Living Between Two Sins—Messy vs. Immaculate

By | December 23, 2011

Not long ago, we hosted dinner guests. I had already determined that I wouldn’t be doing extensive preparation for them for many reasons:

  1. I’m busy and tired and don’t particularly enjoy housework anyway.
  2. They have a small child and know the challenges that go with keeping house while child-rearing; I relied on the “mom sympathy” card heavily.
  3. It really is all about the fellowship and conversation.

As I quickly vacuumed (the centers of the rooms and high traffic areas) about an hour before they arrived, I remembered how Chris and I used to clean and scrub and prepare for hours on end for dinner guests. It would take us at least 5 hours or so to clean a 900 sq. foot apartment, set the table, and prepare the meal. We never conveniently closed doors or shoved something out of sight.

(In hindsight, now, I wonder, What were we doing?)

Mostly I remember being exhausted as we sat down to dinner and to enjoy our guests. I was tired, not to mention I had hours of clean-up ahead of me (by the time I handwashed my china, crystal, tablecloths, and napkins, of course).

I still have a twinge of guilt today when I don’t put in that amount of time and work to prepare for guests.

So, there’s that side of me: the side that actually wants to out-do and impress but calls it “southern hospitality” in order to sanitize the underlying sin. Perhaps some have purer motives of sacrificing for others, but I can freely admit mine are tainted. While I do want people to feel comfortable and “special” in my home, I think I’m a bit more motivated to have them think well of me.

And then there’s the other side of me that somehow rebels against the grain of “nothing’s worth it.” About ten years ago, my parents stopped doing much at all to celebrate Christmas. Of course, they still enjoy the holiday with all of us, but they stopped hanging any sort of decorations (tree or otherwise). They stopped getting any type of gifts for the adult children and stopped the fun tradition of stocking stuffers.

One year my mom talked us into having ham biscuits and fruit—a “finger foods” kind of buffet instead of a sit-down meal because it was “less trouble.” Last year, my sister and I said, “No way!” when the ham and biscuit suggestion came up. We have since commandeered the menu and come up with our own solution about what constitutes a Christmas dinner. Call us high maintenance but we like a plated, hot meal together since we only get to have it twice a year.

So, I guess what I’m saying is I have a hard time reconciling all of this. I read blogs who speak of creating elaborate meals on the fine china eaten in Sunday best; especially at Christmas, we are to “go all out” because we are welcoming a King.

I get that. I do. But I have to say that sometimes I struggle to be free enough to say that I’m OK with eating on Chinet paper plates because I’m tired or have demanding children or a full schedule or whatever. And I don’t like feeling condemned for a cluttered laundry room and plastic cutlery use.

Yet I believe our loved ones are worth the effort. To me, a sweetly-folded paper napkin can represent as much thoughtfulness as a cloth swan; a remembered tradition can be as reverent as showing up to dinner in a three-piece suit.

This Christmas, as I sit right now surrounded by littered carpets, toothpaste-splattered bathroom mirrors and multiple baskets of unfolded laundry, I am searching. Searching for a middle ground between two sins: one of apathy to the point of disregard and one of superficiality to the point of extreme self-centeredness.

Quite possibly, my Christmas guests this year will have to step over a pile of laundry to eat a meal on china—or something like that.

Photo credit: wax115 from

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Mary Bernard is a Nashville-based writer and mother of three. She's worked in a variety of corporate and creative environments, but none is more comfortable than the dining room table in her own home. Mary loves to help moms discover God's unique call to look in their own houses for their priorities, passions, and provision.

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