Inviting people to come to our home for dinner is something I very much enjoy doing. There is a special sense of connection that takes place around a table over good food. Somehow conversation flows so easily that often we never leave the table for more comfortable chairs in other parts of the house. Coffee cups get refilled multiple times and the lit candles on the table flicker as the evening progresses. We can easily lose track of time.
When the schedule is busy or I have worked all day or all week, I can still feel pressure to plan the menu, shop, clean the house, choose good music to play in the background, and choose the dishes and linens I most prefer.
When I was first married, the pressure I felt had more to do with proving myself somehow to the other Marine Corps officer wives at our table. Later, I felt an internal pressure to somehow make the preparation look like it was easy and that I “had it all together”. The goal was always to have everything done before guests arrived and that included me changing my clothes and touching up make-up. I felt I could relax when everything was in place. Of course, that didn’t always happen which tended to leave me feeling unsettled. Over time and years, the organization of such an evening became easier.
We were also blessed with one couple whose relationship with us grew to such a point that I didn’t worry if things were not ready because they would jump in and help finish while we all laughed and talked. The same would happen at their home as well. We were truly “at home” with each other no matter which home we were enjoying, no matter what had happened with a recipe, no matter whether the table was set or I still had flour dust on my clothes. What a gift!
Recently, we were having new friends to our home for dinner and I had chosen a simple menu, which ended with my homemade pie. Homemade pie has been something I have become known for and usually I manage it with ease and the results are fairly predictable. I was in the midst of making the cherry pie when everything began to fall apart. The crust had rolled out perfectly. Now to make the filling. The thickening agent I usually use was not working at all and suddenly I was racing about trying to sort out what I could do to accomplish the job. What had started out as a simple task I have done hundreds of times became a mountain to be conquered and it took much more time than usual to do so.
I suddenly felt like Martha racing about the kitchen and I could almost hear Jesus admonishing me to look at what was important regarding the evening. From that perspective, the cherry pie filling did not meet the criteria of what mattered most.
We are encouraged to practice Christian hospitality, but that really isn’t about how perfect the food turns out, whether or not we eat from china or paper plates, use fine linens or paper napkins, have the house in order with no dust lingering or have stray magazines or toys left on the floor.
What really matters is the love, warmth, and kindness we extend. That is what sets the stage for the lingering conversation around the table, the sense of community, and the enjoyment of deepening relationship. That is also what allows those we invite to feel valued, relaxed, and free to enter into the time together.