My one year old is fast asleep. Reaching for the door, I quietly slip out of the room and take a deep breath. “What shall I do?”
Hands frantic and head spinning, I start the kettle to make some tea. By the time my tea is brewed and I’ve sat down with my journal/planner, I’m faced with yet another decision.
“Have I really done enough today?”
Suddenly that free thirty minutes to an hour where I might take a bath, read quietly, or re-decorate the mantle is now fraught with a to-do list perpetually reminding me, “One more thing…” The day is nearly done, and I’m still playing catch-up from yesterday!
I push my books and pen aside, rise for a stretch from my chair, and busy my body with the chores of yesterday in an effort to have some chance of “catching up” to today’s. “It’s no one’s fault but my own.” I keep telling myself “I just need to work harder, to plan better, to be better, and this won’t happen next week.”
Before I was married, it was perfectly acceptable to take an hour to an hour and a half to shower, primp, and choose my wardrobe. In high school, I never felt guilty spending hours journaling and snacking, finishing my latest collage with scraps of an old magazine, or going for a walk just because I felt like it.
So why, now that I’ve been graced with the ever-rewarding and simultaneously exhausting task of motherhood, does it seem so selfish, negligent, immature and short-sighted to take even ten or fifteen eternal minutes to attend to my own physical or emotional needs? My soul thirsts, my heart beats longingly, and my body moans for the serenity and peace of the scene pictured.
I can imagine a day when the responsibilities of my home don’t leave altogether, but my attitude changes towards the tasks of my day. Elisha goes down for a nap and I turn to the next natural need, myself. However, this time I am recognized as worth taking care of. Even writing that sounds so silly and selfish. “I don’t need taken care of.” Well, now that sounds a bit proud.
Imagine with me your day. Whatever task you’ve just completed, it’s done and well. Now you move on to the next, until you realize you are hungry, tired, or weary of the burden. What do you do? Do you set your alarm for a short nap, take a few moments to make yourself a snack, or pull out your journal to do some mental breathing? Nine mothers out of ten would not.
What is it about motherhood that has our hearts so scared of self-hospitality? The infamous “me time” brings to mind cucumbers on eyes and a spa somewhere in Tahiti, but nothing you could actually get a hold of in your own life. I find the stigma we have around self-care both funny and frustrating and wonder if we’ve ever even thought of self-hospitality. Have you?
Hospitality to one’s self seems an even sillier notion than self-care. At least self-care evokes some sense of need. The word care makes me think of a bowl of soup or a bandage on my knee. That, at least, I think I could manage. But hospitality? Hospitality evokes visions of doilies, clean tea cups, and a few hours baking or cleaning for honored guests, not me. Self-hospitality is almost inconceivable.
A clean tablecloth, cup of coffee, candles glowing, a snack to eat, and journal to fill… these are the things of dreams. If I were ever to go to such great lengths for myself as I do for others, it would seem about as wonderful as this. Why don’t we? When did hospitality become limited to an outside group of people? And when did self-denial become a prerequisite for motherhood?
I’ve enjoyed reading the synonyms of hospitality: friendliness, hospitableness, warm reception, welcome, helpfulness, neighborliness, congeniality, warmth, kindness, cordiality, courtesy, amenability, generosity, entertainment, catering, food.
All of these seem perfectly lovely, so long as I am thinking of my neighbor and not of myself. What would I do, for instance, if one afternoon I were required to be particularly cordial, generous, and helpful to myself? This might become quickly awkward between myself and me, and myself would most likely ask me to stop it and go take care of the dishes. This practice so strictly reserved for others would be strange and foreign.
But I’m game to try. It may not be exactly everything I would want (most guest visits usually aren’t either), but I will take intentional thought, time, and care to learn how I might be more hospitable to myself. And what might that look like?
I think first it would mean confronting the pride that keeps me from admitting my need and desire for hospitality, because I believe the self-denial and culturally frazzled, stressed-out mama is a thing of invention and not something I want to associate with. Who says sheer exhaustion and perpetual busyness are a badge of accomplishment? The famous reply, “Busy!” to the question, “How are you?” is not inherently admirable or accomplished. As Henry David Thoreau said, “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are you busy about?” I’ll set aside my pride for this experiment in self-hospitality, not denying the tasks that need be attended, but not loading a task list that is already full for my own glory.
Second, I may need to train my head and heart to know rest. It is a foreign, fickle thing that I find between nights of tossing and mornings of anxiety. In the wee hours, I crave sleep for the day to come, and in my early rising I mourn the lack of it. And then I trudge through my day as if the need is gone or unimportant enough that it can be brushed aside. As a human, and most definitely as a mother, it quite simply can’t be avoided. Rest is used to rejuvenate, to make strong again. This may need to become an intentional practice in order to initiate self-hospitality. Attempting rest for the mind, body, and soul will be a new, daunting task, but not one I’ll soon regret, I’m sure.
Third, in order to practice self-hospitality, I will need to let go of some ideals. When guests arrive I want to give them the cleanest home, the mildest child, and the most delicious food I can offer. I also imagine self-hospitality being something quite close to perfect. Perhaps a garden and a picnic, or just the right music playing, the loveliest pen, and the quietest house a woman could dream of. Yes, just as with my real live guests, I will probably need to let go of some picture-perfect idea of what self-hospitality might look like. Whether it be a ten minute nap or a single cup of coffee by myself, I will learn to be thankful for that and recognize the goodness of the moment.
Lastly, I will try hard to fight the lie that says my needs are not important because there is someone littler or other than me who needs my attention. Our desires are telling of the places in our life that need filled. If we’re tired, we should rest. If we’re hungry, we ought to eat. If we’re discouraged, we need to seek encouragement. This thought that just because there are others who need you means you can’t care for yourself seems selfless in practice but is truly naïve. Because one child has a need, do we neglect the needs of our other children? It may be helpful to remember that we are all children with the same basic needs, even as we care for our own.Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Learn to ask yourself this question, as you might ask a friend. Know that the hospitality extended to yourself in these moments is just as important and necessary for you. You must practice self-hospitality in order to extend hospitality to others from a full heart.
Self-hospitality is about the most “Seussical thing” I think a mother could wrap her brain around. But perhaps if we tried, we might all be a little better at giving. Empty and filled, empty and filled… this is the rhythm of our lives. To be filled is not due to some mystical powers, but to our response to the invitation of eternal grace and rest.
My yoke is easy, my burden is light.
Self-hospitality is the decision we make daily to carry the easy yoke and light burden. Join me?
*Images courtesy of: Hilary Hyland Photography. Styling, Margaret Dodson
Emily Dean uses her passion and love for creating space to honor and welcome women. She and her team work tirelessly at VerityVaree, inviting women to see themselves as beautiful, just as they are. In February, Emily and photographer, Jessica LaRue are heading to NYC during Fashion Week, to meet and do a fashion shoot with Madeline Stuart, the world’s only professional adult model with Down syndrome. You can learn more about their trip and donate here.