Don’t you just love it when you find a book that seems to be written just for you? Well, I’ve found MY book. Shauna Niequest’s, “Bread and Wine” literally changed my life. No lie! In 2013, when the book was newly released, I read the words Niequest penned and I felt like someone had finally put language to my love of food and people. She described how hospitality is not simply filling peoples bellies but also filling their souls, and that when we gather around a table, we are truly encountering a Divine exchange. I am definitely a “table person”. At the table we take some of my greatest loves - food, wine, and people. Sharing a dinner in a restaurant is lovely, but nothing beats a home cooked meal, shared over a family dinner table. There’s just something so rich, so loving, so intimate about the whole experience.
But I have been recently thinking about the difference between opening my home to entertain others, and opening my home to offer hospitality. I must confess, as much as I love to welcome people around my table, it’s all too easy to fall into entertainment. Dictionary.com defines entertainment as, “an act, production, that entertains; a diversion; an amusement”. You see, entertainment implies that we are putting on a performance for others. Sure, as you entertain, your guests may laugh, they might forget their troubles for a few hours, but the whole experience is something different when we practice hospitality. Hospitality makes space for people. Hospitality does not offer perfection. Hospitality is not about impressing people with your beautiful house, Top Chef culinary skills, or witty conversation, and I think that can be a major hurdle for us to overcome.
In life, it’s more convenient to entertain people rather than invite them into your home and heart. It’s much easier to perform a role, fulfill a function, and put on a mask than it is to let people see your imperfections, weaknesses, or struggles. As much as a lifestyle of vulnerability and authenticity seems appealing, the reality is that letting people close to seeing the real you is daunting.
And I am not implying that hospitality looks like a perpetual episode of Dr. Phil where we all spill our guts. Brene Brown writes in Daring Greatly (another GREAT book) that, “…over sharing is not vulnerability. In fact, it often results in disconnection, distrust, and disengagement.” (Pg 159). Hospitality is about creating space for people’s hearts, as well as their bellies. It’s about giving space for connection and cultivating trust.
Jesus was the most hospitable of humans. He could often be found in people’s homes, eating food and connecting heart-to-heart. He loved a good party and happily turned water into wine. And like I mentioned recently, we only have to look at John 11 (when Jesus comes to comfort Mary and Martha after the death of their brother, Lazarus) to see how hearts are more important to Jesus than anything else. Before He performed a miracle, before He changed the situation, Jesus approached both Mary and Martha. He talked with them. He wept with them. Jesus made space in His heart to love people, not just entertain, pacify, or distract them. And like Jesus, our goal should be connecting with people’s hearts, not wowing them or impressing them.
In the season of life I am in, hospitality has been a struggle for me. I am a stay-at-home mum with two kids under two, a third on the way, and a household filled with two dogs and a ridiculous cat. If I am inviting people in to my home for dinner, guests will be greeted by dog hair, a slew of toys, and a very basic Keurig k-cup coffee. And if I am inviting people into my heart, people will see an exhausted mother who is trying to manage a household on one income, and with very, very limited time to spare.
But I am learning that my community is worth the real me. I am learning that they don’t need some plastic version of me. They don’t need a millionaire Sarah who has her house professionally cleaned on a daily basis, or who serves only fancy food and drink. My people need the real me as much as I need the real them. My heart yearns for true connection rather than being entertained or pacified. Like Mary and Martha, I am learning that it’s not about Jesus changing the situation, but it’s about letting my heart be heard as well as hearing the hearts of others.
So today, let’s practice hospitality, not entertainment. Let’s create space in our hearts and homes where we can truly connect, trust, and engage. Be vulnerable. Let’s not try to wow people with our skills, but love them with an open heart. Let’s welcome them, not perform for them. It’s not perfect but it’s beautiful!