Hospitality is quickly disappearing from American life.

During the mid to late 1970s, the average American entertained 14 to 15 times a year. By the late 1990s, that figure fell to eight times per year – a decline of 45 per cent. If this trend continues, the blessing of hospitality will be nearly extinct in less than one generation.

Many people today long to exercise the time-honoured art of hospitality. But they keep bumping into some common party-poopers.

Martha, Martha

Would-be hosts are often haunted by the myth of Martha Stewart perfection. Hospitality is not about making Martha Stewart happy with you. It’s about creating an environment where people become more knowable so they can develop meaningful friendships that ward off the growing isolation in our society.

Normal people do not expect perfection from you or your home. In fact, guests are usually too delighted that someone has asked them over even to notice the dust on your mantle. We become knowable through our imperfections. People don’t relate to those who give the impression that life is perfect.

Too busy?

A reluctant spouse – usually the husband – can be a common hindrance to hospitality. Like a lot of reluctant spouses, Paul wasn’t good at keeping conversations on course. His hands would sweat as he thought about long, awkward pauses in conversations.

So Paul read a few books that helped him become a better conversationalist. He learned that asking just a few good questions can turn an average dinner party into an evening of easy, fun and budding friendships.

The breakneck pace of life today can also be a barrier to hospitality. Most people feel that they are already overcommitted and too stressed to consider entertaining guests.

There are lots of practical ways to take the stress out of hospitality:

  • Simplify meal preparation. Take advantage of the deli at your grocery store. An oven-roasted chicken or ready-to-bake lasagna presented on your own serving dishes will keep your schedule manageable and your mind from getting frazzled before company arrives.
  • Start small. We recommend groups of six (counting yourself) at first. Build from there.
  • Share the load. Arrange a potluck, and keep for yourself the part of the meal that you feel most comfortable preparing.
  • Try out new recipes ahead of time.

Getting real

Fellowship – a key element of hospitality – means different things to different couples. To some, it means formal prayer and mandatory revelation about personal matters. But we like the description in the book of Acts, which says the believers "broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts" (2:46).

When we entertain, there is always laughter, and sometimes it’s complemented by sorrow. Remarkably, we notice that people reveal more about their lives in our home than they do at church. Guests share their grief, and surprisingly, people aren’t bummed out. Many wounds have been mended inside our home and on our back patio because just stating the pain plainly has a way of softening its sting.

Rich rewards

Ultimately, hospitality is not about whether your filet is overdone or your centrepiece is to die for. Entertainment magazines and shows have set the bar too high for us mere mortals, causing us to confuse entertaining with hospitality. Entertaining is a pathway to hospitality; it should not be our ultimate goal. When it is, you can bet that the gathering is more about the host looking good than the guests being blessed.

In our culture, we often think that get-togethers and dinner parties should always be pleasant and that it’s unfortunate when someone spills a drink. We disagree. Spill away. Welcome the unpleasantness of life. Let it pour forth, not so your evening will be ruined, but so that genuine connections can be made.

Hosts who encourage their guests to bring with them their laughter and their tears, their strength and their burdens, will find friendships that are far richer than any dessert.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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