by Cindi McMenamin
What would happen if we treated our families as welcome guests?
I drove by a women’s spa recently and noticed a decorative sign over the door that read: “Leave your baggage at the door. This is a place of love and rest.” I got to thinking how appropriate that sign would be over my own front door. And how appropriate if it were the motto for every Christian home.
But rather than being a place of love and rest, our homes can often be battlefields or, worse yet, silent zones — especially if we don’t leave the baggage at the door. Irritations throughout our day, the pressure of deadlines and hectic schedules, or just fatigue and frustration can all work their way past the front door and into our homes, disrupting the peace and settling into the walls of the one place that should be our sanctuary of love and rest.
I’ve discovered a principle in Scripture that can help us check the baggage at the door, and restore our homes to the sanctuaries they were created to be. First Peter 4:8 instructs us to “maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Verse nine instructs us in how to maintain that intense love for each other: “Be hospitable to one another without complaining.”
Being hospitable literally means treating visitors with welcoming generosity. What would happen in our homes if you and I were to treat our family members with the generosity with which we welcome guests? Through the years, as a family, we have tried to faithfully practice some simple acts so we can be hospitable to one another and maintain an atmosphere of peace and love in our home.
Prioritize greetings and goodbyes.
Do you ever walk through your door and wonder if anybody noticed? Do you have family members who feel the same? We wouldn’t treat guests that way. Just because you live with your family members doesn’t mean that greetings and goodbyes aren’t important. Take a look at how you greet your spouse and your children each morning, and when you or they walk back through the door at the end of the day. And how do you leave their presence at night when you’re ready for bed? When you and I are careful about our entrances and exits — as well as theirs — we can ensure a more loving atmosphere in our homes and set an example for the rest of the family to follow.
Forget the offenses.
Scripture tells us love “does not keep a record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5). The sooner we choose to forget the rude behavior or hurtful words we received from a family member, the sooner we can move forward into a place of renewal. Many times I’ve had to tell myself, “Let it go. See it as a way to die to self.” And the easiest way to do that is to remember that most of the offenses within my home were unintentional and a matter of one’s frustration or failure to consider the other’s feelings. For me, to let it go means asking God to remove the hurtful memory or offense I blew off yesterday so it doesn’t creep back into my heart and mind today. Grace is the glue that holds you and your family together.
Close the gap.
Although it’s our goal to be united as a family, it’s easy for everyone to be going in different directions even though they’re living in the same house. Different schedules and different interests can lead to different priorities and eventually different destinations. To close the gap, begin asking family members “How can I pray for you?” and “How can I help you get closer to that goal?” If work or school pressures or diverse schedules have made you — or a family member — feel distant, give your loved ones affirmation that you’re still on their team and you’re still there for them emotionally.
Practice being positive.
It’s in our sinful nature to be critical, and we can say negative or hurtful things without even realizing it. But Ephesians 4:29 tells us to let nothing unwholesome come out of our mouths “but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.” We don’t tend to struggle with being positive and encouraging with our houseguests. But it becomes more challenging to constantly be positive among those we live with. Here’s a project: Try going an entire day without saying anything to your spouse or children — except praise. A critical spirit is most easily crushed through cheerful praise.
Rally around your spouse.
When you talk up your spouse in front of your children, you’re saying to them that you both are a united front, and that makes them feel more secure and at ease. Practice being your spouse’s number-one support in front of your children, not just guests. “Doesn’t Mom (or Dad) look great this evening?” “Dad (or Mom) works so hard for us so we can have a nice house and safe cars to drive.” “Let’s each tell Mom (or Dad) what we appreciate most about her (or him).” Make this a habit and you may find your children imitating it.
Celebrate each other.
Everyone loves a celebration. And we shouldn’t limit them to holidays and birthdays. Choose a random day each month or quarter to celebrate one of your family members by letting them decide the menu for dinner, the game the family will play, or the show you will all watch together.
Reach out with a simple gesture.
Send a text message in the middle of the day just to let each family member know you’re thinking of them. Add a flower or candle to the dinner table as a way of showing your family you consider the evening special just because they’re there. Clean your spouse’s car. Bring home a special snack or treat for the family. Reaching out with a kind gesture reaches a little further into others’ hearts.
Not the accusatory ones like “Why didn’t you take the trash out?” but the affirming ones like “How did it go today?” “How is your friend doing with that project you helped him with?” and “What’s on your mind these days?” We learn more about each other when we ask questions that center on their interests. By doing so, we’re also modeling to them how to positively communicate with others.
Reach out, literally, and touch more often. Research shows that couples who hug and kiss at least once daily are happier than those who don’t. And children who receive positive, affirming touch from their parents are more emotionally healthy, over all. Take the initiative. Reach across the table or the couch to hold your spouse’s hand. Give your children an affirming touch so they know they’re loved. Reach over to rub the shoulder of a disgruntled teenager, or spouse, even if they appear unapproachable. And back to those greetings and goodbyes … hug more often. Touch goes a long way, even for those who claim it’s not their love language.
You don’t have to be a writer to convey in a few words what you’re hoping or feeling toward a family member. Leave notes around the house for your spouse and children, telling them “I’m thinking about you!” “Have a good day at work.” “Study hard. You can do it!” and “I love you more than you know.” The beauty of notes is they can be saved and read over and over. (And those few words, if written on a sticky note and placed on a mirror, can stay with the recipient for weeks, or even months, since that’s how long a sticky note can remain stuck to a mirror!) It only takes a few moments to scribble a thoughtful note, but those few words could last much longer in the hearts of those you love.
Simple acts of love are just that — simple. They don’t take time to prepare or money to maintain. They’re mostly impulsive. And over time, they can become habitual. Cultivate a closer connection with those in your home by developing hospitable habits out of simple acts of love.
Cindi McMenamin is a national women’s conference and retreat speaker and the author of several books, including When a Woman Inspires Her Husband, When a Mom Inspires Her Daughter, and When Couples Walk Together, (which she co-authored with her husband of 27 years, Hugh). For more information about Cindi’s books and ministry, visit her website at StrengthForTheSoul.com.
This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine (February 2016). For more articles like this, subscribe to HomeLife.