The hostesses at my favorite local restaurants are nice and all, but they rarely do more than hold the door open, ask how many are in my party and take my name. The “head hostess” rarely even seats me; she delegates that job to someone carrying crayons and a stack of menus who must be a sub-hostess or something.
That’s not the kind of hostess I’m going to be tomorrow night.
Our women’s ministry is having a huge Birthday Party for all the women in our church and their guests tomorrow night. No, we don’t live in some time warp where every woman has the same birthday; we’re just celebrating everyone’s birthday at once. Every woman will sit at a table with other women who have their birthday in the same month. In other words, everyone with a birthday in February, like me, will sit together. The February ladies will all enjoy a meal together at tables decorated in a theme appropriate to their month of the year, in this case the Olympics, because the Olympics are in February you see.
Except I won’t be sitting at the February table.
I get the honor of hostessing the January ladies. We were having trouble getting a hostess for January who had a birthday in that month, so I volunteered. And now I get to make it a special evening for those dear ladies.
So as I put last minute finishes on the decorations (our theme is A Cold Winter’s Night and I’m decorating by using an old brown quilt as a table cloth and using lots of yo yos for things like the name tags and all) and make sure we have all the elements for a good “comfort food” meal, I’ve also contemplated what kind of hostess I want to be.
My pre-party jobs have included inviting all the ladies with January birthdays to attend, arranging for the meal by asking each lady to bring her favorite comfort food, planning the decorations, and creating a special take-home “birthday gift” for each lady. I’m finishing up all those things today and will decorate my table tomorrow at 4:00. But my job doesn’t end there.
I know me and I know how stressed out I can get over things like this, trying to make every little detail just right. I’ve already bitten of more than I can feasibly handle with the gift I’m making for my ladies and now I have a few extra responsibilities tomorrow night because one of my fellow ministry team ladies can’t be there due to a family situation and I will need to do her job as well. I can let the stress mount and I’ll be a frazzled mess tomorrow night or I can get a grip and be a real hostess.
I’m determined to do more than make things look pretty and say hello. I’m going to show real hospitality.
I was raised by Mrs. Hospitality herself. My mom was not raised with the finer things in life, but she was raised to share what she had, to make other people feel special, and to serve others. When I was growing up in her home, she demonstrated true, biblical hospitality again and again. Whether we were having someone over for an impromptu bowl of soup and a game of cards or she was hostessing a grand buffet for our church staff, she always went to the nth degree to make everyone feel like she had been anticipating their arrival, like she had pulled out all the stops just for them.
But while my mom loves to set a pretty table using her best china and flowers fresh from her rose garden, she makes sure she has all those details taken care of far in advance so that when her guests arrive they become the focus of her attention. The lemons are sliced and in a crystal bowl, the food is warm and ready, the music is playing softly and the coffee is set to perk at the designated time. My mom is sitting down and ready to greet her guests with the apron long ago discarded and the nerves and frazzled plans replaced by hospitable anticipation.
And that’s the kind of hostess I want to be tomorrow night. Instead of worrying about whether everything looks just right, I want to be more concerned that each lady at my table feels welcomed and included. In fact I want each lady to feel like her arrival has been anticipated and her company is appreciated.
First Peter 4:9 says, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” That may sound like an easy request, but anyone who has ever hosted a real shindig knows how hard it can be to show true hospitality without fretting and murmuring under your breath the whole time. I think the key is to focus on the right thing, don’t you? If I’m focused on whether the gladiolas in the center of my table are opened up enough or on whether everyone likes the gifts I made, I’ll end up being a grumpy, self-absorbed, frowny-faced hostess. But if I focus on helping each lady have an enjoyable evening then I’ll have more fun and they will too.
Decorating tables and preparing a feast are a piece of cake compared to showing true hospitality. Real hospitality, in fact, may mean serving a slightly burnt roast, forgetting to put the sliced lemons out, and dealing with a whiny kid in the middle of the meal, but still having your guests feel like they had the time of their lives. When a guest is able to overlook all the little snafus and still go home feeling like they’ve been loved on a little, the hostess has done her job.
Got any tricks for practicing true hospitality up your sleeve? I’d love to hear how you make your guests feel welcomed and anticipated. Or if you don’t do a lot of entertaining yourself, what makes you feel special as a guest? What have you experienced in the way of true hospitality that left you feeling warm and loved?