Has this situation ever played out in your home?
You’re having company over tonight. There is so much to do and so little time. You haven’t vacuumed in a month, and every room desperately needs it.
You pull the old Hoover out of the closet, and you’ve never moved it so fast in your life. If it had a flux capacitor, you might find yourself back in 1985. You fill the canister and turn your attention to the laundry. There’s not enough time to fold clothes, so you stuff two full baskets into your closet. Somehow the beds get made and the toilets get wiped down.
You’re running out of time as you try to get your house just right for your dinner guests. You yell at the kids: “Don’t you dare get any toys out. I just picked everything up! And put away the crayons!”
You look at the clock. Only 30 minutes until they get here, and you haven’t even started boiling the water for the spaghetti. While doing that, you light some candles, empty the trash, sweep the kitchen another time and regret that you don’t have time to blow the leaves off the driveway.
You look around, satisfied that the house looks ready enough. You’re exhausted and frustrated with the kids, but you push that down and enjoy a nice evening with your guests.
Or have you been on the other side of the situation?
You’ve been getting to know them a bit more at each soccer game. Their kids are about the same age as your kids. After almost every game, one of you says, “We really need to get the families together soon.”
It’s a well-intentioned statement, but both of you know it’s not going to happen without some effort.
After months, you’ve finally put a date on the calendar. You get the family ready, grab the brownies out of the oven, and you head over to dinner at the house of your new friends. You pull into the driveway and admire the landscaping. You haven’t mulched in a couple years, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to get your hydrangeas to bloom. Why are theirs so full of big, blue flowers?
You’re welcomed into their amazing home. It smells clean. It looks immaculate. How is it possible that they have four kids, and there’s barely any evidence?
You get a full tour of their house. Their beds are made! You’ve haven’t had time to make your bed in weeks. You can’t help but be a bit envious.
OK, scratch that. A lot envious.
The evening continues, and you have a nice time with new friends. You walk away, however, feeling a bit convicted that you don’t quite measure up.
Do you relate to these situations?
Why do we try so hard to put on a false, or at least inflated, view of ourselves?
We often avoid letting people inside our homes, afraid that they might see the “real” us. It’s not until we have the time to really polish things up that we’ll let people in.
It’s a form of self-torture, isn’t it? We fear what people will think about us. We fear what they’ll say about us. We fear judgment and self-imposed shame.
But our punishment doesn’t stop with ourselves.
When we fix everything up and present something that isn’t true, we also punish the people around us. Our friends and family look at our near-perfection and begin to wonder why they can’t seem to measure up. They see how put-together we seem to be, and they are hit with guilt and feelings of inferiority.
It’s not like we’re trying to hurt anyone, but our efforts to inflate our own image can come at the expense of the people we’re closest to.
I think the time has come to call a truce.
I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t straighten up when company is coming over. There’s a level of politeness to having toilet paper on the roll and the overflowing trash can emptied.
But let’s not overdo it. Let’s actually bless those that enter our homes by showing them how normal we are. You’ll be less stressed preparing, and maybe they’ll walk home without feelings of envy, discontentment and shame.
And let’s be honest: This battle of masking reality runs way deeper than our homes.
We each know how long it’s been since we vacuumed our soul. We have a bunch of anger overflowing in the trash can. Hypocrisy is spread out all over the table, and there are stubborn greed stains everywhere.
So, we make masks. We cover up the less-than-perfect parts of ourselves with a shiny veneer. We are afraid of being vulnerable because we are sure judgment and scorn might follow. We drive ourselves crazy trying to present ourselves as someone we’re not, and we unknowingly make those around us think less of themselves as they look at how well put together we are.
So why do we do it? Why do we punish ourselves and those that we care about?
It’s human nature, I suppose. Going back to the beginning, people have attempted to cover up their true selves.
When God came looking for Adam and Eve in the garden, they felt shame and covered themselves. They took fig leaves and tried to hide their true nature.
Not one person since (well, there was that One) has been comfortable being genuine and vulnerable.
Most of us have quite a bit of work to do, but maybe we can just start with our homes.
If you come to my house for dinner, we’ll do our best to let you see our normal state of muted chaos. And if we come your way, would you do us a favor and let us see the real you?
If we can be a people who are comfortable with authenticity, we can be a church who loves deeply, holds one another accountable and links arms as we carry out our mission to advance God’s Kingdom.
Steve Young is a Children’s Ministry associate at Southeast’s Blankenbaker Campus.