When I was a little girl, I wasn’t allowed to sleep in my parent’s bed. That was Mom’s rule anyway. I always found unique places to sleep – on the floor of my closet, on a step, under the piano… But my favorite spot was curled up with Mom and Dad. I would go into their room at night and approach Mom first.
“Hey, Mom, can I sleep with you?”
“No! Go back to your own bed.” (You’d think I’d learn and stop going to her first…)
Not easily deterred, I’d go over to Dad’s side of the bed and wake him up.
“Hey, Dad, scoot over!”
And Dad would scoot, much to Mom’s dismay and my delight.
Mom’s rule was probably a very good one and I totally understand it, but Dad’s grace was much more comforting at the time.
The thing is, Dad was always scooting over for someone. Not literally, of course. I don’t think anyone besides us kids crawled into bed with Mom and Dad, but people were always staying in our home. Dad has the gift of compassion and Mom has the gift of hospitality, so probably at least 50% of my childhood was spent with people other than my immediate family staying in our house with us.
Special speakers from church, extended family, recovering alcoholics, troubled teenagers, missionaries, and out-of-town friends were in and out like a revolving door. Since I had a double bed, the guests typically stayed in my room and I moved in with my sister. Even though I was displaced, I loved the company! I got to hear interesting stories from all over the world and all walks of life. I have no memory of resenting the requirement to give up my bedroom. I probably grumbled a bit here and there, but what stands out is the way that we were taught to welcome people and help them feel at home.
I got to see that alcoholics were hurting people who wanted love just like everyone else. I saw a troubled teenage boy stop being cool for a awhile to play with a little girl. I saw people who got up and preached at church walking around in their pajamas. I learned that missionary kids aren’t that different from pastor’s kids. I was extra-good friends with some of them… And when our cousins showed up, we all piled on the floor in the basement in sleeping bags and stayed up talking all night!
Mainly, I learned that we are stewards of all God has given us. Our house was not our own and we shared it as the need arose. I’m sure my mother would tell of the pressure it put on our family to have other people around so often and of the extra housework she did to constantly get ready for guests and clean up after they were gone. One year we had out-of-town guests every single month, sometimes twice a month. We once had a man stay with us for at least a year. Another man showed up on our doorstep unannounced and stayed for several months. (He taught me to drive a stick shift.) In spite of the challenges, it’s something I’ll never forget.
Whether we had overnight guests or not, we also had dinner parties, barbeques, and Bible studies. Every Monday for years our kitchen was taken over by a men’s discipleship group. There was no end to the dinner parties and events that my parents hosted. My bathroom always had to be clean! You never knew who’d be using it.
The way I grew up, with people in and out of our house all the time (and us in and out of theirs), is not the way things seem to be now. People are so isolated and private, so embarrassed if their house isn’t some kind of designer show place, or if there are dishes in the kitchen sink. Who cares? That’s the stuff of life. We don’t always get to the dishes, we don’t always have money for the latest decor, and sometimes others might find out more than we bargained for about who we are at home. But isn’t that how the body of Christ should be: a family of believers who care deeply enough for each other that they don’t mind if the furniture is a little worn?
On a pastor’s salary, our house was always simple and clean. We didn’t have anything expensive or showy, but we made sure we had space for guests and plenty of food in the cabinets. That’s how I want my own home to be – a place where everyone feels welcome and the door is always open. Stay over any time. I don’t mind sleeping on the couch. 🙂