Image or Reality?

OK, let’s face it. Most of us are concerned about image in some way or another. We live in an image-driven society where our “looks” and “what we have” or “how we appear” seem to be so important. We’re often thinking about what kind of image we portray to others – “I wonder what they think?”

But how far do we take it?

Three years ago, when we bought our home as a “fixer-upper,” I was very excited to put paint on the walls, re-carpet the entire home, put on a new roof – and overall give this home a new look! Our kitchen and bathrooms were on the “to do” list (which to this day, remain on that list!), but the few things we did accomplish did make our home feel “new.”

Three years later, I am practicing what I preach on Reluctant Entertainer. Because one of my favorite rooms in the house (I love to cook and entertain) is in the most need of repair! My kitchen!! In the last three years, I’ve learned to let go of any concerns and put image behind me – and instead crank out the yummy meals and enjoy some incredible friends – all through entertaining.

Does the image of “Miz Suzie Homemaker,” in the perfect kitchen, seem so important – or is it the relationships that my family and I are building over home-cooked meals?

I’ve tried to be very honest about this subject on my blog. And I have tried to really encourage women to let that “image-seeking-desire” go, and to realize what hospitality is really about. It’s not about having the best or newest or most beautiful. It’s about sharing your heart of love with others (many times around food) and building relationships.

A recent reader emailed me with these thoughts:

I know that for me, while I enjoy the beautiful pictures on blogs and magazines and in coffee table books, a lot of who I am is that I am so visual about my surroundings. I then start finding myself getting covetous and longing for that "look" in my own home, when in reality I’m not focusing on the right thing.

I’m pretty confident that if I tallied up all the friends that we have had into our home for meals over the past 3 years, that these would be the results:

· Most would not even remember the meals served
· Most would not even remember how my kitchen needs a remodel
· Most would not remember the decorations in my home
· Most would not have ill feelings about things that went wrong

I still love the home that we purchased three years ago, but the things that were exciting and meaningful then – honestly, the thrill has worn off. Now at times I find myself looking around and thinking, “Mmm, maybe a new such-and-such would look good there.” Or as the reader above mentioned, seeing what other people have can also make you covetous. And I believe it’s because it all boils down to the image that we create for ourselves – and the importance that we place on what other people think about us.

You can only have so much stuff, and continually purchasing more and more of it can create clutter and be a big money-waster besides. This, I am still learning. But it’s sinking in and my “falling-apart kitchen” has been a true testing point for me.

What do you think, friends? Are we pursuing a reality for our families and ourselves, or are we overall pursuing an image?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(Peonies in my backyard. The colors are stunning this year! Read "Are You Free in Your Kitchen" here!)


ellen b. said...

I grew up on the poor side. Not having a lot of money or beautiful things never stopped my parents from entertaining in our shabby home. I remember having my cheer squad from highschool over for dinner before a football game around a table extended from our small dining room into our small living room. We sat on torn and broken chairs. The food was good, my parents were generous and love was shown. These are the things that matter. I am in a small one bedroom condo for this period of my life living away from my larger well equipped kitchen in Washington state. I still can cook and entertain and cram many people into my little place. It's good to be reminded of what will be remembered, love and generosity served out on a plate. I sometimes have very basic meals. Food on a plate with good conversation and relaxed peaceful atmosphere. I can also put on the ritz with the same love and peace and relaxation and fun atmosphere. I'm asking the Lord more and more to show me how I can honor and love and respect people around me and in my home with what I do and say. I don't make excuses for my lack or for the abundance that the Lord showers down on me. I want to accept what comes my way and share it with no strings attached. Boy am I wordy...

~nanashouse~ said...

I used to love clean, cleared off counters. Now, I have to label everything for my Mom with dementia. I used to take pride in a clean bathroom. Now, this involves a handicapped toilet seat, an emesis basin and no pretty throw rugs (they harbor body fluid germs). My mom is enjoying HGTV with me. She has always had great decorating ideas. I remember when I was little, she would make slipcovers for our furniture to save money!! Times change--people don't.

secondofwett said...

