“Practice makes perfect,” my piano teacher would always say. So when the Holy Spirit tells us to “practice hospitality,” the idea must be that we keep getting better and better at it . . . that we become more and more like Martha Stewart with each dinner party we host. Right?
It’s not working out so well for me. I’ve been “practicing” hospitality for all six and a half years of my marriage, hoping that one day I will finally become the pinnable hostess who can put on a fabulous Saturday night meal without the Monday to Friday stress. But perfection has evaded me . . . by a long shot.
Midweek still finds me sitting dejectedly in front of my recipes exclaiming, “I just don’t know what to make.” My husband’s nearly inevitable response is, “Just serve them grilled cheese. They won’t care. Everybody likes grilled cheese.”
I scoff at his foolishness every time. Doesn’t he know anything? Doesn’t he know that when someone invites you over for a roast beef dinner with seasonal cloth napkins, you have to reciprocate with something equally extravagant? That’s what people expect. Hospitality is, after all, entertaining people in your home. And entertaining people is about putting in a good performance and meeting or exceeding people’s expectations.
There Is Another Way
I’ve encountered two hostesses recently who didn’t seem to understand these rules. Both invitations were last minute, both homes bore the untidiness of family life, and both women served me grilled cheese. And you know what? My soul breathed a sigh of relief. It was so refreshing to spend time in the presence of these women who were comfortable enough in their homes and their skins to love and serve me without feeling the need to entertain me with something fancier than what they would normally serve their families.
Not only did I thoroughly enjoy our conversations, our time together and the like-family treatment I received, I didn’t go away with the sinking feeling that the ball was now in my court to come up with a lavish meal in return. When I have either of these families over, it won’t be a stressful affair. It will be soup and rolls, spaghetti and meatballs,or something equally plain and unassuming.
Only Love Needs to Be Lavish
To “practice hospitality” in the original Greek language, literally means, “to pursue [as one would a calling] the love of strangers.” But when we’re “distracted with much serving” as Martha was when she was serving Jesus, we’re focused on our self, not our guests. We’re concerned with how our food is turning out, what the guests will think of us, and whether or not we are dazzling them with our culinary genius. We are loving our self and our reputation as a competent hostess.
Martha’s problem was not that she was serving. It was not even that she was serving an elaborate meal. It was that she was so distracted with her everything-must-be-perfect preparations that she had no time to simply enjoy being present with her guests.
If you can serve up a fabulous meal and still be present with your guests, that is a wonderful gift and I envy you! But if the thought of practicing hospitality makes you break out in a nervous sweat, take heart.
The point of hospitality is to love others. The point is to be a place for people’s souls to breathe. The point is to treat people like family so they’ll leave your home with lingering memories of how loved they felt.
So be liberated from being the perfect hostess. Sit back and watch how your freedom liberates others from the same tyranny. Let go of Pinterest imitation and practice hospitality in the freedom of Christ — serving up love and laughter, sharing stories and warm hugs over toasted bread oozing with cheese.
Related: For a fun reminder, each day, of the importance of hospitality, carry this beautiful Words of Community ~ Jute Tote Bag with you wherever you go.