An Honored Guest

I got some pushback from a listener about something I’ve been saying in the podcast. It wasn’t a criticism, per se, but you know me. Once I start overthinking something, I can’t let it go.

The listener’s sticking point was that she doesn’t like it when I say we should “treat ourselves like an honored guest in our home.” She said, with legitimate concern,

“It sounds like you are saying ‘be selfish,’ but in the same breath you praise the courageous and selfless people in Ukraine. Pick your lane.”

podcast listener with a very good point

First off, I had many second thoughts before wading into anything about my thoughts on what is happening in Ukraine. I will stay away from these topics in the future. However, I stand firmly by my admiration of their selflessness. My heart breaks for what they are experiencing, and I pray that it all end very, very soon.

That said, I am concerned that I would have portrayed the idea of “treating ourselves like an honored guest,” as being “selfish.” If that is what this listener heard, then I need to have an adequate answer.

So, I need to sit down and decide if I really mean “be selfish?” Is treating ourselves like an honored guest in our home being selfish?

When I picture being selfish, the first thing I imagine is when I am standing in front what is left of my birthday cake after everyone has had a piece, and I think, “I am saving the rest of this for me, and nobody better try to sneak a piece.” Oh…you don’t ever have those thoughts? You are a better person than I.

Having the selfish thought that I don’t want to share my birthday cake doesn’t mean that I won’t share my birthday cake. It just means that in that moment, I want it all for me. Selfishness is a weird instinctive way our hearts have of telling us, “I like this and I want as much of it as I can possibly have.”

Selfishness is immature and poorly thought-out. It is usually something that happens to someone else’s (perceived) detriment–in the birthday cake example, the desired result of my selfishness is that no one else get any birthday cake.

Selfishness is unintentional most of the time, meaning, we don’t have to give it a ton of thought. I don’t have to try really hard to be selfish. It comes pretty darn naturally to me, thankyouverymuch.

It is in this way that I would distinguish it from “treating myself as an honored guest.”

It does not come naturally to treat myself as an honored guest. Somewhere along the line in our relationships with others–as parents, as employees, as spouses, as friends–we come to make a difference between people who are worthy of the “good dishes” and people who aren’t. People who we set up the dining room table for, and those who can sit with us at the kitchen table.

People who we will change the kitchen hand towel for, and people we won’t.

Many years ago, prior to having children, my husband and I hosted someone in our apartment who was thinking about moving to our city. It was very much in my best interest that this person like it here, because we would be working together and I needed this person’s skills on my team.

I do not have the gift of hospitality. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I dread having people in my home, but it is the pressure I put on myself to prepare for having people over that I dread.

I made a five page checklist of preparations I needed to make for that person to stay in our apartment. (Overkill? Why yes, yes it was.) It was that important to me.

When I say I need to treat myself as an honored guest in my home, I am thinking specifically about that. How with every single little thing, I would think, “I hope she never finds out it isn’t always like this!”

About how I got out the good towels, how hard I scrubbed the shower, about how I scoured the light switches for fingerprints, how I took down the curtains to wash them, how I washed the windows inside and out, how I cleaned the baseboards and moved all the furniture to vacuum. It was obsessive. It felt obsessive.

About how, when I was finally done with my checklist, how badly I wished that I had done this sooner, because of how wonderful it looked and felt.

Why don’t I don’t this more often?

That was the first time I had the inkling that it would be really, really nice to be an honored guest in my own home.

Wouldn’t it be nice to use the good towels? Wouldn’t it be nice to have clean windows more often? Wouldn’t it be nice for the shower to sparkle? Wouldn’t it be nice to have the table set nicely?

When I say that we need to treat ourselves as an honored guest, I don’t mean “work ourselves to the bone every single day so that everything is always guest-ready.”

I do mean to do the small things that we would make a difference and bring us little beads of joy to put on the necklace of our lives.

Case in point: One small thing that I absolutely adore is slipping into fresh sheets at bedtime.

I do not love the process of changing the sheets on my bed. I do not love washing and the subsequent hanging out to dry. But I get immeasurable joy from sliding between fresh sheets at bedtime.

When it comes the day that I have written on my calendar that I am to change the sheets, I often see the words and think, “ugh. I hate changing the sheets.” Because the first thing I think of is the wrestling match that I will have with the fitted sheet, first to get it onto the laundry line to dry, and second, the rematch I will have with it when I fold it and put it back in the drawer.

But if I can get into the mindset of treating myself like an honored guest, I can then imagine what it will feel at bedtime, when the wrestling matches will have been long forgotten about, and I slip my little feet down into the bed between crisp, clean, smooth sheets.

That feeling right there, that anticipation, is enough to make me strip the bed and get started.

Treating ourselves like an honored guest is not a blank check to behave selfishly, but rather, in part, to consider how doing the things we need to do anyway can bring us future joy, and to minimize our thoughts about how annoying those things are to do in the present.

I often say, “Life is short, wear the pretty clothes.” Well, I’d like to add, “Life is short, use the good towels,” and “Life is short, enjoy the clean sheets.”

We shouldn’t be saving things up for “special occasions,” because the “special occasions” we think we are saving things for are so unbelievably rare.

There is so much joy in treating life as the special occasion we’ve been saving up for. There is so much potential for joy when we treat ourselves as an honored guest. It is an unlimited treasure chest of ways, big and small, to show ourselves love.

I do not believe that this desire to bring delight and joy into our lives is selfish. For it to be selfish would mean that it is to someone else’s detriment, and that is not the case.

If anything, when there is more delight and joy and wonder in our lives, we are better equipped to share our lives with others.

When I have done something, as small as changing my own sheets, it makes me want my little boys to experience this same tiny pleasure of slipping into clean sheets. In this way, when done with first and foremost, the attitude of doing something out of concern for myself (changing my sheets), it makes it possible to do a very very basic household chore out of a place of love and delight for my boys.

Treating ourselves as honored guests is not selfish. It is a first step to transforming how we view our current circumstances. It is the difference between “buckling down and disciplining myself to change everyone’s sheets” and “I can’t wait for the boys to get into bed tonight and see how awesome it feels to snuggle down in clean sheets.”

It starts, though, with doing little things for ourselves. Viewing little moments as opportunities to celebrate. Yes, those little things might look selfish at first, but they have so much revolutionary potential that we must not despise them. Do not despise the day of small beginnings.

Episode 64: The Golden Rule Rules Sing With Your Feet

In this last episode before the summer hiatus, Lily talks about this year's challenge to live out the Golden Rule and some of the hiccups that have appeared along the way.
  1. Episode 64: The Golden Rule Rules
  2. Episode 63: Foresight
  3. Episode 62: Memory
  4. Episode 61: Novelty
  5. Episode 60: How to Have Great Sex

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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