Two weeks ago Paul and I had our neighbors over for dinner. During the three days prior to this, I was an emotional mess. I was anxious, fretful, snippy, and given to wild accusations about all thing related to the cleanliness of my house (i.e. “You’re deliberate trying to annoy me by leaving your shoes here! This food was left on the counter because you don’t love me!”) It was getting out of hand. One evening, as I was reevaluating my meal plan for the umpteenth time, Paul finally made an observation about my state of mind (made, from across the room and with a nearby exit route planned, no doubt). He questioned my actions and asked why I was so fearful. Though initially defensive, I ended up grudgingly acknowledging my overreaction to the prospect of hosting my neighbors for dinner.
Now, for many of you, the irony of this situation is apparent. The truth is, I love having people over to my home. On average, we have family or friends over at least once a week. I love to plan, cook and then enjoy the fellowship! Granted, my meals aren’t always still warm when we finally start eating (thank God for microwaves) and state of my house is really just a neat and orderly facade that would be quickly shattered if anyone glanced into my closets, garage or upstairs bedrooms (all very handy dumping grounds.) When first married, these hosting deficiencies threw me into an emotional tailspin whenever we had guests, but I’ve now recognized that people are almost always less critical and more appreciative than I’d falsely assumed. So the stress of preparing for company has largely been limited to an hour or so before everyone arrives. (Hence the designated dumping grounds : )
So why was I freaking out over one couple coming for dinner? The truth is, I was afraid of them. I was afraid of what they would think of me, my home, my cooking, my children, my husband, my hosting abilities and ultimately, my beliefs. These neighbors moved into their home about a year ago and apart from the normal driveway conversations (had while we were each trying to load children into our respective cars,) we hadn’t had much interaction. But Paul and I had decided that we needed to build a relationship with them in order to follow Christ’s command to be “salt and light.” Frankly, it was mostly Paul who had this urge, while I was trending more towards the “hiding it under a bushel” route.
In his book, When People are Big and God is Small, Ed Welch writes,
“We fear people because they can expose and humiliate us. We fear people because they can reject, ridicule, or despise us. We fear people because they can attack, oppress, or threaten us. These three reasons have one thing in common: they see people as “bigger” (that is, more powerful and significant) than God, and, out of the fear that creates in us, we give other people the power and right to tell us what to feel, think, and do.”
On the face of it, this idea seems almost too ridiculous to believe. But when I stepped back and looked at my actions and attitudes during the days leading up to our dinner, I saw in myself a functional disbelief in God’s ability to control the hearts and minds of people. Instead, I believed that only if I made my house beautiful, my meal perfect, my children pleasant, and my beliefs attractive would my unsaved neighbors be interested in a relationship with us. Thus, in all practicality, I had let my neighbors become unknowing dictators to the way that I planned, shopped and prepared for their visit. Sadly, this fear opened the door to other sinful attitudes which deviously crept into my day-to-day actions. I somehow became convinced that my guest bathroom was horribly out of style and spent time and money that I didn’t have searching for the perfect bath towels, hand soaps and area rug. I became irate when the boys disassembled my orderly arrangement of their toys in our living room. I fumed and fretted when Paul was a few minutes late bringing in groceries that he had (graciously!) picked up at the store for me. In short, I was letting my fear of man take control of my life and the outcome wasn’t pretty.
After Paul’s gentle confrontation, God lovingly reminded me of who HE was, who I was, and who my neighbors were. The truth is that we are all in his hands and subject to his will and purposes. Later, I looked up some scripture about God’s control and was struck by some of the verses in proverbs that seemed to directly relate to my situation. Proverbs 19:2, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand,” and Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps,” and Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” Certainly, if God controls the heart of a ruler, my neighbors are not outside of his purview. I was called to obey God’s command to reach the people around me with the truth of the gospel. I was not called to convince them of its truth through the means of perfect meals, lovely bath towels or witty conversation. And I was absolutely not called to give into anxiety, irritation, or impatience in my quest for the “perfect” evening.
In the end, our guests never even went into my newly decorated bathroom and my beautiful new hand towels went unnoticed. Still, our neighbors have expressed a desire to get together again and I suspect their interest is less about the meal and house, and more due to the love and concern that we were seeking to display while we were with them. Maybe like me, you’ve struggled with this type of situation too. Maybe you fear what people will think more than you trust God’s ability to change hearts. I would encourage you to remember that God’s love is shed abroad in our hearts (Rom 5:5), and his love, rather than people’s opinions of us, should be the motivation for our role as salt and light (Matt 5:13-16) … our bathroom accouterments notwithstanding.
(P.S. This is not my bathroom…mine is currently covered with toilet paper after Brenn discovered that it tears very easily and makes great decorations : )