I find it interesting that when my parents visit my house that my mother always comments how comfortable it is to come...I always feel that my older sisters' home that is always perfect, never untidy, always clean and beautifully decorated is a much better home. My mother is always quick to tell me that those things don't matter...that it's how comfortable you feel in someone's home...how welcome you feel there.

Donnetta (momrn2) said...

What a great question! I think our culture breeds pursuing an image! I have recently been repeatedly reminded of how rich we really are here in America!

Without a doubt God's number one focus is people. Our's should then be no different.

I admit though, it is a very fine balance as it is so easy to get drawn into the image it seems is dictated to us that we are to have.

So now a question for you. I have heard it said that a man's identity lies largely in his job and a woman's in her home. I think this makes it much more difficult for us as women when it comes to the image our home gives to others because we feel somehow that reflects on us (valid or not). What are your thoughts?

Sorry, I didn't mean to get so wordy but what a great question and challenge! I have once again been reminded to continually evaluate my motives and pursuits... reality or image!

Nadine said...

I don't think from the posts I've read that what your kitchen looks like means anything. I've had some of the most incredible meals and best times created with love in the smallest of kitchens.

I bet your guests just remember the wonderful time they have had in your home.

Tracy said...

Our last home had a kitchen that was 10x10 from wall to wall, not counter to counter. It was SMALL, and we have 4 children. Our dining room was no better. And yet, we hosted around 15-20 people after church on most Sundays. It was very crowded. I felt overwhelmed because of the noise most of the time,but, no one ever declined when we extended an invitation. They knew that we were about making others feel welcome, and I know they weren't judging the size of my rooms, or how they looked.

Jen said...

You are so right. I'm remodeling a kitchen and wont have anyone over until its finished...so yes....you have nailed it.

Christy/MommaOnTheMountain said...

We have four children ranging from 13 all the way down to three. I keep the bathrooms clean and inviting and my kitchen clean and inviting. Those are the two types of spaces that I feel really need to be specifically focused on for health and hygiene. The rest of the house, the goal is clean, but clutter-y. People are always commenting on how comfortable our home is and how welcome they feel. I work hard to try to keep that a constant. My kids are encouraged to bring friends over, and my husband is proud of his home. NO it is not a showcase, and it never will be, it's just not who I am. I want people to remember that they laughed, ate well, and enjoyed themselves. I work hard to step back and not let my house shine but God....Good post, love your blog...

Meredith from Merchant Ships said...

Great post!

This is a question I think about a lot, because I (obviously) lean hard on the image/beautiful side--that's my strength.

I do agree that it's most important to make guests feel comfortable, above all else.

Yet making things beautiful can be an expression of love and creativity, as much as the love and creativity that goes into the cooking.

Perhaps people misunderstand that a beautifully set table doesn't always say, "See, I'm better than you..."

but sometimes, "You are an honored guest! I celebrate you in the best way I know how!"

Heidi said...

...and for me it always comes back to PRIDE. that five letter word that sums up so much of my sin. i battle it daily and probably always will. but i am thankful that Christ doesn't want to just END my pride He wants to KILL it. just another part of my journey of growth.

GiBee said...

Hmmmmm ... I would love to have granite countertops, maple cabinets, stone floors, and beautiful high-tech appliances, but it just isn't in our budget. I don't think having those things would make my "identity" but it would make for beautiful surroundings... just like not having them wouldn't prevent me from having people over and honoring them with a great meal and even better conversation!

I think if you can separate your identity from a beautiful and functioning kitchen or home, then have at it. But when your identity becomes entangled with "what you have" and "what you DON'T have" -- that becomes a problem.

On the other hand ... (in your case) if you can't fix the stove you have now, you need to get a new one. That is the crux of your ministry -- or rather, the main "tool" you use to prepare things for your ministry, and if you're getting a new one, go ahead and get what you'll be building your kitchen around.

I guess, I think there is a fine line between getting what we need vs. getting what we want. For instance, one of the outer rings on a burner on our stove (a flat top - the burner I refer to can either be a large one or flip a switch to make it small) burned out. We didn't need a new stove. The one we have is still totally functional, although, can't be repaired. My parents offered to get us a new stove, and we gladly accepted even though we could have made-do with what we have. They got us a stainless steel stove. That was such a blessing, and way more than what we need!

