As soon as I answered the phone, I knew she was sad. The pause. The catch in her voice. “Sweet friend, are you o-kay?” Then the floodgates opened and the tears came in earnest. My friend was having a crisis and so I quickly offered the refuge of our home.
As I put on the tea kettle and sliced up some banana bread, I thought about the power of hospitality. I think we get it all wrong sometimes. Too often, we confuse “entertaining” with hospitality. I can’t tell you how many times I have run around my house in the hour before guests come: yelling at my kids, trying to make everything perfect, wondering if my home and all its “stuff” will measure up. In the hurry of making all the outward stuff just right, I leave the inside stuff – my own heart – a mess.
But on this day, my focus was on my friend. I didn’t have time to rush around making things perfect. I can’t remember if my bathrooms were sparkling clean that day or if I had dust bunnies under my couch. I do remember that I had my favorite Fernando Ortega CD playing to calm her heart. That I chose one of my favorite tea pots to show her honor. That I was able to pray for her as she drove over. That the tea was peach and it gave a warm aroma to the room. That my couch was comfy and welcoming. That it was good to talk together for a few hours in the quiet of early afternoon.
Her visit was a reminder to me that hospitality is really more a posture of the heart than a to-do list. My heart has to be open and inclined to serving others. I have to be looking for opportunities to be used by God to bless and encourage others. And, while it’s not about the long list of hostessing necessities, developing that posture does require some intentionality. It doesn’t just happen haphazardly.
It means that I leave some margin in my life so that I have the time to open my home at the last minute. Every second isn’t planned. It means that I’m home sometimes. I’m not always running around at some big event but I’m here, looking to the ways of my household. It means that I plan ahead. I have tea stocked and the ingredients for scones on hand. And, it means that my home isn’t a cluttered mess all the time. I might have dust bunnies but there is room to sit down and take a deep breath.
It doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It doesn’t require a huge budget or a large house. It doesn’t mean you’ve watched Martha Stewart or read Emily Post. It doesn’t even assume you’ll always know what to do or say.
As I look back on that afternoon, my heart is full. I’m glad I was home and that we were able to share this bit of her life together.
I’m also mindful that my daughter is always watching. She’s taking her cues from me and learning what it means to be a woman. I hope that she’s already learning to cultivate a heart of hospitality. I pray that God will help her learn even from my mistakes – from the times that I’m harried and focused on the wrong stuff. Someday I’ll pass my teapots along to her and I hope she’ll pour many cups and encourage many hearts along the way. What a legacy that would be in this busy, materialistic culture of ours.
I think she’s at least catching a glimpse. Just the other day she invited me up from my basement office and I found her on the back patio pouring me a cup of tea. The teapot was plastic and the “tea” was water. But the posture was just right.