Hospitality: The friendly and generous reception of guests.
I have a love/hate relationship with hospitality. It feels formal with the connotation of performance and I feel unnatural and fake.
When I first had children, hospitality was a strange cocktail. I really did want friends in my life. But I also felt pressure to have the right dishes, cook the right meals, and be effortlessly engaging.
I’m a distracted cook though a good relational host. I enjoy conversation and people. But add the physical chores of hosting and I become a distracted listener and awkward conversationalist. Inside I am trying to figure out which spice I forgot or trying to get one of my kids to quit interrupting.
Once when a friend came by, I was rattled because my kids weren’t cooperating. They were not submitting to perfection and enabling me to clean my house. My friend looked at me, surprised, and said, “You don’t have to have your house clean for me.”
She meant it.
She was just fine with my messy house and ornery kids.
But I wasn’t.
For the last several years, I have been on a hospitality hiatus. I can count on one hand the number of times we have had guests for dinner. In addition to my hospitality “tension,” we also lived through deep relational loss. So, I retreated into the shell of our home, like a small turtle hiding from predators.
Life has a way of messing with me when I get good and stuck. A good friend and her daughter decided to visit this summer. I was at once thrilled and ill-at-ease. I was so excited to introduce them to Oregon and to my children.
And, I was afraid.
Our family can be a disorganized mess. We are loud, informal and sometimes argumentative. The laundry can be a mile high and the floor fuzzy with dog hair. The undone home projects were high-lighted like a strip-club billboard on a road trip with preschoolers.
I threw myself into a flurry of organization. It takes a great amount of effort to stay organized with an ADHD family of six. My shoulders were beginning to be tight. I started snapping at my family when they made messes. I felt like I was carrying a weighted blanket around with me, sort of like Linus in Charlie Brown. Yet the blanket was not providing comfort but unwanted pressure.
I started praying, like I do when something is off. And somehow downloaded the wisdom that what I want to offer is not performance but welcome. I wanted my friends to know that I carried them in my heart as I prepared for their arrival. That I considered about what they might like to see, to talk about, to drink, and to eat. I thought about what might feel like a table of Oregon bounty infused with rest.
My heart came back home.
I began to cherish the prepping time as a way to love them before they came. I prayed over our time together, the room they would stay in, and over their travel. When people come to our home, I want them to feel loved and like they belong. I want them to feel comfortable. Like our home becomes a second home to them. I want them to leave loved.
And part of doing that had to include me coming home to myself.
Which means embracing who our family is in its mess and beauty both. It included me silencing voices of shame at how “undone” we can be, and instead practicing internal approval. We have done the best we can in creating a family and home. It’s imperfect and human.
What I love about others is not how perfect they are, but how human they are.
I feel delight when the unlikely, imperfect parts of loved ones get to come out and play. I feel trusted. And invited to know and be known.
We had a wonderful time. I think we were good hosts, and I know our friends were enthusiastic and easy guests. We saw gorgeous sunsets, walked on the river and had meaningful conversation. Our Facebook pictures are beautiful and real.
I am grateful.
But it wasn’t perfect. Our air conditioner and dishwasher broke. I forgot to offer the hand-picked wine I purchased.
Through hosting and humanity, I’ve been changed.
And by Jesus and his crafty ways. When I can’t get over myself; he gets into me instead and I become much more myself.
When our next guests arrive, I hope I remember to welcome with love and belonging not a perfect meal in a spotless location.
This isn’t a restaurant.
It’s our home.
And despite all, love lives here.