This week our friend Maggie arrived back from France to settle into the house for the next month while she works out her visa to return to France.
In the days leading up to her return, I found myself walking through the house, sweeping, organizing, cleaning, arranging. Remembering our experience moving into the house just a few weeks ago and our sense of unwelcome (unintended though it was), I wanted Maggie to feel welcomed into her house when she returned. As I prepared for her, I realized how much I value creating a sense of welcome in a space and as I looked around the room she would use, I asked myself, “How would I feel, coming into this space?” I put fresh sheets on her bed with a bright blanket folded on the end. I dusted and swept the room, added a chair in the corner, and opened the curtains to let in sunlight. On the bedside table, I set up a welcome home note and a small vase of fresh flowers. I hoped that each of these little details would speak “Welcome” to her.
My desire for Maggie to feel welcome motivated most of these actions, but as the morning of her arrival came, I finally put my finger on another emotional pushing me to clean and organize:
(Still such as ever-present motivator in so many ways.)
I was afraid of what she would think of the house, her house, of the way we had cared for it, of the way we chose to live here. What if it was not clean enough, organized enough? What if she didn’t like how we arranged things or the colors we chose or the way we hung things on the walls? In the months leading up to our move, Maggie had invited us in, advocated for us, and blessed us in who we are, but as stewards of her house, would we live up to her expectations and her trust? Though I had worked hard over the past few weeks to clean and organize and had carefully chosen each thing we added, would it be enough?
As I put a name to these fears and wrenched them into the light, I wondered how to steward this space well without living out of fear and striving.
I turned to the parable of the talents (found in Matthew 25:14-30) as I waited for Maggie’s arrival, re-reading it with eyes fresh from our current situation and reflecting on what it says about stewardship. I realized that by entrusting his property to the three servants, the master in the story was indicating a level of trust in each one of them already. The parable does not say anything about the master telling the servants what to do with the talents or even that he expected them to invest these talents to produce more. Instead the servants found them selves free to use their own judgment, creativity, and ideas to care for what they had been given. While the first two servants did just that, though, the third servant clearly did not feel that same freedom. Why? Because he falsely viewed the master as a hard mad, exacting and unjust. Perhaps he even resented the responsibility of caring for something that would never be his. So he simply preserved what he had been given, believing that in doing so he had fulfilled his responsibility as steward.
The ability to steward something well, then, seems to come (at least in part) from an awareness of the trust that we have been given already and the freedom we have to function out of that place of trust. Do I feel free to steward this house creatively, to invest what I have been given? My level of uncertainty about whether I measure up to Maggie’s expectations and standards suggests that my day-to-day life is still tinged with more fear than freedom.
But the invitation to step into that freedom is there. I am trusted to steward here, to care for the space, to make decisions, to use it well. Trusted to choose curtains, hang pictures, and plant flowers. More importantly, trusted to help choose who will live here alongside us. I suspect that these coming months will push me closer to the reality of that trust and the freedom that springs from it.