“Could I get some more sour cream?” the twenty-something girl asked as I rushed by her table, muttering to myself about the napkins needed by the customers at table four and the fact that those at table six were still waiting for their bill.
“Sure,” I said, forgetting instantly.
“Excuse me,” she said later, and I noticed she still hadn’t started eating her burrito. “I’m sorry, but I’m still waiting for my sour cream.”
“Oh yeah, right . . . so sorry. I’ll get it right away,” I said, speeding to the table across the room to deliver waters and menus to the newest customers.
A bungled order, spilled Coke, and an encounter with an inebriated patron later, I picked up Sour Cream Girl’s bill and grimaced. No tip. I completely deserved that, and I would never forget it.
As a restaurant server, it’s the details that matter. And I am decidedly not a details person, which is why at the end of that summer I vowed never to serve tables again if I could help it.
Last week, I invited a group of ladies over for a clothing swap and to browse jewelry a friend was selling. I tried to remember to offer every friend a drink, but out of the corner of my eye, I noticed one woman searching for a glass. She timidly opened the fridge to help herself and that old feeling of the sour cream incident returned.
I berated myself for getting caught up in conversations and forgetting to deliver drinks. I leave my guests holding their coat for ten minutes before I realize they need a place to hang it up. (I blame my rudeness on growing up in Florida where we didn’t wear coats.) And I often forget to serve the appetizers I planned to display.
My children are the least obedient, my food the most store-bought, and my standards of service the lowest, apparently. None of my plates, napkins, or flowers ever match, and I once used a lunchbox ice pack to chill a bottle of Costco wine because I forgot to buy ice.
And yet I keep trying.
Although the details certainly matter — and I think noticing the needs of others makes them feel seen and loved — the details are not the thing. The thing is to notice the breathing, laughing, anxious souls who walk through my door.
The word hospitality seems to heave guilt and pressure onto some people’s backs. But I believe God delights in smashing our boxes, breaking them down, and using them to form mazes and tunnels, airy spaces with skylights. Redefined, hospitality offers freedom, not confinement; acceptance, not judgment.
I like to think of hospitality in terms of Jesus feeding the five thousand:
You don’t have a big home, kitchen, or table? No dishes that aren’t chipped? No money? What do you have? Oh, you have a couple loaves of bread and a few fresh fish? Ok, we can work with that . . .
Right now, as a mom to three kids age six and under, I have very little energy to be a good host. If hospitality means fancy food, Pinterest-perfect decorations, or me wearing anything other than jeans and a shirt I bought at a thrift store, then I’m out. But when it’s scaled down to a bag of tortilla chips and a jar of salsa, or La Croix and cheese and crackers from Trader Joes while our kids whizz around on bicycles in the driveway — that I can handle. That I can offer in faith that God will take and multiply it in the form of friendship and community, connection and greater neighborliness.
If you’re one of the many who runs the other direction when people start talking about “radical” hospitality, can I grab your arm and show you my living room with the laundry basket I didn’t just leave out to make you feel better? My out-dated kitchen with the drawer hanging off its hinges? My children wailing their heads off and wiping their greasy hands all over my couches?
Will you come over for coffee or tea, wine or beer, and cackle and maybe even cringe with me over a mortifying moment in the library today? Because that’s the thing. The emotion, the story, the personal connection, the stale crackers and bland cheese don’t hold us together in relationship, but they help us get to where we need to be. They’re the hospitality offering I have today and the small miracle I pray God will multiply into the moreness of love.
How do you live out authentic, dressed-down hospitality in your home?
What I can offer in faith God will take and multiply it in the form of friendship and community, connection and greater neighborliness. -@leslie_verner: Click To Tweet