One of my fondest memories growing up with my grandmother was her old-fashioned hospitality. In these days front doors were left wide open and pantries were kept stocked with sweet delectables waiting to be shared with company over a fresh pot of hot coffee. On Sundays my grandparents’ home in suburban New Jersey was often filled with friends and family. The aroma of garlic, basil, and tomato wafted throughout the home from the homemade gravy, as us Italian Americans call it, simmering on the stove. The sounds of music playing on the record player, children laughing, and conversations flowing are still fresh in my mind as if it was only yesterday. When dinner was ready, we would all make our way around the oversized dining room table I now have sitting in my home, longing to be filled once again. Hospitality looked so much different back then. It was simple and genuine. There was no Pinterest worthy centerpieces or table spreads. There was no pressure or expectations besides “Come as you are and come hungry, because you will be eating!” When unexpected visitors graced us with their presence on weekday mornings my sister and I would rush to the door excitedly as this usually meant donuts. My grandmother, often still in her housecoat, smiled and welcomed the guests. She was tired, sometimes she wanted to just relax and not entertain, but she never made it known. Her guests would not be made to feel like burdens. My sister and I saw this type of hospitality from our own mother when our friends would overstay their welcome hoping to be asked to stay for another delicious dinner. They always were asked and they always did stay to enjoy my mom’s cooking.
When did hospitality transform from an honor to a burden? Somewhere over the years we began to shut our doors subsequently shutting people out.
We began to demand to be notified prior to stopping by, treating surprise visits as inconsiderate. Overworked and often exhausted, we choose quiet alone time over spending time with the people we love. It has become a chore to visit others and even more daunting to do the entertaining. Sunday dinners with the family began to dwindle and we now schedule out dinner with friends months, sometimes close to a year, in advance. Half the time we cancel those plans with such ease, choosing to be comforted behind closed doors in solitude. The world told us that we did not need others and our culture pushed more “me time” and less community.
The truth is this: what is of the world is usually not God’s will.
We were not only made for fellowship and community, but we NEED human connection in order to grow. The seductive draw of solitude is nothing new for humans, in fact we are even warned about this struggle in the Bible.
God’s two greatest commandments are to love God and love others. Hospitality is much more than entertaining and welcoming in guests or visitors, it is a genuine way to show love for others!
I’m about to get very real with you all. B.C. (Before Christ) Christina made a lot of choices that I am not proud of. Driven by what the world told me I deserved, I shut out and pushed a lot of people away. Not only was I a serial canceler of plans, but I was not very kind to my mother in law in the beginning of my marriage. Another thing our culture has done a pretty good job of is shining a negative light on mother in laws. Hollywood almost always depicts them as pushy and intrusive. Magazine articles are shoved in our faces on how to shut them out. Get into a group of newly married women and almost always they are sharing war stories of their “monster in laws.” The lies of the world filled my head convincing me that my mother in law’s genuine love and old-fashioned hospitality, the very same hospitality I admired in my grandmother and mother, was her way of controlling and butting in. As I have grown in my relationship with Christ, and as a mother myself, I have a fresh outlook on my mother in laws motives. I see her hospitality as her love language towards her family and friends. I have different perspectives on moments I once considered inconveniences.
It was a gorgeous August afternoon the day before Ed and I married. In the middle of a heat wave the weather cooled off for a few days leaving us with a refreshing breeze. I already had plans to get my nails done with my bridesmaids, and American tradition. My future mother in law, who was already very busy entertaining a house full of guests from Colombia to Canada, invited my mother, sister, and me over for an afternoon hot chocolate. Es chocolate caliente con queso, or hot chocolate with cheese, is a Colombian comfort staple. The sweet creamy chocolate finished with the salty, gooeyness at the bottom is truly something everyone should try at least once in their lifetime. Young and naïve (ok stupid) Christina met this invite with resistance, feeling as though my toes were being stepped on. We went, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I saw how very much blessed I was to be welcomed and invited for an afternoon with my very soon to be husband’s family from all over the world.
Dinner dates are just something we check off on the to do list as we secretly wish we were home on the couch with watching Tiger King instead. I wish I could say that was the worst Christina B.C. has done, but sadly it is not. Years later as I sat at home holding our colicky newborn baby boy my mother in law stopped over to bring us food. An act of servitude was taken with such resentment because how dare someone come to our home without calling first! It felt intrusive because that is what the world told me to think. Now I am not saying there shouldn’t be healthy boundaries, but if someone is bringing you food so you don’t have to cook, dear mama take that moment and give thanks!
A little over six weeks ago my family moved. There was going to be a two-week period where we would be in-between homes and staying with my in laws. Then Covid 19 blew up and we ended up in quarantine longer than we expected. My sweet in-laws took the time to make sure every detail was ironed out to make our stay as comfortable as possible, even giving up a large portion of their home to us. They sacrificed comfort to be hospitable, something I did not deserve. Over the next few weeks we watched the news stories highlighting these unprecedented times. We no longer have the option of leaving out doors open for visitors. We are no longer able to hug our friends and laugh over lunch. There is no small talk at our kid’s school during pickup or in the homegood aisle at Target, all things we would try to avoid. People all around us are dying alone and it really made me think about how short life is. You never know when the last time you will see someone is. You also never know when your story can save the unsaved. Every moment of hospitality is also an opportunity to bear witness. When this is all said and done, we should not only be keeping our doors wide open, but inviting strangers and friends alike to sit around the table and break bread. Our kids deserve to hear the great stories of their grandparents’ pasts, to experience Sunday dinners, and to learn that loving on people can look as simple as spending some good old fashion quality time with them. My prayer for you is that our get togethers be as sweet and savory as a warm cup of es chocolate caliente con queso.