My “So What?” Attitude toward Hospitality
I wasn’t sure I wanted to follow this particular command from Scripture, so I learned a way around it.
I’m one of those people who love the idea of hospitality. I dream of people hanging out in my home, noshing on my made-from-scratch mini-quiches and hors d’oeuvres (that I can barely pronounce) off my two sets of china. I love the idea of opening my guest room for people to come and stay, and offering baskets of little soaps and mini-towels in the bathroom and little welcome chocolates on their pillows.
I also dream of discovering the cure for cancer, bicycling across the United States, and losing the final 20 pounds of baby fat I’ve been carrying around since the sixth grade.
All worthwhile endeavors that will probably never become realities in my life.
While I love the idea of hospitality I don’t particularly relish actually practicing it. I’m much more of a shy introvert than I let on, I don’t do quiche, I hate having to hand wash my two sets of china, and the thought of wearing a bra at home for hours on end makes me sad and weary.
One year, for instance, I hosted a baby shower and to my dismay several people showed up early, stood in the middle of my kitchen, and caused me such angst that I finally kicked them out, saying, “You’re in my way and I’m really stressed right now!”
So last month when I agreed to entertain a houseful of people, I again went through my love-hate relationship with hospitality. I thought of all the wonderful things I was going to cook—including a new recipe for holiday fruity wassail. I thought about different games we could play and great discussion starters everyone could participate in. I envisioned the amazing decorating and fun little soaps and towels to put in the bathroom, which would have everyone oohing and aahing.
But the closer I got to the date, the more stressed I became. I was in the middle of a book deadline (which I was woefully behind on), my father had been staying with us indefinitely (he’s rehabbing a house nearby for my mom and him to move into), and I was dealing with some other personal stressors, including the apparent ability never to have a clean house.
I could see where this was heading: down the same road as every other time, with the day involving me running around doing final cleaning, cooking items that are sadly beneath gourmet levels (green bean casserole anyone?), barely changing out of my pjs, slapping on makeup reminiscent of the Bride of Frankenstein, sweating profusely, and being in an overall state of anxiety and grumpiness.
The day arrived and I could feel my blood pressure rising. It wasn’t that I wanted everything to be perfect. I just wanted everything to be good enough, tolerable—basically I just wanted to survive without needing aspirin or therapy at the end of the evening.
While I was hard at work putting together my holiday fruity wassail and my deviled eggs and green bean casserole, the simple words So what? floated through my mind. It caught me by surprise.
The words continued. So what that it’s not gourmet? So what that the decorating is simply no-fuss with clean towels in the bathroom? So what if the meal isn’t ready on time? So what if my makeup isn’t applied correctly or at all? So what if I barely manage to get out of my pjs and into jeans and a t-shirt? So what?
I put down the boiled eggs and just stood—aware that the clock was still ticking off the minutes until the first guests arrived. I was having a spiritual moment and I realized the significance of it.
Over the past year my coworkers and I have been reading The Seeking Heart by Francois Fenelon, in which he continually and often painfully pokes and prods into the reader’s spiritual life. Well, his words, along with Scripture and some Holy Spirit promptings, finally sank in on that day.
I remembered Fenelon’s words: “Self-love will let you become sentimental about yourself and overly concerned with your problems. You will find yourself spending all your time worrying about your troubles. Soon all this worry will cloud over the sense of God’s presence in your life, and then you will really be depressed.”
Was that what I wanted? To be depressed, overly worried, and anxious? Or did I want to feel God’s presence?
It was time to give hospitality a little of my attitude.
I don’t normally have instantaneous transformations, but that day I did. In that moment the dark cloud hovering over me and keeping God’s presence from me—even as I was trying to practice the biblical mandate of hospitality—disappeared.
It was wonderfully freeing.
The meal was an hour late and the holiday fruity wassail was awful, but so what? The guests had chips and salsa and laughed and talked and entertained themselves. People crowded around me in the kitchen and got in my way, but so what? I simply hip-bumped them and continued working, and in some cases, put them to work! Nothing about the day was perfect—and that’s what made it successful. In fact, the day went by so quickly that everyone expressed shock at how fast the time had passed and how much fun everyone had enjoyed.
The experience didn’t feel like “hospitality.” It felt, well, good. Fun. Relaxing. I was able to focus on the present moment, which, according to Francois Fenelon, is “the only place where you can touch the eternal realm.”
That day, in the midst of my hospitality crisis, I had touched the eternal realm. And that was a So what? I was grateful to have experienced. In fact, I invited more guests over the next two weekends and continue to look at my calendar for other openings for invitations. Now if I could just get rid of the rest of that holiday fruity wassail . . .
What have you learned about hospitality that has changed you and allowed you to experience God’s presence?