I recently read a post by Jennifer Schmidt via the [In] Courage blog site that really resonated with me. In her post, The Christmas Party that Almost Wasn’t , Jennifer talked about how she almost cancelled a gathering of friends because her busy schedule had left her Christmas decorating unfinshed and her house a mess and not exactly party ready. But then she remember why she had planned the party in the first place and put the voices of self-doubt to rest; “They didn’t care if my tree trimming mimicked Martha’s because in spite of what she whispers, I knew this was a Good ‘Enough’ Thing.” She went on to have the party and enjoy a truly blessed and special evening. An evening she would have missed. An opportunity to bless other women would have been missed had she listened to “Martha’s” voice in the back of her head. Take a moment to click the link above and read her story. I know you will be blessed and encouraged by it, I certainly was.
Not only did the post itself hit home but so did many of the comments afterward. So many women holding back, afraid to open their homes for so many reasons; too messy, too cluttered too small, too worn down, plain or undecorated, too “lived-in”. But also afraid of being rejected because they had put themselves out there at some point and had had been hurt when no one came and were left feeling insecure and unwilling to try again.
We are holding ourselves back because we are afraid of failure, judgement and rejection. We are afraid we won’t measure up, aren’t good enough or don’t matter so why bother? I just can’t stop thinking about these women, wanting to reach out to the heart of each one and reassure her that she has so much to offer. That she doesn’t need to be perfect, just genuine and willing. Encourage her to do what she can and trust God to do what she can’t.
I want to reach out because as much as I love to open my home to others, to entertain and to fellowship, I get it, I have been there too. And I have been worse. I haven’t just been a Martha, I have been a Monica. I want them to know from the heart of a recovering perfectionist that thinking you have to be perfect and have it all together before you can be accepted only holds you back from your purpose. God works through imperfect people. All the time. He has to, there are no other kind. But it is when we trust Him with our imperfection that He is truly able to use us.
But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9
There was a time in my life when I poured my heart and soul into the illusion of perfection. How I looked, how my home looked. How everything looked. I was compensating on the outside for all that was missing on the inside and what was missing was a true relationship with Jesus and an understanding of His gifting on my life and how I was to use it.
We joke about Martha Stewart and how she has contributed to all of our insecurities. Side note: don’t you love God’s sense of humor naming this woman who symbolizes all that makes us feel inferior “Martha” when it was Martha in the bible who struggled in a similar way?
But as I said, I wasn’t just a Martha, I was a Monica. If you are over the age of 30, I know you remember Monica from the TV show “Friends”. An uptight, type-A, intense, neurotic, controlling perfectionist. Yep, that’s the one.
Now before you run from this blog and never look back, I wasn’t entirely horrible. Actually, that wasn’t really me at all or at least not who I was meant to be. In truth, I was wearing the weight of the world’s expectations, as so many women are. Misjudging the gift of hospitality and service God had given me and putting everything I had into being what I thought I was supposed to be, what I thought I wanted to be. God created me with a servant’s heart but because I didn’t put Him first, I was missing the point and was held captive by worldly expectations.
When I “welcomed” people into my home or entertained, it wasn’t with a heart focused on hospitality and blessing others. It was with a heart desiring to be accepted and applauded not for who I was but for what I could do.
Let me share with you and example of how things went back when I was “perfect”. Please don’t feel obligated to use these tips in the planning of your next party.
The “Twenty Steps to a Perfect Party”
Step one; conception and planning or over-planning of big gathering (a.k.a. production).
Step two; creation of a detailed TO DO list for big production approximately 2.4 miles long.
Step three; become overwhelmed by TO DO list and procrastinate everything that isn’t fun.
Step four; do all of the fun stuff on the TO DO list and then freak out about all of the other stuff that remains on TO DO list; which is most of it.
Step five; Shop for big production. Correction, over shop, over buy, over spend for big production.
Step six; stress about imperfect house. Vow to finish all unfinished projects.
