What would make a perfect house, like the one described by Tolkien in The Fellowship of the Ring? A place where you could find exactly the right kind of refreshment and rest? Can I build such a house by copying a certain architect’s blueprints? Or by hiring the right kind of interior decorator? Or perhaps by adhering to a certain design style and color scheme?
If only following a formula for the physical appearance and furnishings could produce a place of rest and refreshment! But the physical world is not the source of beauty, nor the source of rest or refreshment; it is only a channel through which we experience them. True hospitality is not a matter of place settings, feather pillows and flower arrangements. It is found in the heart of the host.
I have been in expensive houses, with perfectly planned rooms and not felt welcomed or relaxed. I have been in average houses, with mismatched furniture and worn carpets, yet felt honored and loved. It wasn’t the house, it was the home.
This is not to say that physical surroundings are not worth our concern, or capable of adding to our delight. It is only to say that the material aspect of a house is not the same as the heart of a home.
This is not to say that preparing a physically attractive or delightful space is a frivolous or unimportant activity. It is only to say that the invisible heart behind the preparation is of more importance than the visible preparations themselves.
It’s easy to focus on the appearance of a house when we first walk into it. We may see a delightful design style and feel drawn to certain spaces within. Once we are familiar with the atmosphere and the heart of a place, however, we respond more to whether or not we feel “at home” in the structure, rather than to the attractiveness of the artwork or the color of the cushions.
If the people within a house are truly welcoming, we are free to enjoy the physical surroundings, be they fancy or plain. If the people within a house are not welcoming, we cannot enjoy the physical surroundings even if they are perfection themselves. Hospitality is an outward expression of the beauty in our hearts, and true beauty can flow through whatever furnishings are at hand.
A heart filled with joy and love creates a beautiful house.