My kitchen is the opposite of ‘open concept’. With one door leading to our back garden and another that properly closes to the rest of the house, you could say my wonky kitchen boasts a closed concept design. Once inside with the door shut, no one can see what you’re up to. If you mistake chili powder for nutmeg, no one is the wiser. At least not right away.
Three houses ago, in our former teeny, semi-private kitchen, I accidentally poured soapy water on the baby back ribs we had been cooking all day. (Unbeknownst to me, Doug had transferred the BBQ sauce to a bowl and filled the saucepan with soap and water.) I was alone in the kitchen at the time so no one was there to witness my blunder. No one saw me rinse the meat over the sink, transfer it to a fresh baking pan, douse it with BBQ sauce, and return it in the oven.
The best cooks don’t reveal their secrets so I wasn’t about to air mine when we all sat down to eat. Not even when one family member said, ‘These are the best ribs ever’. I didn’t confess until the next morning; If anyone was going to get diarrhea that night, it would be from soap, not the power of suggestion. (No one did, by the way.)
All this to say, closed concept kitchens aren’t without their perks, especially during lockdown when you’re tired of being with those you love. Sometimes a closed kitchen door is in everybody’s best interest. Inside a closed kitchen, every decision is yours. Add peas to the chili or Marmite to the scones? Your call. (For the record, Marmite doesn’t exist in this house.) No one’s around to question what you’re doing, and that can feel freeing.
On the contrary, open concept kitchens promote questions and discussion and community. Those who’ve been invited into the mess of your kitchen feel a certain freedom to offer advice: Your soup’s bubbling over. You may want to lower the heat. Encouragement: The pie smells amazing. And warning: Do you really want to pour soap on the meat? The people in your kitchen pitch in and lighten your load; they chop veg or wash dishes or even take out the rubbish.
And while people can be exhausting, and cooking and living might seem easier without the disappointment and miscommunication that comes with interacting with each other, we were not designed to go it alone. Left on our own we can hide our struggles. Cover our mistakes. Become delusional even, begin to think we’re something that we’re not.
It’s tempting to close the door and not let anyone enter the nitty-gritty kitchen areas of our lives. It’s often easier. But unchecked independence grows into isolation, which breeds a strong sense of rightness in my own eyes. A limited, narrow perspective, oblivious to blind spots. We all have them. It’s human nature. And we all need someone else to gently point them out- someone who loves the Lord and wants the best for us, and is aware of the splinters in their own eyes. Someone like Nathaniel, who broke through King David’s toxic stubbornness (2 Sam. 12)
One reason God gave us the Church is so that we can foster relationships with fellow believers whose lives reflect a heart to please God. To engage in mutual challenge, even criticism. These friendships, and they will be limited in quantity, require a certain type of open concept living. How has this played out for me personally?
Once I took it upon myself to plan a certain ministry event. My heart was in the right place: stepping in and serving would benefit many. It was also in the wrong place: I wanted to do everything my way. One afternoon a steadfast woman from church rang me up. “It’s best if we organize team,” she said graciously. “One person shouldn’t be in charge.” I need The Church.
Another time I thought it was right and necessary for me to point out something I thought was very wrong. A different woman, also steadfast, listened patiently to my very valid grievance and then said simply, “You can’t do that,” and explained why. She was right. I need The Church.
We won’t heed every piece of advice. But when we look back on our past year, we should be able to pinpoint specific conversations, times of earnest prayer, and moments we’ve been challenged. We should see how others have influenced our decisions. If we don’t see any evidence of this type of open concept living, we may need to intentionally open the door. Let someone in. Which may mean tearing down a wall we’ve constructed.
As the Church we’re to:
confess our sins to one another and pray for one another so we can be spiritually healed (James 5:16)
encourage and build one another up (1 Thes. 5:11)
remind each other the truth of God’s word, even in song (Col 3:16)
bear one another’s burdens and struggles (Gal. 6:2)
proclaim Christ (1Peter 2:9)
show hospitality to each other (1Peter 4:9)
at times rebuke one another (Luke 17:3)
This list is not exhaustive, nor will any church ever get this completely right. Being a part of the Body is messy and difficult with seasons of both joy and discouragement. If you stick around long enough, you will be hurt by someone and, most likely, hurt someone. But an isolated, hardened heart is so much worse and destructive.
And although working and communicating and putting up with fellow cooks in the kitchen can be a challenge, because we all bring our own set of sticky problems to the table, God gives grace and gifts and blessed humility and community and sustenance.
So open the door and let the Church in.