The list of excuses I creatively came up with may have hit a nerve with you, I am not sure. I thought I was imagining excuses you may use not to demonstrate hospitality, but on reflection I have been challenged to see that those excuses are me. And those statements are often replayed in my head even when we do have people over. Why is that?
We are all able to do things with our head, be led by a good idea to serve and give, but our heart can be a long way from the notion of generosity and grace that comes from an honest adoption of hospitality. Like you, I become disheartened when an invitation is refused, when people always seem to be unable to come. When you host often and never get a return invitation. Or when a guest is critical in some way of their experience in your home.
The bottom line is that making room for people, even nice, ‘respectable’ people whom you and I would love to share time with, is hard work. It will always be hard to make room at the table for the homeless, the addicted and the broken. But I guess I have been forced to see that it can be hard to invite the ‘right’ people too. If our motives for making room in our home for others stems from pride or a need for approval then we will fail.
At the meal table we are exposed for who we are. A fraud, a fake, a hoarder, a gossip, a tyrant, a victim, an addict, a hypocrite. Making room for others forces us to be real with ourselves, if we are to intentionally build relationships over a shared meal and not polish our own egos.
Hospitality involves welcoming, creating space, listening, paying attention, providing. Meals slow things down. Some of us don’t like that. We like to get things done. But meals force you to be people-oriented instead of task oriented. Sharing a meal is not the only way of building relationships, but it is number one on the list.
It’s possible to remain at a distance from someone in public gatherings…..Meals bring you close. You see people in situ, in life, as they are. You connect and communicate. Novelist Barbara Kingsolver describes dinnertime as “the cornerstone of our family’s mental health.” “If I had to quantify it,” she says, “I’d say 75 percent of my crucial parenting effort has taken place during or surrounding the time our family convenes for our evening meal.”1
Generous hospitality leads to reconciliation. It expresses forgiveness. Unresolved conflict can’t be ignored when we gather round the meal table: you can’t eat in silence without realizing there’s an issue to address. Paul uses hospitality as a metaphor for reconciliation when he says to the Corinthians: “Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no-one.” (2 Corinthians 7:2) Hospitality can be a kind of sacrament of forgiveness.
In a world where fewer families eat together, we have a real opportunity to offer grace and community to those people we are connected to in some way. There are people of peace, people we share a link to, however tentative. The new mum at the kindergarten, the check out chick who is always super nice to your kids in the supermarket, the guy you buy your take away coffee from before work. These people are people you and I need to make room for at our table.
Some practical ideas for making this happen soon…..