By Hannah Heath
After growing up in an extremely hospitable Christian home, I was determined to continue the culture of hospitality in my own home. As newlyweds back in 2009, my husband and I began entertaining guests as soon as most of the still-packed boxes could be stuffed into the one bedroom of our apartment. The fact that we had only a small table and no dinning chairs did not phase us at all; foreign students, professors with their wives, pastors and friends all had their turn gathering around the table, balancing on therapy balls, resting in our one easy chair or perched on a rocking chair.
Our first company was a married couple from
Brazil and I
threw myself into making a fabulous American meal which turned into a
Thanksgiving feast for four but without enough time to roast the carrots, steam
the green beans, or make the salad. The
results were a very brown meal of rolls, mashed potatoes, stuffing, turkey and
baby carrots. Oh, I also forgot to put
out glasses and napkins until our guest asked if we had water. Other guests sat through meals of frog legs
which tasted like swamp, butternut squash soup that was painfully hot for mild taste
buds, and lamb that was so rare it could still bleat. Bless their souls for being so gracious, but
oh, the agony of realizing that maybe frog legs were not the best choice!
I would analyze everything after the guests were gone. What had worked, what had not? A little notebook of menus and dos and don'ts helped me look back and learn. It was not until many a humbling meal had passed that I began to see where I was going wrong. Instead of focusing on hospitality, I was pouring all my effort into entertaining people. The meals I dreamt up and the cocktails served were meant to be impressive; these were moments to show off my culinary creativity, but I was forgetting the purpose of Christian hospitality. To put on the glasses of Christian hospitality is to look at the world and see the strangers in our midst, the unglamorous and awkward, and then invite them into our homes.
After doing all the Martha Stewart research and looking back over the seemingly effortless hosting my mom accomplished, I felt ignorant and incapable. Where could I learn more about true hospitality? Then one Sunday, nondescript from any other service, I read this small note instructing the order of distribution, "The pastor and those who assist him receive the body and blood of Christ first and then distribute them to those who come to receive, saying..." Oh. Guests receive hospitality from their host. Here was the purest gift of hospitality and I had missed it because I had forgotten what it was like to be the guest, to be the one receiving the grace from another. As the congregation sang, "Weary am I and heavy laden; with sin my soul is sore oppressed; receive me graciously and gladden my heart, for I am now thy guest" (I Come, O Savior, to Thy Table), I approached the table, spread for me, and received the grace given and shed for me.
We are welcomed to the Lord's Table, where the host offers himself as food and drink to nourish and sustain. It is a time of communion, community, and hospitality; it is a gift which may seem diminished by routine but in reality is shared with all the company of Heaven. As we depart, our pastor dismisses us with the words, "The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting. Depart in peace." To approach Christian hospitality in the role of hostess I needed first to be a guest of the Divine Host. Only after being strengthened by God's unfailing grace could I in turn give the gift of hospitality to others without letting my ego transform it into entertainment for my own glory
Bolstered by this new perspective, I approached hospitality with a new joy. Now instead of vainly setting the stage for friends with elaborate plans, I was happy to spontaneously invite the single chap who slid into the pew behind us right as church started over for brunch following the service, or approach the mom of 6 with her 7th baby on the way in the grocery store after hearing her talking to her sister about the stress of getting meals together every night. This freedom to welcome guests, friends and strangers alike, to our table came from the blessings I have been given as an unglamorous guest myself.
There is nothing wrong with sharing the joy of a beautiful table (or even sharing frog legs), but I no longer feel bound to present those things to my guests. A typical meal has become a simple affair of familiar recipes, the definition of comfort foods. Paper plates, carrots sticks with ranch dressing and brownies whipped up from a box are common on the table now. With my focus turned away from how myself and turned towards building relationships through listening and spending time together, hosting has become a delightful time of spiritual growth and evangelism.
Heath and Home.