How to Love Your Neighbor When You’re A Perfectionist
A friend of a friend who became a friend of my own, Heather shares a love for her neighbor with a humble (and hilarious) heart. She’s super smart yet approachable, a rare combination of wisdom and kindness you’d love to live next door to yourself… especially if her famous mermaid cupcakes are involved.
How to Love Your Neighbor When You’re A Perfectionist
Guest Post by Heather Owen
I’ve heard so many women say, “I don’t have the gift of hospitality.” That has never been my problem. Even before I was a truly committed Christ follower, it was always very easy for me to open my home to others and share what I had, whether that was little or much. It was simple for me to play hostess and impress with a meal and my skills in the kitchen—effortless to plan creative gatherings that were memorable and anticipated. When the kids were growing up, our house was like Grand Central Station—open to everyone and the center of neighborhood activity for everyone that had kids our age, school friends, and our work colleagues. If you were in our circles, you were at our house regularly and you knew you could stop by unannounced and find a warm welcome.
It almost sounds as if I was doing a good job of loving my neighbor as myself, doesn’t it? But the dark secret underlying what seemed like my ability to love others well is that it was all driven from a place of need for love, acceptance, and validation that I never got as a child or in my first several marriages. I wanted to feel valued, appreciated, and loved. So hosting and welcoming people was like a high for me. I did truly love them, and I think if you talked to any one of the people that spent time with me in those early years, they would tell you that they knew I truly loved them. But that dark secret was always there underneath, buried so deep that even I didn’t even know it myself.
I wasn’t showing hospitality, I was entertaining, and I didn’t understand the difference.
I love so many things about God and the way He works in our lives, not the least of which is the way in which He shines a light on what is hidden in the dark and is faithful to redeem all of the broken and ugly in our lives when we are submitted and surrendered to Him. As things in my life shifted and broke apart through a painful divorce, I changed from a marginal sporadic pew-packer to a woman who sought God and truth.
After an interstate move and remarriage, my social tendencies picked right back up as soon as I was settled and had new circles. In this new blended home, with my incredible new husband, the behind the scenes prior to an event were not always pretty. I stressed about everything being perfect according to my standards and on schedule according to my timetable to meet the pre-conceived notion I had for what would make “a good time for all” and leave everyone with warm fuzzies.
Can you guess who didn’t have warm fuzzies before holiday dinners, parties, or any occasion? The people living in my house. They got the snappy, stressed out, frustrated version of me when any little thing didn’t go according to plan in the prep phase. They began to dread the days that they knew an event was coming because of the way I acted during those hours before. I treated opportunities to show hospitality as if they were a performance that was being critiqued and graded. My friends and neighbors probably still felt loved, but on those days, my family sure didn’t feel loved. More importantly, my heart motivation was IMPURE. I had made it all about how these events made me feel. How they fueled me. Recharged me. Made me feel validated during and after the fact.
But it’s not about me, and it never was.
I am so thankful that God showed me clearly what was unclean in my own heart. I am grateful for the lessons that softened my perfectionist edges and reminded me that my worth doesn’t come in performing for others but is derived from being created in His image. I am grateful for His long suffering patience, rebuke, and discipline because He disciplines those He loves. There is a reason that the two greatest commands on which all the law and prophets hang (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:30-34) are in a very specific order; to truly love others well, we must first love God with all we are and all we have. Our love for others is an overflow of the love we have for God.
I am still an enthusiastic hostess, making elaborate mermaid cupcakes for a neighbor’s birthday celebration and hosting “all are welcome” friends and neighbor Fridays every other week. But the result of my corrected heart is a stress-free me and relaxed household that focuses on the people instead of how well I have entertained them.
It’s still important for me to make my guests feel welcomed and loved but now it is with the overflow of God’s love for me that I can love and serve others well.
Heather Owen is a theology/apologetics nerd-meets-biz/marketing geek. Her primary mission is to help equip as many women as possible with a sound, biblical approach to life and business. She does this through her biblical accountability and implementation coaching for Christian entrepreneurs as well as the recently launched Love Your Neighbor Club: a community of accountability built around completing a simple weekly challenge to take intentional action to love our neighbors well. Heather lives in Eastern NC with her husband Josh, one of their five grown children, and two very spoiled dogs. She can usually be found with a stack of books and a Disney mug full of hot tea.