Things were smaller and older than we were used to. Daily activities like cooking, shopping, and laundry were awkward and difficult. It was like learning to do everything left-handed. It should have been so simple, but every task was incredibly frustrating.
I remember the first time we went to church in our new town. The warm reception of the churchgoers was balm to my weary heart. They weren’t content to merely greet us. Multiple people came over and gave us a genuinely warm welcome, asking us questions about our lives.
One family invited us to lunch at their home after the service. We gratefully accepted, and eagerly plied them with questions about culture, how to perform daily tasks, and what on earth some of the signs and words we’d come across meant. As a nursing mom, I was so relieved to have a drink and a quiet place to sit while someone else prepared the meal.
I was surprised to see how small the home of our hosts was. Everyone squeezed into the tiny dining room without so much as murmur of apology or a glimpse of discomfort. Later, I was even more surprised to find that this was one of the largest homes in our church.
As we continued to visit the church, we were quickly enveloped in love and fellowship. People offered us lifts to the shops, invited us home for tea, rang us up if we missed church, took us camping, led us on walks, and invited us into their homes nearly every Sunday for a meal.
Both years we were there, we received multiple invitations to spend the whole of Christmas day with members of our church family. No one I knew had matching furnishings, a flat screen television, or a 2,000 square foot home. No one apologized for squeezing too many chairs around the table.
I felt loved.
The attitude of unselfconscious hospitality was inspiring, nurturing, and ultimately infectious. We began having people over to our flat. Yes, our flat. We had to borrow chairs. People saw our piles of dirty laundry. They saw our toiletries lined up on the windowsill. They had to watch me brush crumbs off the chair that my son’s booster seat usually rested on before I offered it to them.
We had 10 guests for Thanksgiving dinner. My kitchen was so small that I began cooking four days before Thanksgiving. This plan resulted in a slight disaster. My pumpkin pie, which had been carefully made from a specially ordered fresh pumpkin, went bad. I was mortified. Thankfully I discovered it the morning and did not serve it. My enterprising husband went on a quest for a replacement pumpkin, which is considered an “exotic” (and therefore rare) vegetable in the UK. We all had a good laugh about it over the table and the story lives on in family lore.
We began hosting a film discussion club for students at the university, often packing more than a dozen people around our computer to watch a movie. This gave us the chance to share the gospel and build relationships that last to this day with people who would have otherwise been acquaintances.
I hope that our hospitality was as much of a blessing to our friends as their kindness and concern was to us. By the time we left the UK 18 months later, our hearts were heavy with longing and sorrow. We were leaving our British family, perhaps never to see them again, except in the heavenly courts. What a change in attitude we brought home with us. I am so thankful for the example of unselfconscious hospitality that our British church family displayed. I am striving to import that love into my own life.
I have learned that when I am real I allow my friends to be real too. Martha Stewart may be a fabulous party-planner, but she isn’t someone most people want to be friends with.
Perfectionism kills friendships in two ways. First, it diverts my time and attention away from nurturing my friend, distracting me from them and their needs. What is their mood? Who are they? What is their life experience? When I’m busy wondering whether the bathroom is clean enough or whether they see the dust on the bookshelf, I can’t focus on them because I’m too busy worrying about what they think of me.
The second way that perfectionism stifles friendship is that the closer I get to my goal of the perfect party, the more likely the chance of that perfect party becoming a wall between us. I’m silently intimidating my guests, making them feel as though they can’t be real with me either, but they must meet the same standard of entertainment when we visit their home. Please don’t misunderstand; I love to make things pleasant for my guests. But it is important to keep a heart of nurture that is longing to know and love them, rather than a heart of perfectionism that is focusing on what their impression of me might be.
I need to love what I have. My tiny uncomfortable flat taught me that. I still don’t have the biggest house or nicest things, but I invite friends to sit on my old cracked cement porch with me. They relax in my yard sale chairs, stained but cozy, and tell me what God has done in their lives. It turns out that that love and friendship don’t require a great deal of square footage; all they need is an open door.