Nov 20, 2015

Sharing a Cup of Kindness

By Sarah Sovitzky

It all started with Indian food. A week after our family moved to Prague, my husband wanted to cook. Taking a break from unpacking, he turned his talents from putting together Ikea furniture to putting together an Indian Feast. Not only did he want to halt our settling in for the day, he also wanted to invite a man over that he met the week before at our new church. I pleaded with him not to do it. Boxes are everywhere, I complained. We’ll pile them on the other side of the room, he countered. We don’t have all the furniture together yet, I protested. The children can sit on the floor, he returned. The pictures aren’t on the walls, I said in desperation. My husband remained unmoved. Have someone clean the bathroom, he called over his shoulder, while entering the kitchen. We’ll have a great time.

And we did. Our new friend arrived with a beautiful plant as a housewarming gift and spent the next four hours around our table delighting us with tales from his varied and exceptional life. It was one of the most memorable evenings I’ve had, and I nearly denied myself the pleasure of it because I was worried about how the house looked. I realized my definition of hospitality was out of balance, and true hospitality doesn’t look like anything featured in blogs and Pinterest.

Media can be a wonderful source for inspiration and information, but it often does more harm than good when it comes to hospitality. Looking at beautifully laid tables in perfectly appointed rooms discourages me because I don’t have the time, energy, or finances to invest in creating illusions. Worse, lifestyle media often makes me discontented with what I have. Photo shopped pictures distract from the true purpose of entertaining, which has nothing to do with objects, and everything to do with people.

My free time is very limited, so I need to spend it wisely, and it doesn’t have to be in the presentation aspect of hospitality, although I know some people find creative satisfaction this way.  Remembering how my grandparents entertained, along with learning how other cultures practice hospitality, gave me a better understanding of how to keep the focus on people.

My parents grew up with a cultural practice called visiting. Every Sunday afternoon, family and friends dropped by my grandparents’ homes after lunch for coffee, cake, and to visit, but left before supper. All that was required was a cake and to keep the percolator going.

Similar to this idea is the French custom of aperitif, which is an hour dedicated to sipping homemade herbal wine with friends before dinner. People drink their small glass while engaging in conversation, then depart to make their own suppers, everyone understanding that aperitif time is limited. The only work of the hostess is to open a bottle and maybe put out a bowl of olives. I was fascinated by these lovely traditions. I wanted to try them, but was afraid to. 

When we lived in the US, I hosted holiday events for my family and the occasional birthday party, but I never entertained regularly. It always seemed that I was waiting for something – to have more time in my schedule, to finish accessorizing a room, to finally remodel the bathroom. I hesitated to have people over because they might notice that I don’t dust as often as I should, I don’t have great decorating skills, and the furniture is all mismatched. I was really worried about appearances, how people’s opinions of me would change if they knew how we really lived, which was why I seldom entertained at home. Since that first experience here in Prague, now a week rarely goes by that doesn’t include hospitality in both big and small ways.

We’ve planned big events here. Dinners for our church family, dinners for church officials and visiting pastors, holiday parties with expat friends, and even turning our flat into a bed and breakfast for missionaries when needed. The most recent was a fall soup supper, featuring apple and pumpkin dishes guests contributed, with fall themed party activities for children. There’s something incredibly heartwarming about hearing bursts of laughter coming from different parts of the apartment and watching people drift from one small group to another, relaxing and enjoying themselves with the other guests, either inside over food or outside on our balcony with scotch and cigars.

But the most rewarding hospitality for me is the small, spontaneous kind. The kind that happens when a friend texts she is coming for tea, a daily ritual at our house with an open invitation to anyone on any day. Or if it’s after 5:00, a cocktail, another daily practice. We sit together, describing our current personal struggles, as well as the challenges of living in a place where you can’t understand the language very well and the people aren’t open to foreigners. It’s been a joy to serve others in this way and to be served in return when I need it.

I admit I’m not always delighted by the prospect of another get together. Sometimes I resent having to rearrange my schedule and do what I think will be extra work. I’ve been angry about having to “plan one more thing.” These feelings are generally short-lived, especially when I put them into the context of loving and serving the neighbors God puts in my life. He planned good works for me to do and uses my vocation to bring them about. I’ve also recognized I’m at my happiest and my best when I have someone to take care of, even if it’s only for an evening.

The secret of hospitality is this: people just want to feel welcomed and cared for. These are the only expectations people have when accepting your invitation. It’s not about the clever place settings you create or even the food you prepare. We make hospitality so much harder and more work than it needs to be. Simple is truly best. If I can’t make it ahead of time and warm it up, or open cans and jars to arrange the contents on plates, it doesn’t appear on my table. Human beings have a need to gather together and deeply appreciate opportunities to do so. Stop worrying about how others will judge your homemaking skills. Believe me when I tell you that no one sees, notices, or cares about the small things that irritate you about your home. All of us, regardless of nationality, want to feel connected to others, and we do that by sharing our stories in our homes, preferably around food and drink.

Consider strengthening your relationships with hospitality. Start small. Be intentional and extend the Cup of Kindness. Take a risk and invite someone over to enjoy the art of conversation, even if you don’t know them that well. Indian food and cleaning the bathroom: optional. 


***

Sarah lives in Prague, Czech Republic with her husband, the Business Manager for the Eurasia Region of the LCMS, and their eight children.  Like Bilbo Baggins, she invites:  "If ever you are passing my way, don't wait to knock!  Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome at any time."


6 comments:

  1. YES! So much this. This is how I grew up, with hospitality similar to this. People dropped by causally, usually without notice, because there were no telephones with which to make arrangements beforehand!

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a joy and blessing to be married to such a wonderful woman! I hope all readers are encouraged by Sarah's words. Rick (the indian instigator and recipient of daily cups of kindness)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sarah! Thanks for your honesty. I would've never guessed you having apprehension over hosting a guest. Way to "let go" for the sake of greater things. I've always thought you were an amazing person. You keep proving me right!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you! This is very encouraging to me -- I try to have friends and their little kids over once a month or so to play, but then the day before it I'm going nuts trying to get the house "clean enough" (not actually clean, lol). Maybe I'll relax my standards of "clean enough" in favor of having friends over just a little more often.

    ReplyDelete

Please note: Comments are moderated and will appear on the blog once we've had a chance to approve them.

Thanks for joining the conversation!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...