A few weeks ago my husband and I invited a Trinity professor and his wife over for dinner. The professor is a theology scholar and the first reader for my husband’s dissertation. He and his wife had already hosted us at their home, and we were eager to return the gesture. Except for this one thing…
The dinner was TOTALLY FREAKING ME OUT.
First of all, let me just say that his wife is French. And by golly, she cooks like it! Everything she prepared for us at her home was so so delicious. The food was flavorful and inviting and warm. It was the perfect canvas for good conversation and a delightful evening.
I, on the other hand, am a barely average cook, so I felt an unbearable load of pressure. The bar had been set, and I would not meet it. I knew that. It was a fact. Forget serving fine wines and cheeses–I would be lucky if the food tasted just ok. I was striving for “how about I don’t give them food poisoning.”
Ok so I have never actually poisoned anyone (to my knowledge), but I do have an inferiority complex about the kitchen. I don’t know why, but that is one area of my life where I feel terribly insecure. I love having people over, but I hate cooking for them, which creates an awful tension. Rather than look forward to the gift of fellowship, I become extremely anxious about it.
To be quite honest, I feel like my womanhood is on the line.
Around the time I was freaking out about my guests, I interviewed Ann Voskamp about her latest book. You can read the interview here, but I want to highlight something particular that she said. I had asked her how she was handling the fame brought on by her first book, which was a New York Times Bestseller. Before its publication, Ann had led a relatively quite life on a farm, and she has one of the gentlest, most peaceful souls. I was curious about whether she’d held on to that Christ-founded peace as the world began pressing in.
This is what she said:
“My husband is Dutch, and his family, when you sat down to eat food at the table, you never left the table until you ate living bread and drank living water. They never left the table until they’d read Scripture together. So morning, lunch, suppertime, Scripture was always read at the table, and then there was prayer to close.
“When we got married, that was what we did. You never left the table until you ate the Living Bread. As the topography and landscape of our lives have changed, and as our kids have gotten older and their schedules and lives have changed, that has been an anchor for us, tying Scripture reading to something that everybody does. We eat no matter how crazy it gets. Tying Scripture reading to meals has kept Christ at the center of our home and our family. We’re always going to break real bread together.”
In a section of the interview that was edited out for publication, Ann actually elaborated on this point by contrasting the living bread of Christ with the food we eat at meals. No matter how good food looks and tastes, it is “dead food,” as she put it. It is dead in a literal sense, but it is also dead in the sense that it does not give us true life. That is why, as a family, Ann and her husband are intentional about feasting on the Bread of Life and the Living Water of Christ at every meal.
Through Ann, God spoke to my heart. For all the Pinterest boards and Instagram feeds that make me feel so inadequate in the kitchen, none of those dishes can capture the heart of hospitality and Christian fellowship. Hospitality is not about inviting people into a beautiful home, and it’s not even about the kind of food you serve. Of course, those things are all well and good (after all, Jesus delivered his final words to his disciples over a meal), but as Christians we have something far richer to offer than a delectable plate.
As Christians, we offer Living Water and the Bread of Life. We invite one another to come feed on the One who truly satisfies.
That conversation with Ann re-shaped my expectations for our dinner guests. I prayed that they would feel welcome, that they would feel loved, and that they would encounter Christ in our home. We didn’t read Scripture around the table, but we did consume matters of substance, and we fed on truths that sustain. Christ was present between us, and that was what made the evening count.
Since then I’ve given a lot of thought to what worldly hospitality looks like, in contrast with Christian hospitality. One difference, I think, is the purpose. Worldly hospitality seeks to impress and put on; Christian hospitality seeks to welcome and love. Worldly hospitality is about the person hosting the event, whereas Christian hospitality is about the guest.
Just think about the example that Jesus set for us: Jesus was a man without a home. Throughout his ministry, he traveled from town to town as an itinerant teacher. And yet, Jesus was still able to practice hospitality. People always felt welcome in his presence.
So, what does all of this means for us?
Some of you are master chefs. The kitchen is where you shine, and making a good meal is your love language. Some of you are like me, and cooking is your nemesis. No matter where you lie on that spectrum, remember that it’s not about the image you present. It’s not about you at all.
Instead, Christian hospitality is about welcoming your guests into the presence of Christ. When they come into your home, are they encountering the self-giving love of the gospel? Are they being nourished in a way that lifts up and sustains? Are they merely consuming “dead food”, or are they also consuming the Bread of Life?
Christian hospitality will manifest differently depending on your gifts. My gift is not cooking, but I love to listen and laugh. Those are two ways that I can give myself to my guests, to make them feel welcome and loved. I can also encourage them and speak truth to them. I can offer them the living water of the gospel.
In some ways, Jesus set the bar higher than the one I had originally set for myself. His hospitality is richer and more beautiful than anything I will ever find on Pinterest.
Yes, the bar is much higher, but the burden is so much lighter.