Step seven; stress about having to do everything myself and brood about being the only one who cares about the TO DO list.
Step eight; stay up way too late the night before the big production over cleaning and over perfecting all that I have procrastinated and vowed to accomplish, grumbling the whole time because I am so overwhelmed.
Step nine; get up way too early (after staying up way too late) and get more and more frustrated at my husband because he is still asleep and not up helping me wipe the dust off of the top of the base moldings behind the door of every bathroom and hide all of the unfinished projects that never got finished. Why is he still asleep? Because he is not a crazy person.
Step ten; present my husband with his own TO DO list after he finally decides to get out of bed and help me.
Step eleven; give my husband “the look” and the silent treatment after he says “you know, these are our friends, they don’t care how the house looks or if everything is perfect, they are coming to see us and to hang out with us. We can just order pizza”. I’m sorry, what did he just say? I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear that last part. Poor guy, he is obviously unaware that girls peek behind other girls shower curtains to see if the tub is sparkling or (heaven forbid) is in need of some attention.
Step twelve; spend the next several hours in a crazed whirlwind perfecting my house, my meal, my presentation, my personal appearance. Did I leave anything out?
Step thirteen; freak out when the doorbell rings because I would give just about anything for just one more hour. It seems like I could always use just one more hour.
Step fourteen; The moment of truth. Just a few seconds to shove anything less than perfect into the oven, cupboard, closet or pantry. Will anyone need to get into the pantry? Lord, I hope not.
Step fifteen; put on an “it was nothing” smile and soak up the kudos, the “I don’t know how you do its” and the “you are amazings” – stressed, exhausted, missing the point and a little over the top (okay, so far over the top that I need an oxygen mask) but amazing.
Step sixteen; spend the next hour in the kitchen finishing the meal (ugg, where is that extra hour) while everyone else is socializing and having fun.
Step seventeen; decline any offers of help, really, I’ve got everything under control.
Step eighteen; manage to enjoy exactly 22 minutes of the party.
Step nineteen; start cleaning up because once again, I am just too good of a hostess to accept any offers of help. After all, I certainly can do it all.
Step twenty; skip church the next day because I am a tired crabby mess from being so perfect.
Sound like fun? That is what it takes to put on a perfect “show”. It is crazy, it is unnatural, it is unhealthy and it is unneccessary. I hope you have never done this to yourself but I am willing to bet I am not alone. Why, why, why do we do this to ourselves?
One year I put on a big Halloween Party and slept through the whole thing. No joke. I planned and planned and decorated and made costumes and cooked and cleaned made everything “perfect” and was so exhausted I fell asleep on the couch about an hour into the party. And the party was not even at our house. And I don’t even like Halloween all that much.
I know, crazy. But that is the good news. I am now able to see how crazy all of it was.
Praise God, He did not leave me stuck there. He gave me reason to seek Him to rely on Him to long for His company. At the time, that period of refinement seemed like pain and heartbreak but in the end, it was a blessing, a deliverance.
He made me more of a Mary. And then He made me a Mom. Priority shift, perspective, humility and a softened heart – all wrapped up in three little packages. I am still a Martha and always will be. It is my nature. It is who He created me to be. The difference is I am learning to be a Martha for Him and not for me. Monica still pops in for a visit every now and then but thankfully she doesn’t stay long, one of my children usually sees to that.
The warning I have posted in my boy’s bathroom because even though it is okay not to be perfect, there are just some things you need to warn people about.
So why am I taking a risk and laying it all out there? Because I am no longer afraid to admit my imperfections and because I was touched by a group of women I don’t know but can relate to. Because I don’t want one more woman to miss out on the joy of fellowship and welcoming people into her life and her home because she doesn’t think she is good enough. And because I don’t ever want to fall back into the trap of pretending to be perfect.
