I’ve written about Sally Clarkson before and her book, The LifeGiving Home that I love. I re-visit this book monthly as it has ideas for the home and family each month. For Christmas I received The LifeGiving Table, also by Sally Clarkson, which I am so excited to read. Early on in her parenting, Sally realized that the table was a place of influence for her children, as they met there three times a day together. She saw the table as a place of discipleship – for physical and spiritual nourishment – not only for her family but for others who joined at their table. Her new book is a fun collection of ways she influenced others for God at the table, family recipes, bible study, and many examples of discipleship over food straight out of scripture. I plan to post again after I finish this book, but as I have begun reading it, I’ve been thinking and pondering about the ways we extend hospitality in our home – what works and what doesn’t. So, I thought I’d share those ideas here.
Nurturing Faith through Feasting – One Meal at a Time
This is the subtitle of Sally’s new book and it perfectly describes what happens at the table. Kenny and I enjoy entertaining for a couple reasons. First, we firmly believe in creating relationships with others over food. There are countless examples of this in scripture, but my favorite is The Last Supper where Jesus coordinated an atmosphere of privacy and comfort before serving the Passover meal. There is something magical that happens when you “break bread together”. After nourishing our physical bodies, it somehow seems easier to nourish each other spiritually and emotionally. People open up more over a relaxing dinner. We’re always quick to sit and visit rather than do dishes and clean up when people are here. That often means we’re doing dishes late into the night, but we feel it’s important. We want others to feel relaxed, to know they’re our priority, and enjoy their evening when they’re in our home.
An example of Hospitality
Secondly, we entertain often to set a good example for our kids. We want them to understand that opening our home to others is important. That sacrificing your time, energy, and food for others is critical in serving others and creating meaningful relationships. It’s also great for James and Anna to meet new friends – kids and adults – in addition to building the relationships they currently have.
While our family enjoys having people over, it doesn’t always happen easily. If I’m not careful planning our calendar, we can easily become over-committed during any given week and that isn’t good. I work hard to create “white space” on our calendar – meaning one to two days a week where we have nothing going on. As a family we need that. Especially because we’re a family with two introverts. James and I both need downtime to recharge our batteries. If we don’t have an attitude of slow combined with our desire for being busy, then we’re sunk. We’re left with a tired, cranky family. I keep a running list of families, couples, and individuals we’d like to have over which makes it easy to invite. Roughly once a month, if it works with our calendar, we invite someone over for a meal. Anything more, we’ve decided, is too much for our family.
And sometimes, having someone over a week ago sounded like a great idea, but now that the evening is here, it’s the last thing I want to do. That’s why watching the calendar is crucial – not extending too many invitations. Because I’m such an introvert, having people in our home really does exhaust me. I really enjoy it when people are here, but the minute they leave, I’m done. So, I’ve got to create a free morning the next day to rest up or clean up. And, I’m discovering that this is good practice for the kids, too. They love to go, go, go, but also need time to unwind and chill at home. Kenny, on the other hand, is a completely different bird. He is an extrovert, and by having people over, gets energized. When they leave for the evening, he is usually full of energy and needs some time to come down from his high.
During most weeks, I’ve planned our meals and shopped accordingly so having people over is not difficult. I’ve learned over the years to plan simple meals for people and to allow them to bring something when they offer. The kids enjoy having friends over too, so they are usually quick to help pick up when the hour is upon us. Kenny is a HUGE help in this area, too. While I prepare the food, he stays on top of clean up and set up – extra tables and chairs if needed. The kids help set the table, making it pretty and inviting. We’ve started the habit of using candles every night for dinner – this is an easy way to create a warm, inviting atmosphere at the table for guests. Anna especially likes to set a pretty table using cloth napkins, napkin rings, and candles. In the past for special holiday meals the kids have made place cards for each guest which is a nice touch. We’ve taught them how to greet guests at the door, take their coats, start small conversations with guests, or start playing with small children. Hospitality works because we are all on board. Our kids are learning that it takes work to have people in your home, but it is so worth it.
I get that hospitality doesn’t come easily to everyone. Some cringe at the word because they find it difficult and feel guilty for not having people over. It is not my intention to make anyone feel that way. However, I think it’s a practice we can work on and improve on by keeping it simple. Elaborate dinners, exquisite desserts, a perfect home and perfect children are not the recipe for creating hospitality. Some might think so. But for the majority of us, it needs to be simple, simple, simple. Easy meals are part of it. Even using some store-bought items instead of made-from-scratch. Often if I’ve made the main meal, I’ll pick up something for dessert. Or, order pizza or pick up take-out – your guests won’t mind. They are coming to be with you, not for an elaborate meal. During the summer-time we grill a TON when having guests. In fact, we grill as much of the meal as possible. It keeps the heat and mess outside which is great. We eat on paper plates, have ice cream for dessert, and eat on the deck. So much easier. And, kids can play in the backyard while adults continue to chat after eating. It works great. Also coming to grips with the fact that we live in this home, is important. It is not possible to keep it “show ready” at any given minute. If everything isn’t picked up, that’s okay. In fact, people want to see that you’re human in the midst of real life.
Often I will do as much as I can the day before we are having guests over. Make the dessert, prep ingredients for the main meal, etc. Then, the day of, as soon as the previous meal is finished, I set the table for guests. Typically that means that after lunch we’ll set the table for dinner guests. This past weekend we had guests over on Saturday night. Our menu was soup, salad, bread, and pumpkin pie. I wanted to make the soup and pies from scratch, so to save time I bought bagged salad and a loaf of nice bread from the store. On Friday I made the pies, then on Saturday morning I laid out the dishes and napkins, put the salad in a pretty bowl, and got out the bread basket. After lunch and rest time, we set the table so it was ready to go. Then late in the afternoon after getting myself ready I made the soup and put the bread in the basket. I planned to make the soup just slightly earlier than we needed it so I would have time to sit down and rest briefly before the doorbell rang. I have found that to be so helpful. Running around crazy right before people come over just isn’t good for me. I’ve done it before – many times – but it never serves my guests or my family. So now I plan carefully when I want the meal prep to be finished so I have that little bit of extra time.
Coffee or tea dates
And if having others over for a meal still sounds like too much, what about having someone over for coffee, tea, or dessert instead? I also keep a running list of women I like to meet with fairly regularly – friendships I want to maintain. Sometimes we’ll meet at a coffee shop, but often I like to invite them over instead. There’s just something more special about meeting in homes versus restaurants. Start small, serve a cup of coffee to a friend and maybe you’ll be energized to ask another friend over. Ask God about who He would have you reach out to.
Again, I hope these ideas spark some interest in inviting someone into your home. It is such a blessing to our family to serve in this way. We always enjoy our time with others and since it’s typically just the four of us at our table, it’s fun to mix it up and enjoy food with other people. Here’s to breaking bread together!
**Pictures are from our dinner Saturday night with our cousins and their kids