This series on hospitality will offer practical advice for being ready when the doorbell rings, recipes to fit any occasion, and creative ideas like the Pinterest boards shared below. Before we get too far down the road of practicality though, let’s first talk about what motivates us to open our doors, get the house mother-in-law clean, cook for an army, and then clean it all up again.
Let not the emphasis of hospitality
lie in bed and board; but let
truth and love and honor and
courtesy flow in all thy deeds.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Entertaining vs. Hospitality
Aside from sharing a holiday meal with family, we never really had people over when I was growing up, so any philosophical or practical hosting skills have been gleaned during my adult life. Over the twenty-five years we’ve been married, my husband and I have hosted parties of all shapes and sizes—holiday feasts to hot dogs on the grill, jolly jumpers to karaoke—some of which we nearly killed ourselves (or each other) to pull off. In the early years, my mindset was in entertaining mode, heavily influenced by magazine covers and my performance driven nature. I sincerely wanted our guests to have a good time, but to be honest about my motivations, I wanted everything to be just-so to impress just a little too. The constant striving for perfection stemmed from a desire to shape their opinion of me rather than from a heart of serving.
It didn’t matter that we both worked full-time jobs, had little kids, little money, or a small house, I had a passion for cooking fueled by the compliments I received. Unfortunately, my family paid a heavy price for this entertaining mind-set with mounting tension over the amount of cleaning and set-up, sour attitudes that needed adjusting (often my own), or unmet expectations. There’s nothing quite like an argument just before the doorbell rings to really set the mood, or the usual pre-arrival conversations…
“Don’t put that there, I just cleaned that!”
“Where are your pants? You have to get dressed; people will be here any minute!”
“You forgot to get ice. How could you forget ICE?!”
“We just put all the toys away, if you want to play, go outside.”
“That table was supposed to be set up other there—forget it, I’ll do it myself.”
“What do you mean they’re bringing a friend—I only have matching plates for 8!”
I know, heaven forbid someone with children have a toy out of place, messy rug fringe, or plates that don’t match—oh, the horror!
Performance driven entertaining is never good enough, there is always something you should have done differently or forgot to do all together that will captivate your attention, and only on the surface is it hospitable. Perfectionism shackles us to a relentless task-master. The entertaining mindset tends to be results oriented, even self-focused, leaving you feeling used if your efforts don’t garner the response you expected or a reciprocal invitation. It didn’t dawn on me until much later that sometimes I didn’t receive invitations because of my own perfectionism and the pressure others felt to ‘live up to’ my expectations. But isn’t that what seeking to impress does? There is a competitive nature to it, you compare and judge, coveting their home, luxury of time, decorating, or cooking skills. How sad is that?!
Fortunately, I also had the opportunity to see the other side of the coin. As other women modeled hospitality I saw something very different from what I had been doing. Their homes were clean and tidy, yet graciously imperfect. They didn’t shoo their kids away, instead they taught them how to welcome and care for guests in their home. Whether there was an elegant table setting or a napkin on our laps, it was always lovely and carefully planned, yet nothing pretentious or showy.
They opened their homes and their lives, even the messiness of life that happens to us all, and it brought freedom to me. Seeing someone else willing to remove the I-have-it-all-together mask somehow gave me permission to do the same. Above all, these occasions fostered authentic friendship because I was not only invited in to be served, but to be involved in their lives if only for a short time. I left their home feeling refreshed.
“Hospitality should have no other nature than love.” ~ Henrietta Mears
Practicing hospitality demanded a heart change too. I had to deal with my attitude toward possessions, my insecurities, and my understanding of what it meant to really serve. Could I serve with a heart that expected nothing in return? Yes, but only the grace of God was going to reshape a selfish, prideful heart. God did not give me a passion for food simply to feed my own ego. So when I place a steak on the grill for you or pour a cup of coffee, I am serving someone God dearly loves with the abilities He has given me to do so.
Of course, I still want everything to go well and everyone to be happy, but if I allow it, grace fills in the gaps and imperfections with friendship, freeing me to serve without the pressure of performing. Beyond making sure the plates are set, the food is warm, and every glass is full, my focus can be on relationship instead of matching napkin rings and we are both refreshed.
“You can decide that every time you open your door, it’s an act of love, not performance or competition or striving.” ~Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine
Another area of freedom this heart change brought to me was the ability to recognize abundance. We have full refrigerators and pantries and freezers and the ability to get more if we need it—our waistlines runneth over for goodness sake, declaring such abundance. So, whenever our kids ask if someone can stay for dinner, or more people show up for a party than we expected (usually more of our kid’s friends), or can we add a few more for Thanksgiving … my response?
Yes, of course.
Because there always is enough, somehow, even if someone’s eating grilled cheese or everyone just eats a little less (we used to call that FHB or family hold back). It’s all a gift to be shared and savored, not to be another source of fretting. Don’t get me wrong, I like to know what to expect as much as anyone, but if the pressures of adding another chair to the table rob me of the privilege of serving a hungry soul, I’ve missed the point and I’ve missed recognizing the abundance that practicing hospitality brings.
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2 (NIV)
For further reading I’ve created Pinterest boards to showcase hospitality. Just click on the photos below for more great articles and nifty ideas:
I use Pinterest to collect ideas and save interesting articles from all over the internet. Don’t have a Pinterest account? Sign-up here to view these, follow all my pin boards, and create your own. ~ I do not receive any benefit from anyone signing up, I simply find it useful and enjoy sharing good things with my readers.
Coming up next in the series we will address issues that keep us from having people over more often. Based on a Facebook conversation with readers and friends, time, cleaning, money, space, accommodating allergies, disappointment in no-shows, and just plain tired, are just a few of the reasons given. Stay tuned for practical ideas in dealing with these issues.
Is there something in particular holding you back from practicing hospitality? Please share in the comments so we can include it in the post.
“It is meant to offer an experience of hospitality, just as I believe that God extends to human beings a divine and inexhaustible welcome: the door is always open, the table always set, the arms flung wide, outstretched.” — Jane Redmont in When in Doubt, Sing