I love it when people cook for me. I don’t care what they make (I can pick out any yucky green peppers from my plate), I don’t care if their house is clean, I don’t care if there are toys scattered around, I don’t care how they are dressed or if they have shaved or if they are wearing makeup, I just don’t care as long as I am not the one who is cooking and the company is good.

Do others feel this way? I’m betting they do. And if they do, inviting people to our messy houses can become more like fun and less like a stressful job. A simple menu with no last-minute housework and no frantic tidying ought to mean more relaxed conversation and laughter.

Sometimes planning a menu, putting out the good china, lighting some candles, and creating a charming atmosphere are a lovely way to welcome people into our homes. We ought to do more of that. But if every invitation is to a beautiful setting with a gorgeous meal, how often can we face the work involved to make it happen? If my weekdays and my weekends are already packed with work and kids and shopping and schedules… when will I fit in planning an elegant dinner?

What if I can invite people to my messy house, where they’ll find me puttering in the kitchen in my regular clothes, making something simple so we can all sit down and eat. Spaghetti with a jar of sauce. Burgers on the grill. Salad using a roast chicken from the grocery store. I can invite people spontaneously to something like that. No extra work! No extra shopping! No extra stress!

It’s the invitation that matters. Real hospitality is inviting people into our homes anytime, asking them to join our family for the time they are there. Real hospitality extends our family and creates community. We invite the lively and the quiet, the busy and the flexible, singles and couples and children – all to become, for a time, part of our messy home.

Tonight a friend is coming to dinner. I left all the papers I was working with spread out on the dining room table. The cat dropped food all around his dish on the floor. My husband’s painting project sits on a card table by the dining room table, surrounded by paints, brushes, solvents, and who knows what else. The view out of the sliding glass door is of the screened-in porch, full of the jumbled contents of our shed while the new shed is being built. My friend won’t care, because I’m cooking and she doesn’t have to.

Maybe I’ll make a quick swipe of the bathroom… but even if I don’t we will have fun just eating, talking and laughing. For tonight, my friend is part of the family.