Book review: The Ministry of a Messy House by Amanda Robbie

I know that as a couple my husband and I have a ministry of hospitality. And our home has been the site of countless meetings and other ministry events (often including food!). But there are times when the ensuing chaos really gets to me. It was on one such occasion that I turned eagerly to this book – hoping to find many an anecdote that I could connect with.

I wasn't disappointed. Amanda Robbie is known as The Vicar's Wife in the blogging and tweeting worlds and so I knew she would be coming from a similar background to me.

Her dad kicks off the book with a great poem including the line "To love one's neighbour messy makes". Oh yes it does – and we shouldn't worry about that. If you like everything in its place then you probably won't get on with this book – as at times the structure is a little messy too. It meanders through her life and experiences, sometimes in a hodge-podge manner. While the editor in me (who likes everything chronological and 'tidy') fought against that a little, the working woman/mother/leader in me thoroughly enjoyed the less-than-perfect flow. I could picture Amanda suddenly grabbing her computer to get down her thoughts on a particular area before rushing off to see someone or do something else.

If you are a recovering perfectionist (like me) – desperate to be open and warm to those who walk through your door but occasionally overwhelmed by the mess they make – then this could be the book for you!

Amanda tackles the subject from the premise of wanting readers to be free from guilt. To enjoy the grace that comes from setting aside striving. The book is very practical as a result – and often humorous.

Amanda is disarmingly honest right from the word go. Indeed the introduction (entitled 'messy me') includes the killer lines: "I only have to peek in my handbag to see that I am far from that ideal: alongside the essentials of purse, keys, phone and Filofax, I find an empty Maltesers packet and a small foil-wrapped chocolate egg left over from Easter. There are also some service sheets from last month, old sermon notes, a puzzle page torn from a newspaper a couple of weeks ago… and a pack of Happy Families cards that I bought for the kids last week and promptly forgot about."

I warmed to Amanda as soon as I read those lines! I would NEVER have had a bag like that 'pre-children' but nowadays that description bears an uncanny resemblance to my own bag! ;)

The book is divided into the various elements that make up Amanda's life – house, family, kids, church, community as well as meals and celebrations. In each chapter she shares honestly about her own struggles and shortcomings but also what she has learned as she has let go and allowed God's grace to work. She doesn't pull any punches – and when she hauls herself up for a wrong attitude the directness with which she does challenges you, the reader, too. Here's an example:

"I need God's grace when I visit someone else's house… The temptation I face…is to feel smug as I compare myself and find myself messier (Well done me, I'm not stressed by a bit of clutter!) or, on very rare occasions, tidier (Well done me, I'm a fantastic housekeeper!)…

"This is where I need to resist the temptation to compare myself to someone else. By doing so, I am making other people (and their house-keeping skills or lack of them) the standard by which I judge myself. In fact, I am worshipping them. I am not looking to God's standard and considering whether my house is a place for rest and relationship. Instead, I am wondering whether I am better or worse than someone else, using a standard that I have created. And so, I need to seek God's grace and forgiveness for my sin of pride and the idolatrous heart that looks at the state of a kitchen and draws a false spiritual conclusion about my own or someone else's standing before the Lord."

Towards the end of the chapters Amanda often includes boxed 'tips', which include great resources and ideas for family services etc as well as a few scrummy recipes! These are simple, honest sharings of ideas they have found work well as a family (and church) as they negotiate life in their vicarage.

A real mix of delights are held within this book's pages, so take the time to discover them all for yourself.

The Ministry of A Messy House was published in 2013 by IVP.

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