The Christmas season is here and it is the perfect time for opening up your home to others. If this is intimidating to you, start small. Invite just one or two people over, family or close friends you love and trust and order Chinese take-out or pizza (a wise man once suggested that to me) something simple. Or start with brunch and ask everyone to bring something. I love having people over for brunch, it is easy, intimate and relaxed and far less intimidating than a dinner party. The details aren’t what matter, it is the company and moving beyond your comfort zone that does. Try it and see how God works. I’ll be praying for you.
If you, on the other hand, can relate to even a little of what I have shared in this post, here is my challenge to you. Invite someone over and leave the dishes in the sink, the unfolded laundry on the couch and the stack (or stacks) of unsorted school papers and mail on the kitchen counter. I dare you. You may feel like you want to throw up but I promise you in the end you will feel free or at least on your way to feeling free and you will bless your guest by sharing what is real and putting them at ease and they will love you for it. I’ll be praying for you too, you’re gonna need it.
If you don’t know the story of Martha and Mary, I encourage you to read about these wonderful sisters in Luke 10:38-42 and John 11:1-12:11. I also encourage you to read the book “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World” by Joanna Weaver. I read it several years ago and am now reading through it again, a refresher course before the holiday entertaining begins.
I’ll be posting soon about “Decking the Halls” around here so just for the sake of authenticity, here are a few behind the scenes photos.
Christmas decorations awaiting my attention.
There are always plenty of Legos to step on and after Christmas, there will probably be more.And the stockings were
hung draped over the back of the chair for the last four days, with care in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
Happy December and Happy Imperfect Entertaining!
I love you, Danielle. You just made me feel a (little) better about the gigantic mess looming over me. I’m so guilty of this! My mom had the same complex and always said that we never had company because she was embarrassed about our house. I used to think that was silly, but lately I’ve found myself using that same voice. Thank you for reminding me that my friends are here to see me, not to “white glove” the baseboards.
Thank you Laura and thank you for reading! You are so incredibly interesting, intelligent and funny. Don’t ever let the crazy stuff get in the way of the blessing you are to others! Let’s do brunch sometime soon. 😉
I love your blog. I agree and tell my friends that care what their house looks like that I come to see THEM not the house, to inspect for cleanliness. I, however, currently live in a frat house occupied by my teenage boys and their friends. I have one of them that lives with us and his bed is the couch. My carpet is a disaster, as is the bathroom and patio. And I never know who will be at my house when I get home. So I will not be having any of my company over any time soon, but when I do, I make it as clean as I can, and that’s it. Also, when I visit friends and their bathrooms or living rooms or kitchens are just as dirty (or dirtier) than mine…I am thankful there are others like me in the world.
Thanks Michelle, I’m so glad you enjoy my blog. I enjoy writing it so much and love that it makes someone else happy. I’m with you, It makes me feel good when my friends feel comfortable enough to leave things less than perfect when I come over. It actually makes things more relaxed and real – which is always better. Hang in there with those boys!
When I was young, we had company all of the time! We lived in a small town. There was always room at the table for an extra chair. Now, I live close to the city centre of Vancouver where the majority of homes are small condos. It seems that a lot of time we spend at coffee shops or local hangouts. At our nearby Whole Foods there are large “country” tables where people, who do not know each other, sit side by side. The venues may have changed over the years, but our need for fellowship is required more than ever – especially during a festive season. I really appreciated this post because you focused on connections and joint celebrations. We seek perfection when all anybody ever wants is to feel wanted and appreciated. I remember sharing a glass of lemonade once many years ago – and it was truly sharing the glass, because there was only one glass in the house. It is one of my sweetest, most poignant memories… Thank you so much for your post!
Thank you Rebecca for sharing such wonderful memories. My childhood home was also one where there was alway plenty of room at the table and the same holds true for my home now. It is so true that the whole point really is creating community and connection, whether it be at Whole Foods (which I love), a coffee shop (which I also love) or in a well worn living room. We do indeed need that more than ever. You are welcome to share a glass of lemonade at my table anytime.
I would love to stop by…what fun we would have!!!
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