Did I just take you off on a rabbit trail?

Barb said...

How are we supposed to make friends if we aren't willing to have people into our homes and let them see how we live--dirty laundry (literally in the next room) and all? We forget that our best, closest friends are ones who see us cranky, disheveled and occasionally in an imperfect mess--and we're ok with that. It's what's behind the "picture" that is the reality, and the honest sharing of that that grows relationships. But I still hope you get a new kitchen some day soon!! :oD

~j~ said...

such thoughtful and moving responses to a really honest and real topic. It wasn't until i stopped being so obsessive over the direpair of my kitchen and saw that every time we had a gathering at our home everyone ALWAYS ended up in our teeny tiny space having the best conversations, laughter, even prayer right in the middle of my preparing the meal. Truthfully no one cares how my kitchen looks and as Barb said above, it's the honest sharing that takes place in our homes that is the reality!

helenw13 said...

Oh how I needed to read this post this morning...desperately needed to be reminded that our home is our haven for our family and for all that enter the door.

We live in a 1940's bungalow which of course has a lot of charm but I often find myself looking at my friends' homes that are newer and have the more up to date floor plans that make entertaining a bit more functional...I am realizing that I have missed the joy of my own home by comparisons and discontentment.
As you know we are having a big party in a couple of weeks and this week I realized that if I am concerned that someone will point out the "flaws" that I see instead of coming to celebrate with me and nothing else than I am in bad shape...
Thank you for helping me take a deep breath to not feel alone in that struggle but to know that it is possible and necessary to leave it behind...leading to a much fuller and joyous life.

Blessings to you,


Two blessings from above said...

Thank you for such a great post.

We moved from a new/big home that we built in FL to a old/smaller home in MN.
We are having company this summer and I have been beating myself up over our house/kitchen not being good enough.
I will remember your post when I hear them knock on the door.
What a great question reality or image? I guess I would have to say image in my case. That is something I will need to work on!
Good luck getting your new kitchen soon.

tjhirst said...

I think when I first married, the gifts I received gave me the impression that I was collecting all the "right" pieces for the day when we entertained with nice sit-down dinners. We always invited our friends to the house and used what we had. Now we have the right house with enough space and all the "stuff" is wearing out. It is funny how I have put such stock in appearances. Your post is an encouraging illustration of your own commandment to fight perfectionism. Thanks for the reminder.

Andrea said...

Your blog is so refreshing.
You are a treasure!!!
Keep doin' what you are doin' :)
You encourage and challenge me!!

Krysta said...

I know when I take pictures of my food, I make sure that it isn't too perfect. For example, you'll see some ice cream melting because it wouldn't be me if it was perfect. I like to see the flaws even in someones home then I feel a little more relaxed.

Amie said...

Your honesty is refreshing to me. I deal with the same thoughts and feelings and I must honestly say that the support from the people who truly love me and whom I truly love helps overcome the insecure feelings that sometimes creep in. There are always going to be marketing firms, commercials, magazines, and HGTV featuring gadgets that I don't have and designer homes that are more stylish and beautiful than ours. When I can let that go (and even though I waver, I feel like I'm doing quite well with it)...the most beautiful, fun, touching, and intimate moments remain in hearts and memories (my own as well as my family's and friends').

Thank you for your blog. I enjoy it so much because it revolves around valuing family & friends, being neighborly, hospitible...about giving and receiving...being honest and genuine...noticing and being thankful for the little wonderful things in life...and how much we can give and have without overly worrying about being perfect. Buying our first house which is wonderful, yet a "fixer upper"...the newness has worn off...but since I've been able to entertain several times now...and have had some wonderful family & friend times...it is so much more to me. I don't feel like it has to be perfect!

Monkey Giggles said...

I have struggled with and still do at times about wanting things just right. I have had to learn to just things go. I still need to vacuum everyday but I let other things go (like dusting) God is working on me. We have friends who just enjoy spending time at our home with our family. The Lord has taught me so much through them.

Heather & Reese said...

Thanks for this. I've only just started venturing into entertaining in our home, after wanting to for years but being too afraid of what people might think of my home, the meal, etc. Our house is compact, the dining room is in the kitchen and we even have to move the littlest kids to a separate table just to fit 2 more people around the table, but we are finding joy in giving and in getting to know people better.


