Chili and cornbread is my go-to meal in the fall. It’s easy, it feeds many, and most ingredients can be kept on hand in the event that you have an unexpected guest. But best of all, it’s almost impossible to mess up. This is good news for a girl like me. I’ve been known to make birthday cake that turned out looking like a third grade science experiment, sweet potato casserole that looked like it belonged in the toilet rather than the Thanksgiving table, and I’ve misread a lasagna recipe that resulted in my buying twenty packets of meatloaf seasoning mix, thinking it was some sort of freeze dried meat (yes, that’s true, but that’s a story for another day). If you’ve been graced with meals at the Poblete home, I know you’re laughing right now, because you know how true this is.
Cooking for people in our home has felt similar to what I imagine attempting to master a perfect swing in golf feels like. It has required the art of learning through imperfection and failure. There have been some great successes peppered throughout some embarrassing mishaps. Along the way, I’ve been forced to confront my counterfeit understanding of what true hospitality looks like.
For me, good hospitality meant a well-cooked meal and a welcoming home. Growing up, I always pictured my adult-self being the epitome of housewife perfection. I envisioned elegantly decorated tablescapes and thoughtfully curated gourmet meals. I anticipated an open door policy where anyone was welcome to come and stay until whenever because our house would always stay immaculately clean and I would always have fresh baked cookies cooling on the counter and homemade granola in the pantry in case anyone decided to stay overnight. What else would I do with all the time on my hands?
The first time we ever hosted a dinner party in our home though, I was confronted with the reality that I was far off the mark I had set. We lived in a tiny one bedroom apartment. The main living space was crammed with a random assortment of folding tables and metal chairs with mismatched tablecloths and paper plates (because we didn’t have enough of the real stuff to serve more than six at a time). I remember feeling so connected to the dishes I was cooking and the environment I was creating. It felt like an extension of myself and I instantly felt vulnerable, exposed, and determined to impress. Everything seemed to go wrong that night. Dinner was two hours late (who knew vegetables took so long to chop)? The chicken was overcooked, the dipping sauce was missing a key ingredient that left it tasting bland and looking like a greenish-yellowish mystery, and at the end of the night I discovered that I had neglected to clean the bathroom which meant the mirror was covered in water spots and the sink had bits of dried blue toothpaste stuck to the bottom of it. Yuck.
Over the years I’ve been given many more opportunities to open wide our doors and welcome people into our home. In fact, church planting has made this a part of everyday life for our family. While this hasn’t resulted in any well-trained skills in the art of entertainment or cuisine, it has served as the school of sanctification that the Lord has used to awaken me to the beauty of biblical hospitality.
In our home, there have been many underwhelming meals shared over a simple table with an assortment of dear friends that wept before us, laughed alongside us, and chatted with us well past our bedtimes. Along the way, we have made it a practice to rehearse the true meaning of hospitality again and again because our hearts can so often miss the whole point. Here are a few things we try to remind ourselves often:
People are not looking to be impressed, they are longing for a place to belong.
In our culture, the words “hospitality” and “entertainment” can be used interchangeably but they couldn’t be more different. While there is nothing wrong with cooking a delicious meal or creating a beautiful tablescape, the motive behind these efforts is what makes these two words categorically different. Something I try to ask myself often is, “what do I hope our friends will feel when they walk into our home?” and “what do I hope to leave them with when we part?” Hospitality is not about impressing others, it’s about serving others. Shauna Niquest said it best, “Hospitality is when someone leaves your home feeling better about themselves, not better about you…hospitality is about serving, not performing; creating space, not taking the stage; being with, not showing off for.”
Be present and practice the art of asking good questions.
Having a hospitable disposition means being more about the person across from you than you are about yourself. In our home, we have tried to lead our conversations with a lot of initiating questions. It is far too easy to dole out advice, make quick assumptions, or try to find areas of relatability so that we can share our own experience. It is much harder to ask good questions that pursue the heart and foster genuine understanding. Some questions that we find ourselves asking often are: “what is an attribute of God that has been encouraging your heart in the midst of this?,” “how did that make you feel?,” “what is this teaching you about yourself?,” or “how is the gospel comforting you right now?”
Hospitality is a family ministry.
When our oldest started talking we were confronted with a new challenge, conversation with others is really difficult with a toddler around. With two children 3 and under, our house is a noisy chorus of giggles, whining, screeches, and chatter. There have been many interrupted conversations, meltdowns at the dinner table, and so many messes to clean up. At times it feels far too easy to flip on the television or send the kids to grandma and grandpa’s for the night. While it can be nice to have adult conversation from time to time, a lifestyle of hospitality means you are inviting others into your home and into your life. It’s not only a benefit to those being welcomed but also for our children to learn how to welcome others into their home. Our children have had to learn to share their toys with new friends, greet newcomers at the door, share in conversation with strangers at the dinner table, and make friends with people three times their age. Hospitality is one of the first ways that our children have been gifted with the opportunity to serve the local church and it has stretched all of us in good ways.
Invite the outsider in.
In Jen Wilkin’s article, Why Hospitality Beats Entertaining, she identifies the primary way we can see our motivations in hospitality fleshed out. Wilkin says:
Only the [hospitable] would invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind to pull up a chair and sip from the stemware (Luke 14:12–14). Our motives are revealed not just in how we set our tables, but in who we invite to join us at the feast. Entertaining invites those whom it will enjoy. Hospitality takes all comers.
One of the ways we try to invite the outsider in is by having people in our home that are nothing like us. Our dinner table has been filled with people of different generations, ethnicities, religious leanings, upbringing, and life stages on a regular basis.
Rhythms of retreat and rest are necessary for good hospitality.
We cannot be truly hospitable if we are not first sitting with the one who has been hospitable to us. We did not belong in God’s place, but he made a way to invite us to feast at his table. Not only did he invite us to his table, but, through his Son, he made us a part of his family. Just as Jesus often retreated to be with his Father, or found time to be with his twelve closest friends, all the more we should fight for time like this ourselves.
For our family, this means that we have set up regular rhythms in our lives that include days where we don’t have people over so that we have space for togetherness with one another and space for our own private devotional life. Hospitality is not always convenient and will be unexpected at times. We can’t always be rigid with our schedule but we try to make a point to pencil in days of family time, alone time, and date time.
On weeks where our schedule has unexpectedly been filled with lots of hosting we will make sure the following week has time blocked off for just us. There are also seasons where hospitality may be less consistent than others or look different. For example, in this season of pregnancy, I’ve been really sick, which means we are eating out a lot more and inviting others to join along.
All of the things I just shared are merely encouragements that have tethered our family back to the root of why we are doing what we do. I have them written on a crumpled piece of paper that I go back to again and again. Like a tried and true recipe for biblical hospitality. It is smattered with an assortment of colors from the various dishes I’ve cooked in the past. It tells the story of a woman who is desperate to remember the whole point. I’ve missed it more times than I’d like to admit. Again and again, they have given this imperfect hostess a lot of hope.
*This post was originally posted on the Homegoing blog.