I stink at hostessing. It is not my gift. This has been clear to me for a long time because I grew up in the home of an incredible hostess. My mom loves hospitality and takes such joy in entertaining. She sets a beautiful table, handles all the details and makes it seem effortless. She is the kind of woman who has a mini coffee maker and flavored coffees in the guest bathroom for when company comes to spend the night. These are things that would never occur to me. This last Thanksgiving we hosted friends and while I did manage to make a ham, I didn’t remember to slice it, so I just set the giant hunk of meat on the table in front of our guests and let them figure it out. Not my finest hour.
For a long time I have been able to hide my terrible hostessing skills because people would invite us over instead of me having to have them. But now having six kids means we don’t get invited to places very often. I don’t blame people. We are kind of a circus and nobody is quite sure how to handle us (bless you, people who are brave enough to invite large families over for dinner, for yours is the kingdom of heaven. . . or something like that). This means we now have two options: never socially interact with adults or learn how to have people in our home.
So because I am not ready to just give up on all adult interactions, I am trying to learn to reframe what hospitality looks like for me– a mom of young children. I am learning to accept my own limitations and embrace doing what I can do. I may not ever be the kind of hostess my mom is, but what is it that I can offer the people we want to share life with?
I’m learning to appreciate the unique skill set I’ve developed over the years. We worked for five years as group home parents to mostly teen boys (usually 6-8 of them) which means I basically hosted a dinner party for an extremely ravenous group every night of the week. We may not have had a lovely centerpiece or classical music in the background, but I KNOW how to cook a pot of spaghetti that will feed a crowd. I’m not phased by big, noisy groups and I’m happy when people feel at home and relaxed. I’ve learned not to stress about muddy shoes or spilled coffee or a broken dish. This is the price you sometimes pay for sharing your home with guests, especially young guests. As a foster parent, my job description has literally been to make a stranger feel like my home is their home. Why did it not occur to me that this is the basis of hospitality?
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2
Moms of young kids know how to express love by overlooking tomato sauce on the carpet. We have perfected the fine art of not crying over spilled milk. We have learned that if someone rejects what we serve, that doesn’t mean they don’t love us. We know that sometimes we feel most at ease when eating off of unbreakable dinnerware in someone’s backyard rather than having dinner served on the fanciest china at the dining room table over white carpet. We can take these more realistic expectations about life and home and hospitality and let other people enjoy our relaxed attitude. It’s a gift we can give to fellow parents in the trenches who would desperately love a night with other adults, but feel stressed about taking their own mini circus on the road. We can offer them the understanding that we ourselves need to feel when we come into someone’s home.
For too long I have felt like being a perfect hostess was a way to determine the value of my womanhood. Not being able to fold a cloth napkin into a swan meant I wasn’t quite a grown-up yet. I hadn’t reached the pinnacle of womanhood that was waiting for me. I have been holding off on hosting things because of these unrealistic and unhelpful expectations of what my life was supposed to be like and look like before I invited people into it. No more.
Hostessing doesn’t have to be perfect. My version of womanhood is still womanhood, even if it looks different from somebody else’s. And I think when people see the ways I stink at hostessing (whether that’s the hard water stains on my glasses, or the *gasp* BOXED cake mix on the counter, or my unsliced ham) it may empower them to try their hand at it, too. Nobody who has had coffee at my kitchen table with my kids playing underfoot would feel intimidated out of inviting me over to their house.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Romans 12: 9-13
I do think there’s an important place for the gifts of my more talented and perfectionistic sisters when it comes to hospitality and hostessing. I love attending a bridal shower with tea cups, finger sandwiches and scones somebody made from scratch. I love coming into a perfectly clean house with vacuum lines in the carpet and a candle burning in the bathroom. The time and intentionality shown in that kind of care speaks volumes about the love that hostess has for the people coming into her home. It’s an act of service I value and it instantly puts me at ease (seriously, PLEASE KEEP INVITING ME or I will get sad).
It has been helpful to me to talk to the women in my life who are great hostesses and hear the compassion they express. They have told me they didn’t host things for a long time when they had little kids. They tell me not to feel guilty if I can’t make things run perfectly when I have company. They remind me that this season is short. They tell me if all you can do is offer popsicles to your guests, that still counts. They invite me over and have grace for my family.
I once went to a book club held at the home of a friend who had raised 7 kids. She had a beautiful home and I always felt both comfortable and honored to be in it. This particular week as I dropped my purse by the front door, the sun shone just right on the entryway table and I saw my friend had used her finger to write “Welcome” in the dust. There can be a relief and a joy about being welcomed into a home by someone who isn’t stressing out about the dust on the table. For those of us whose homes may not look exactly the way we want, may we learn to embrace our lives as they are and not be afraid to invite others into them– dusty tables and all.
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4: 7-11