In 2015, at the ripe old age of 39, I have a fancy new stove, a pretty little kitchen, and grown up dinner plates to match. When I have people over for dinner, I try to make the most of those things. But it hasn’t always been this way.
The first two years I lived in my house, I cooked dinner for 20-plus people every week in a kitchen that bore more than a passing resemblance to a crack den. The walls were nothing but bare, unpainted, crumbling concrete. The floor was covered in filth that I couldn’t wash off. Only one side of the sink worked. And from there, it got worse.
Here are some not so pretty detail shots for you.
As for the meals, they were good, but simple. I mean, you try cooking fancy food for 20 people on a decades-old range with only three working burners and an absolute inability to reach an internal temperature higher than 350 degrees. Not surprisingly, we ate mostly soup and pasta.
If Pinterest were to be believed, not a single person should have shown up for those dinner parties. There were no quail eggs laced with truffle oil. People didn’t dine off china plates that I hand-painted myself. No crafty mason jar chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Mostly, there was just construction dust. And a lot of it.
Yet those 20-plus people kept coming back week after week. They didn’t care that the city probably should have condemned my kitchen. Or that none of my silverware and plates matched. All they cared about was that at my home they felt known and loved. The food helped…but really, it was just an excuse to bring people together. It was the means. It wasn’t the end.
Although, admittedly, it was a pretty tasty means.
Most of us know this. We know this because we’ve experienced it. We experienced it as children when the best house in the neighborhood was the house with the big crazy family and a yard strewn with toys. And we experience it still, every time a person opens up their house to us and spends the evening talking with us rather than laboring over the meal and dishes in the kitchen.
Unfortunately, for all that knowing and experiencing, we still forget. We get caught up in the madness of Pinterest Perfect Entertaining—making ourselves miserable in the process—or we don’t issue any dinner invitations at all. We keep our own company and leave the rest of the world to fend for itself, in the process losing out on opportunities to form and foster lasting friendships.
Well, because of cookbooks like the one I bought last week, which proudly announced on the back cover, “With this book you will always end up with something beautiful that will impress friends and family.” And because of Pinterest, Martha Stewart, and the Pottery Barn catalogue, which all communicate one message—that entertaining is about us; that it’s about our culinary skills, our decorating abilities, our photo ready home; that it’s about showing off, impressing others, and announcing to the world how absolutely fabulous we are.
Which, of course, most of us know we aren’t. We know we have dirty dishes perpetually in the sink, a broken window in the dining room, and a growing dust bunny farm in our bedroom. So, we take a pass on issuing dinner invitations, leaving such things to those more “fabulous” than we are.
But here’s the thing: Pinterest has it all wrong. Entertaining isn’t about us; it’s about the people we invite into our homes. Nor is entertaining about impressing people; rather, it’s about loving people.
In other words, the reason we invite friends and coworkers over for dinner isn’t to show off our immaculate baseboards and crystal wine glasses. It’s to laugh with them, tell stories with them, and get to know them better. It’s to strengthen old friendships and forge new ones. It is, ultimately, to show people that they matter, that they’re important, and that they’re worthy of being known and loved.
As Christians, doing that kind of entertaining isn’t optional. It’s called hospitality, and it’s something God expects all His children to do. He expects us to open the doors of our homes and invite people in so that through our love they can experience just a hint of His Love.
Doing that doesn’t demand throwing grand dinner parties in Pinterest inspired homes. In fact, it often demands just the opposite. It demands treating the people who come to us as if they’re part of our family—letting them see the mess, the chaos, and the reality of us.
Hospitality demands that because if we don’t let people see us—who we really are—there can be no real friendship. There can be no real intimacy. Intimacy requires knowledge. It flows from seeing the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. It goes part and parcel with the dust bunnies, the chipped dishes, and the toddler decorating the dining room with Macaroni & Cheese.
Right now, there is a neighbor, coworker, or friend of yours eating dinner alone. There’s also a newly married couple or newly arrived family in your parish feeling lost and overwhelmed. Or maybe it’s you eating alone, you waiting for the dinner invitation to come.
Stop waiting. Invite someone. It doesn’t have to be 20 people. It can be just one. Start small. Keep it simple. So what if your walls are covered with little kids’ handprints, your furniture dates back to the Carter Administration, or the best dinner you can muster up is spaghetti served on paper plates. That’s okay. What matters is simply you—your love, your attentiveness, your desire to make your guests part of your life, even for just a little while.
All that being said, there’s nothing wrong with handmade mason jar chandeliers. If you like making that stuff, that’s great. Go for it. If quail eggs in truffle oil are your specialty, that’s fine too. Serve them up. Heck, use the silver while you’re at it, if that makes you happy. It certainly does me.
And yes, it’s good to tidy up the house a bit before guests arrive…at least clearing the bills off the dining room table and the laundry off the living room couch. A place for guests to sit is kind of a must.
But as you do all that, don’t make the mistake of thinking those details are the essence of entertaining or hospitality. They’re not. The essence is love, kindness, and respect. The essence is simply giving people a space where they can come to know others and be known by others. That’s what makes for a successful dinner party and allows community to grow.
That’s what gives people a foretaste of the Supper to which we’re all invited: the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
(And by the way, my kitchen is much more sanitary now.)