If I have any hostessing skills at all, they come from three places. One was my job in the athletic department throughout college. Plenty of hats were worn in those 4 years, but my favorites were hosting our booster program, The Eagle Club, and serving as Head Football Hostess. I learned a lot from the folks on top about treating others well and making real connections with people. Not to mention, I picked up a few great recipes along the way.
Before these experiences in college, I had spent a lifetime watching my mom, Grandmom, and other women in my family open up their homes to friends and acquaintances and make it look easy. With grace, wit, and a game plan, the women in my family could make anyone feel right at home and fill their bellies with delicious food.
My third teacher is, of course, the same one that taught my mom and the others to give of their pantry and home generously. Jesus set the bar for how to treat other people well and I hope that I am always following in his footsteps, especially when inviting others into my home. He beckons everyone to Him, giving all that He has, loving extravagantly, not withholding good things. Author John Eldredge even goes as far as saying that Jesus was the life of the party! He did turn 100+ gallons of water into wine for His first miracle after all. Not only that, when He wanted to have an intimate conversation with His disciples, He cooks them a fireside breakfast. Like all things, we can look to Him for direction in how to invite others into our homes and into our lives.
I cannot tell you what joy it brought me to move into my own little house after college and begin hosting all kinds of get-togethers for my YL girls, neighbors, and friends. We ate many meals on the big table on the front porch, squeezing in more chairs than could really fit around it and piling more food than anyone could really eat on top of it. I was always looking for an excuse to throw a party, cook something new, or have people over. In fact, I'm still doing that!
Over the years, I have learned a myriad of things, mostly by trial and error. Below are the hints I have found to be most important when opening up your home to others. Follow these simple guidelines and you'll be, as Coach Turner used to call me, the Hostess with the Mostest in no time at all!
- Your house doesn't have to be perfect. Whose is? I don't know anyone whose home isn't a work in progress! We've been in ours less than a year and our "to-do" list is growing faster than we can get things marked off. Keep these two things in mind: People are more comfortable in a "lived in" home than a perfectly put together one and they will remember the warmth of their hosts long after they forget about your decorating skills (or lack thereof). Jesus didn't even have a home to call His own here on earth, never stopped Him! That said, don't be dirty. There's a difference between normal home clutter and week old milk sitting by the trash can. You don't want to send you're guests home feeling like they need a shower!
- Don't try to impress with your cooking skills. This doesn't apply if you are a chef of course. For us regular folks who don't have a culinary degree, I say stick to what you know. This isn't the time to bust out that new recipe you've been dying to try or to make some fancy, flaming dessert. Cook something tasty that you've made 100 times over. This means things are less likely to go array. Again, inviting people into your home is about relationship. It's the conversation and the laughter that will keep them coming back for more (and maybe your souffle if you are a chef of some sort). You probably want to check with your guests to make sure you're aware of any food allergies or restrictions they may be dealing with.
- Wrap up dinner with coffee and dessert. Obviously, if you have me over to your house and don't offer coffee with dessert, I will not shame you or never cross your threshold again, this routine is more of a personal preference. It's something I picked up from my family. I think it's a habit of generations past and in my opinion, one worth maintaining. I do believe that it's a great way to transition from dinner into the next part of the evening. Maybe the men move to the den and the women take their coffee mugs out on the porch (very Downton Abbey of us). Dinner plates are cleared, dessert is set out, coffee is brewed, everyone relaxes and conversation can continue naturally. Also, coffee is just good!
- Let friends help. In my experience, most people you invite into your home offer to bring something. Let them! And if they offer to help clean up and you know you could use the help, let them rinse off a few dishes while continuing conversation from the table. If you're Type A and it stresses you out to let someone else load your dishwasher, then let them do something else like prep dessert. Don't be shy when it comes to asking for help. Jesus wanted us to do life in community. God wired us for fellowship. Let the people coming into your home bring something to your table, physically and spiritually. Don't forget to help them when they return the favor and ask you over to their house.
- Leave your screens alone. Unless the event your hosting is centered around Saturday football, there is really no need for any screen usage. At all. None. If you want to Instagram your evening, take a picture of your table setting before guests arrive (or of the mess in the sink after they leave). Once your friends arrive, be all there. No one is going to feel wanted if you're snapchatting other people while they are trying to have a conversation with you. If you're a parent, keep your baby monitor on for goodness sake, that's a screen you need to see, but put the cell phone down in another room and forget about it. I'm still on the fence about the idea of having a basket in the foyer that everyone drops their phones into upon arrival. I don't want to force other people to do what I believe in, but oh how beautiful evenings together could be if we could be totally present where we are. As the host/hostess, I'd say going screen free is a requirement. As a guest, I would just say it's a respectful choice.
If you can't remember the 5 things from above, just remember this: Like most things in life, hosting isn't about you! It's about others, about community, about glorifying God. Think, humility. The hostesses who remain most well loved in the hearts of those they served do so because they really invested in the people, not in their decor, not in their flatware, not in the wine they served or the steaks they grilled. It's all about the relationships. That's why some fresh caught fish cooked over and open fire were enough for the disciples when Jesus fed them. It wasn't the meal that was filling them up, it was the person they were eating with.
Share with the Lord's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.