Terri said...

I understand what you're saying. My friend Liz always says,"Did you come to see me, or my house?"

BUT I see part of my job as a homemaker as making this house so sweet and warm and cozy that nobody wants to leave!

I'm not saying I have to have the latest and greatest, but things like our nasty dining room carpet that was IMPOSSIBLE to keep looking even half way clean for lonter then a day NEED replacing.
It's not JUST how bad it looks (though that drives me nuts) It's that you cannot get it clean and who wants to sit around a dirty house?

As for the decorating...Well, it is the age of instant gratification, but not being made of money I find satisfaction in finding or making lots of things for my home. Sometimes that takes awhile, but that's o.k. the hunt is part of the fun!

Southerner said...

I am really visual and love to decorate so I love to try to make my home pretty. At the same time I know that it does not make it more inviting. Making people comfortable is not what it looks like or what you serve them. It is taking the time to visit with them. It is offering them nourishment in the way of food, love, friendship, and letting them know they are worth your time. When a hostess is running around trying to clean the mess from dinner or trying to cater to the elaborate meal she is making it makes others feel like they are causeing her more work. When it is a simple casserole cooking or they invite you to participate in stirring the pot you can enter into their world.

linda t said...

I know that I am more comfortable in homes that aren't "perfect"... so that inspires me to let go of my expectations of myself and serve out of who I am rather than out of what I have around me.
Great post!

Jane said...

I love to entertain! But, working full time and living in an apartment with no extra parking sometimes holds me back. My tiny outdated kitchen does not. I was thrilled to discover that people are so genuinely touched by an invitation to my home and time spent in real, leisurely conversation. It doesn't happen too often in big cities, I'm afraid. My decorating and cooking skills are not what is really important. Although, I must say, people do appreciate small details that show thoughtful effort.

As for having all the beautiful images and coveting... I find that I can create that reality on my blog by cropping out the less than ideal parts and focussing on the pretty details. So in a small way, I can create my own magazine world.

G. said...

what a great, thought-provoking post. When I first got married (8 years ago) I really felt like I needed to "have it all-together" and to look like it. I was very concerned with what people thought about what I was cooking, how everything looked and I would spend hours trying to make everything perfect but, overlooked the most important thing...blessing the people who would walk through my doors. Over the years I have adopted the motto "Bless,not impress" which means to me, what I do to bless someone is more important than trying to impress them. Then it's just all for the wrong reasons. I'm thankful to the Lord for opening my eyes to that and now, I have alot more fun having people over. You are right...most people don't even remember what you served or how clean your house was. Thank you so much for your encouragement and words of wisdom.

Bev said...

I noticed peonies in bloom down the street, ran home and looked at mine, and alas - no ants to eat that waxy coating off them, so alas, no blooms again this year. Yours are lovely, and I'm confident if I was privileged to eat at your table, I would never even notice the kitchen. We're looking for a place to retire, and I have decided I'd prefer to forego the formal dining, just one big table off the kitchen where we can all gather. That's what makes a meal lovely, not the furnishings at all, but rather the people around the table together.

Raquel said...

thank you for this post we are in the middle of renovations on a house that we just bought last week! the first thing we are doing is the kitche, but our budget is very small i am choosing somethings that are really nice but i purchased them on craigs list and we are doing most of the work ourselves. i hope people come into our home and feel the love and can relax and enjoy the ard work we put into it.

:..Rebekah..: said...

What an excellent post! You bring up such an important issue here. I know that I've struggled with having an image that says this or that, and thankfully I'm growing in this area, but old habits do die hard. It goes way back to high school or even earlier. This is a great encouragement and reminder to remember what is important, and I know that I must continually guard my heart and discern when I'm thinking about keeping up appearances more than I should be. Thank you for this post! :)

Lis Garrett said...

I would *love* a new kitchen, and I am definitely one of the last people to whom appearances matter. We all want nice things, and there's no shame in that. But I think if it what drives you to entertain, so you can one-up the neighbors, that's wrong. You know that's not your intention, so I say give yourself that new kitchen!