I’m thinking about hospitality today. With a friend, I’ve been planning a little get together for some crafty friends – bring whatever you want to work on, and we’ll sit and chat. Naturally, this leads me to thinking about hospitality. As one of the characteristics of the Proverbs 31 woman, and as a characteristic of Christ, its something I’ve struggled to develop well. You see, I love my home – my refuge, my safe place, my peace and quiet. I love wearing comfy clothes, curling up on the couch, sipping tea, reading a book, listening to music – mostly I love not talking. All my favorite things to do to unwind require peace and solitude.
So generally, I keep my front door shut. If someone stops by to drop something off I greet them on the front porch. When I meet up with a friend we go out for coffee. I am not naturally a hospitable person. Perhaps I’m too selfish.
Hospitality in some way feels like a performance to me – how clean is my house, how tasty are my baked goods, how refreshing is my beverage selection, how comfortable is my furniture, how well decorated is my home…. Secular books on hosting parties certainly treat the subject in this manner: do something creative, do something unexpected, spend hundreds of dollars. Somehow, in my head, I equate hospitality with putting on a show that makes people realize how wonderful I am.
No wonder I’m not very hospitable. I don’t have the largest house, or the most expensive furniture. My walls are mostly bare and my guest bed is lumpy. My kitchen is small, and until recently we ate dinner on lawn chairs at the dining room table. My performance would be a flop compared to housewives who have all day to prepare delicious treats, to single women who don’t have a husband to pick up after, and to wealthy women who have homes boasting every comfort and convenience.
As I’ve been preparing to have women in my home tonight, I’ve been shaking off the attitude of performance. Christ doesn’t call us to perform, He calls us to minister to needs. Like He did when He fed the five thousand, or prepared breakfast for his disciples, or washed their feet. He didn’t need a gourmet catering company, an elaborate menu, or lavender scented French milled soap. He was more interested in meeting needs than in impressing anyone. So how can I go about having Christ’s servant heart and minister to needs, no matter how small those needs may seem.
I’ve turned to a couple of women I admire for ideas. One woman, my sainted aunt, has been hosting this sort of gathering for probably twenty years. Maybe longer. She gave me lots of advice about setting up a work area and ideal snacks. She told me something interesting. A group she’d advised started like mine: simple, tasty little treats and good conversation. Eventually, someone added fruit salad to the cookies. And then appetizers. And then salad. Next thing, women are making full blown meals for a dozen people – because they felt pressure to outdo one another. She said the group eventually broke up because of this. Performance ruined it. As my aunt put it, “it took the pleasure out of meeting with friends.” How profound.
The other woman doesn’t even know I’m writing this about her. She’d be embarrassed if she knew. I’ve watched her minister to people with her gift for hospitality for half a dozen years now. I remember leaving her house once and saying to my (then) fiancé “I feel more like myself at her home than anywhere. When I grow up, I want to be just like her.” Her home is relaxed, her food is delicious, her conversation comfortable and well seasoned with Truth and the Gospel. In her home I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve shared about challenging things in my life and never once felt judged or uncomfortable. In that place, its always like meeting with friends who feel like family. That is my desire for my home.
So I’ve been thinking these thoughts as I’ve cleaned my house. My guests will feel more comfortable if there aren’t toothpaste stains in my sink or hair on the bathroom floor. As I’ve baked. My scones are a little dark on the bottom, but they’ll be a nice sweet treat with some homemade blueberry jam. As I’ve organized my crafting area. Someone may need to use my cutting mat or table top ironing board and it would be nice if they weren’t covered in fabric scraps. In my preparations I want to look human and vulnerable and – me – while doing everything in my power to make people comfortable while they’re visiting.
I’ve thought about people’s needs – what if someone is gluten free? I’m going to throw together a quick fruit salad. What if someone needs more light? I’ll pull out an extra table lamp from the bedroom. There is room to work in the living room on comfortable chairs, or at the table with a solid work space.
I’m thinking of it now as I run through my checklist. I’ve been asking myself, how am I avoiding the performance mentality? I skipped running to the store to buy clotted cream for the scones. Would it have been delicious (and maybe a little impressive) – you bet! Will it be missed if its not there? Not at all. I haven’t completely rearranged my furniture. I left my hubby’s desk a mess – I consider this service to him, since when I organize his things he can’t find anything. I didn’t throw out those dark-bottom-scones and waste four lemons’ worth of zest and the better part of a carton of cream. They will still taste lovely. I didn’t do six loads of wash to make sure my laundry basket (where no one will look) was empty.
And for now, with preparations done and nothing to do but wait, I’m praying. I’m praying my home will be a blessing. I’m praying that as God is teaching me that hospitality is not a competition, I will stop trying to perform. I’m praying that I will learn to use my home to bless others, as God has used it to bless me. I’m praying to be less selfish.
How are you praying today?