Does hospitality seem a strange topic to write on these days? It has likely been a couple of months since many of us have had houseguests. Our homes have been closed to those outside of our families by stay-at-home orders and voluntary social distancing, but if you are like me, you have been thinking all the more about the day when you can once again freely welcome guests. There is another angle to hospitality that these past days have brought into sharp relief: the hospitality that we as wives and mothers extend to our own families. Many households have seen radical changes in their home lives. Even for my homeschooling family, these weeks of having everyone home all the time have forced me to reevaluate and rebalance in many areas. Perhaps this spring has found many of us thinking more about our homes: their condition, their qualities, their purposes.
This spring my daughter wrote her first real research paper, on the life of Katharine Luther. I thoroughly enjoyed helping her work through the research stage. It’s a shame that research projects of this type are largely the domain of young people, abandoned once they are no longer required for school. As we pored over the details of Katie’s life, I found resonance as a wife and a mother in ways that my daughter could not. She learned research skills, but I gained perspective, and it occurs to me that this experience was at least as valuable to me as it was to her. One lesson here is that I really ought to read more biographies, but that is not the point of this post.
In one of our sources, Martin Luther: Leader of the Reformation, author Leonard Cowie shares the following fascinating quote. It comes from a letter written to Prince George of Anhalt by someone who strongly believes the prince should NOT stay at the Luther home.
The home of Luther is occupied by a motley crowd of boys, students, girls, widows, old women, and youngsters. For this reason there is much disturbance in the place, and many regret it for the sake of the good man, the honorable father. If only the spirit of Doctor Luther lived in all of these, his house would offer you an agreeable, friendly quarter for a few days so that your Grace would be able to enjoy the hospitality of that man. But as the situation now stands and as circumstances exist in the household of Luther, I would not advise your Grace to stay there.
This well-worn 1969 biography has clearly made its way through the hands of many a Minneapolis-area reader, and perhaps some of them have found that quote curious or comical. Me, I find it profoundly comforting. That quote gives me the impression that even on our most chaotic days, my own motley crowd would be hard-pressed to shock Martin and Katie.
A homeschooling house is a lived-in house, there is just no way around it. We are here all the time. There are a lot of us. Most of us are children. While keeping house is part of my job, it is certainly not my main focus. I have a full-time job in educating and raising these children. In all honesty, they probably do as much cleaning as I do at this point. There is value in that, both in the short-term conservation of my time and in the long-term development of their skills and habits, but the end result is not picture-perfect. But worse than any clutter or cleanliness issue is the general atmosphere of our home. It is loud. There are unpredictable and fast-moving people and objects. Boundaries are often disrespected and discord is frequent. The thought of guests can make me cringe – how will they enjoy being here when it is so often difficult for me to enjoy being here? And believe me, we have had our fair share of visitors who I have been fairly certain did not enjoy aspects of their stay.
It is striking to me that for Martin and Katie, a disordered household was not a reason to withhold hospitality (although it was, apparently, a reason why some may have declined it when offered). In fact, much of the disorder in their household appears to be a result of their hospitality, as they opened their home to those around them who were in need. I’m fascinated by the picture Cowie paints of this home, open to orphans, widows, the sick, students, and theologians alike. The place where Martin Luther thought, wrote, and even taught at table was not pristine and peaceful. It was a home, lived-in, active, open to all the messiness of life.
What if my home were more like Martin and Katie’s? What if I was more welcoming and less apologetic of the disorder that my children create? What if I was more welcoming of others and the disorder they may bring into my home, into my life?
Our culture places a high value on having a beautiful home. We carefully curate our belongings and arrange our spaces. We make our homes sanctuaries and retreats. And these can be good things. Part of showing hospitality to our families and guests is making our homes places of comfort. But in my desire to create and preserve order and beauty in my home, do I fail to extend a gracious welcome to those who my comfortable home ought to be serving? There is a tension here. Certainly there should always be a striving toward order, both in the physical appearance of our home and in the behavior of those who inhabit it. This work of service is my responsibility, and it is also mine to teach my children. (Likewise, my daughter will readily attest that Katie Luther worked sun-up until sun-down providing for and maintaining her household, and there is ample evidence from Martin’s writings that their children were disciplined.) But the beautiful, ordered home is never the end goal; my home is a tool meant to serve a greater purpose.
When I am overwhelmed by the messiness and disorder, the necessary byproducts of the growth happening in my home, let me remember what my home is for. These are not signs that I am failing. They are signs that my home is serving its purpose. First and foremost, let my home be a staging ground for life and growth and Gospel work. Let me embrace all the accompanying messiness and disorder. Let my home be beautiful because the love of Christ shines brightly here in the midst of the chaos of everyday life.
Amanda Moldstad is a co-founder of the Lutheran Homeschool Association. She and her husband, John, homeschool their five children in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.