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Allison Althoff
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Natalie Lederhouse
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January 16, 2012

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.

hospitality.jpg

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?

Related Tags: anxiety, fun, hospitality, peace

Comments

Absolutely! And while I didn't end up saying, "so what," I did finally stopped making excuses why we weren't having people over, and stopped entertaining {no pun intended!} all the reasons they might not want to come. I pretty much got the point where I began to say, "this is who we are ... we enjoy your company and would love for you to come and put your feet up with us."

And ... it worked. Because in the end, I learned that IT'S A HAVEN, NOT A FORTRESS.

Great post! Thank you for sharing your heart. I could totally relate to the stress of hospitality. Between Jesus' friends Mary and Martha, I have to admit, I am more like a Martha before company arrives. Then when my guests have come, all my anxieties go out the window and my "so what?" attitude kicks in. When company has arrived, I've done all I can to make their visit special. All that is left is to visit and have a good time with them. Because of this, I absolutely hate getting ready for company, but love when they finally arrive. I think it also helps that I make sure the snacks, drinks and meal are all prepared ahead of time. I keep it simple, but delicious, so I'm not stuck in the kitchen tying up loose ends while my guests are here. I do the same for the games and entertainment. I set aside the games to play, and cue up the music playlist or pop in a movie we wanted to watch. The last thing I want to do when everyone arrives is looking for specific games and movies. Though it adds to the pressure of things to do before my guests arrive, all that prep work frees me to have as good a time as my guests while they're visiting.

Well, isn't that great? I wrote a book on the subject, Hospitality With Confidence, (Bethany), which sold well. Now the problem is with me, the author. I have gotten older, I am alone (with a cat), I watch Food Network, and I dream dreams about how I am going to entertain. BEHOLD, I really have learned that all the fussing is futile. I have to do it in a different way now -- and that's fine. Your blog really was great. Keep up the good work.

Absolutely! I love to entertain (especially during the holidays) but I have learned to KISS ~ Keep It Simple, Silly! The more prepared you are beforehand the more relaxed you will be when guests come and the more fun everyone will have. I have given up making elaborate feasts that require every cooking pot in the house and instead focus on one-pan meals like pizza or lasagna; add a pre-mixed salad & veggie tray, a homemade dessert ~ you're done! Far less prep, far less dishes to wash, far less stress on both you & your guests.

Ha ha...how fun! When I started running out of steam for big parties (about 20 years ago), I developed "ownership" receipes. Warehouse clubs have a lot of prepackaged foods that look and taste great. When people ask if they are mine, I smile and reply "Why yes, of course." I finish the sentence under my breath - "Of course they are mine - I paid for them."

My most popular...1 large bag of meatballs, 1 jar of cocktail sauce, 1 jar of grape jelly. Simmer until hot and meatballs are throughly cooked. Everyone raves and it takes 60 seconds to prepare!

For me, the a-ha moment came when I realized I was contemplating skipping an annual celebration for my husband's birthday, with our adult kids and grandkids and parents, because my right arm was in a cast.

That was the day I removed the word "entertain" from my vocabulary (at least in terms of something I do at home) and replaced it with two others: "gather" and "host."

To help myself stay unstressed when I am hosting people, I always think of a book I once read that changed the way I see life. By Lisa Earle McLeod, it was called "Forget Perfect". And in the book, she compares the way you feel when you are with the absolute perfect person (you feel inferior and uncomfortable) vs. the way you feel when you are with someone who is real, down to the earth, and is not afraid to show their flaws. ( You feel comfortable, & happy.) This gave me such a revelation. And why do I want to have people over anyway? To show off how perfect I am , or my house is? Or to bless them and provide a place for people to have a truly happy time? Repeatedly I have to check my pride and tell myself this- to FORGET PERFECT- it's really not helping anyone.

Thank you for your candor. I think many of us have high expectations of ourselves because we compare our insides to the outsides of others. We only know what we see. We see someone pull off a flawless party and we think, "I wish I was more like her." Who knows? Maybe she hated every minute of it. I need to regularly remind myself to stop looking around horizontally and start looking up.
Blessings.

Last Thanksgiving, my daughter-in-law posted on her Facebook page:
If there is anyone in town with no plans today and you would like, you are welcome to come to my house. We have room for more.
So you're aware, she has 547 Facebook friends, people she's met from all over the country.
I wrote in my blog that she gave me a lesson in natural charis, giving freely and expecting nothing in return.
I like to think I’m generous when it comes to high school fundraisers and Salvation Army. Yet opening my home like that wouldn’t have occurred to me. It was natural to her.
Since then, I'm trying to be more open and less protective of my cave, but I don't know if I'll ever be as open as her. I will try, though. Thanks for the post, Ginger. (Have I mentioned I love these Kyria blog discussions? I read through every comment. I often nod and look for the 'like' button.)

I can't do big deals, at least not with lots of people. As I have gotten older, I can't handle lots of noise. As my husband has gotten older, he can't hear anything when there are lots of conversations. So we decided to get together with just one other couple at a time. Now for special things like Thanksgiving, its different. 3 couples max then! Its working. We are slowly getting to know the people we worship with.

Now THAT'S hospitality!! Isn't it funny what we get into our heads and make up what hospitality should look like..LOL Love it..true hospitality is fun fellowship with a sprinkling of food thrown in!
Blessings!

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