Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Witness of Christian Hospitality

(For Little Joann's Amusement)

I'm not a natural hostess. I suffer with social phobia and my house is always messy. Yet I'm training myself how to be a good hostess because I'm finding the virtue of hospitality is central to living the Christian Life.

"I was a stranger and you welcomed me."

Lessons from the Field

1. It's a gift if anyone at all comes to your party

 We live in a world where everyone is rushed and busy. One of my kids had a birthday party where no one came. We had the party decorations out. The perfect cake was made. The craft supplies were neatly placed on the table. I had sent my husband away with all the younger siblings. After 75 minutes, no one was there. My daughter didn't have a good concept of time, so she kept asking me "when will my friends get here?" There was this moment, when I was actually trying not to cry in front of her. It was so painful to host a party and have no one show up.

Then one of her friends and her mother showed up.  We were SO happy. We chatted. We played. We ate tons of cake. It was a while before they figure out that they were "it". I mouthed a giant "THANK YOU" to the Mom. The two ladies left happy and uplifted. Then I went into my bedroom, reread that verse where God throws a wedding party and no one comes, so he invited the lame from the roadside, and I truly cried this time.

Crazy as it sounds, that party failure experience has really made me better as a hostess. I know it is a gift if anyone comes to your party. I don't take rejection personally. And I also make sure to GO to people's parties. People I don't know well. There are so many times that I have to say no because of my family obligations (like I'm super pregnant and can't drive), that if there is anyway I can say "yes", I do.  In my heart, I know that the saddest feeling is to have a party where no one is there--so I just give the gift of myself.

2. There is something intimate about having people over to your house

If you have a friendship that you are trying to work on at church, invite the family over to your house. If someone drops something off, invite them in. We do too much of our socialization at neutral sites, like parks or Starbucks coffee houses. But as soon as someone comes to your house, they feel like they "know you." The window treatments (or lack there of!) you've got on your windows, the type of table you chose in your kitchen (or inherited from your Mother) that all says something intangible about you. I can have an in depth conversation at a Carmel meeting with someone for three years, but they still know me less than if they spent three minutes inside my house.

3. Be Persistent

People will say no. Keep asking. But also know, if someone never comes to your house--that's a sign. Don't worry that they like hate you personally, but just know that don't really have space in their life for friendship, so don't get your heart broken over their inattentiveness.( I think this is especially important since a lot of times Catholic families have super dynamic stuff going in their lives like post-NICU babies or kids newly diagnosed with autism. So truly you can't take rejection of your cute party invitees personally).

4. Invite the whole family

Sometimes I like to do "Moms Only Teas". Which is probably selfish, but I just enjoying being able to carry on a long conversation without chasing after a toddler occasionally and I assume other Moms do too. But other than my selfish teas, any time we invite someone over, we invite the whole family. Catholic families are so cool because sometimes they are huge! It is a delight. One six invited over, makes an instant party! Usually I know the Mom and kids, more than the husband. I love getting to know the "Dads".

 I think that large families  (or smaller families with lots of tiny kids) rarely get invited over because its such seen as such a burden to host them. Nothing is farther from the truth. Large families are self-entertaining, content with hot dogs, AND the guests will take care of entertaining your kids. A calm Catholic middle school kid will go lead a game of hide and seek outside entertaining all of your own little ones for hours.

5. Invite a Priest to your house.

Priests are also incredibly busy--so snag them early. Invite over a seminarian (who always needs a home cooked meal) or a newly ordained priest. They have more time and more excitement. And my dear priests, I wish you would schedule more home visits. Invite YOURSELF over to our homes. That's how you get to know us and how we get to know you!

6. Fuss, but not too much.

When you do a little prep work (pull out the nice china hiding in your cabinet, buy flowers at the grocery store) you immediately put the guest at ease. I remember a priest was very worried about imposing when he came to follow up on a religious conversation with coffee at our house. The fact that I had set a nice table, put him at ease. He was expected. He was wanted. All of this effort would have gone to waste if he hadn't shown up.

At the same time, don't be fake! If you have a colicky baby, do not straighten up the living room before the nice lady comes with a hot meal for you. She's bringing you dinner because you have a new baby. You can open the door with a smile and invite her to sit at a messy breakfast table. (which I did this week and had a delightful one conversation).

Ridiculous "over fussing" makes you grumpy. It makes women "hate to entertain."

Tag. You're it Joann. (You can just write some comments b/c I think your so gifted in this area, but right now you're busy entertaining a newborn son)


  1. Thanks for this entry - you made a lot of good points. Being a good hostess is something I need to work on as well!

  2. Love these thoughts, Abigail. My husband and I enjoy entertaining (it does help keep common areas of the house cleaner than the bedrooms!) and it is the best option for us to keep in touch with friends now that we have small children who go to bed at 7:30 p.m. or nurse every 2 hours.

    I especially agree with you on #2 - the intimacy of having guests at your home. I was thinking of this recently with the new translation of the Mass and "Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof." And those glimpses of a family's life you see in their home (the books they own, your mother's dining room table, the type of art on your walls, etc) are all conversation starters in a way that a neutral place like the park or Starbucks could never be.

  3. First, my heart broke in two reading about how no one came to your daughter's party. As much as that would hurt if it were my own party, it would hurt me a thousand times more if it happened to my child. One time a kid didn't want to play with C at a play area and I almost cried! Haha. So I'm so sorry that happened but you have an awesome attitude about it. And thank God for the mom and child who did come and that your daughter had a good time.

    Second, I love this. My problem is I am too insecure to invite anyone over. I assume they would never want to and fear the rejection. We do throw birthday parties and baptism parties and things like that (my husband is VERY social) and I really want to invite a few moms and kids over during the day one of these days (although I keep putting it off because I'm embarrassed of our back yard.. I know, that's not a good excuse!) but the thought of inviting someone over individually, with their family, scares me! But that's not very hospitable, I guess. I need to put myself out there more. We do have friends over every Thursday night for dinner, so maybe that counts?? ;)

  4. WOW, ABIGAIL this is so amazing. I knew you knew about Christian Hospitality. We live in a little community it is a "Cooperative" Housing situation...we have been slowly trying to reach out to our neighbors,,,with small acts of kindness. We have yet to have anyone upstairs (we live in a upstairs unit) but with the birth of the baby we have seen so much fruit...a half a dozen or more of our neighbors have stopped by to give us beautiful gifts, books, clothes, treats, it just brings tears to my eyes. We plan to promenade around the courtyard soon and to show off the babe as soon as Toddler Ann's chicken pox go away!

    Hospitality, I realize, can happen anywhere...on the street, at the post office box, in an office...with the ultimate goal of yes having it occur over the kitchen table.

    When I was a missionary I use to help immmigrants apply for visas, green cards, get out of jail, feed their families, etc...many of them would invite me over to the apartments (basement rooms in horrible building in the South Bronx) to "thank me." I still remember all the beautiful occassions of hospitality these humble and poor folks would display.

    I still have yet to have eaten tostadas as tastey as those made by my these people who would fry up a batch of tortillas for me--the only thing they had in their houses--when I would stop by with a package or paperwork to help them fill their forms out.

    And, the joy of their simple birthday parties, these are the treasures I miss from my days as a missionary in my 20's. Hospitality was ALL that we had to give one another. And, it was so satisfying and so uplifting.

    A million times more so than anything material wise.

    The poor know this.

    I am going to work on my hospitality again!!!!

  5. Too cool Joann. Hope you write more about your missionary experience with hospitality soon. So fascinating!