I come from a long line of women who think that we must always have our house presentable in case someone drops by, always decorate perfectly when hosting a shower, and always serve homemade goods for an event. I was taught at a very young age that you always keep a yellow cake mix in your pantry because you just never know when you might need to make something quickly. Maybe it has something to do with my last name being “Baker.”
These hosting rules have not always led me to make the smartest decisions though…
Recently a coworker of mine was struggling through several issues with her marriage and job. She caught me at my locker as we were both getting ready to leave work, we talked for several minutes, and I tried to encourage her about all the overwhelming stresses in her life. I sensed that she wanted to keep talking, and I felt called to invite her over to my apartment so that we could pray and talk some more, but in the back of my head I remembered all of the cleaning I needed to do first. I was too embarrassed to invite her over, and I dropped the ball by quickly wrapping up the conversation and stated that I would be praying for her.
And then a few months ago, I hosted a baby shower for a friend that turned out to be one fiasco after another. The shower invitations were printed with the wrong date, the venue was double booked, my co-hostess got sick on the day of the shower, and I was left alone to get everything decorated just right. When the shower came to an end, I offered to send the flowers home with the guest of honor. Her mother-in-law bluntly stated that she thought the flowers were already dead and they were not worth taking home. Whatever pride I had in my abilities was deflated.
Lately I’ve been thinking about good examples of hospitality in my life. One of the most humble and thoughtful hostesses that I have ever met is the wife and mother of the refugee family that my small group adopted through World Relief.
This woman has taught me a hospitality that I have never known. When we call last minute for a chance to come over to visit, she never denies us the opportunity. She is never too busy doing work around the house to sit down with us, never too tired to have a conversation with us, and definitely has never apologized for serving us store-bought cookies. She does not care that she has to serve us on hand-me-down plates. She does not care if her apartment is perfectly dusted and vacuumed. She just cares that we feel welcome in her home and that we are fed…and fed some more…and then fed some more.
I am humbled when I think about the food and gifts that she gave us when her family could not even afford a car and worked horribly long hours at a very physical job just to make ends meet.
She has not fallen into my trap of making everything perfect and getting bogged down by all the details while hosting us. It made me think about how I often miss the best part of hosting–the people–because I am running over a to-do list in my head.
I think that hospitality is a spiritual gift that God has blessed me with, and I realize that I have twisted this beautiful gift into something very unhealthy with my perfectionistic view. God wants my presence, not my perfection. Hospitality can happen in a messy home!
He did not give me the gift of hospitality as a personal edification device so that I feel wonderful every time I throw a fun party or make a yummy dessert. God wants me to use my gift of hospitality to welcome friends, family, and strangers with great joy and to entertain guests with kindness.
As the crazy holiday season schedule is in full swing, I pray that I can use my gift to invest time and energy into truly getting to know the people that God has placed in my life.
*Photo credit: Erica Schoonmaker