HumankindNESS: Open Heart, Open Home
By Jennifer Richardson
Remember when people used to routinely visit each others’ homes? Extending hospitality seemed predictable and normal. When I was growing up in my parents’ house, it was an odd week when our family did not have guests around our dinner table. I did not recognize it at the time, but staying in the habit of being hospitable shaped my understanding of the kind of person I needed to grow up to be. Without saying a word, my mom and dad sent the message that no adult life is complete without service. And that asking children to assist is simply normal family life, and learning to interact with others was important.
I did not want the life lesson of hospitality to stop with me. Throughout the years my own children lived at home, I always tried to emphasize the importance of hospitality. We made it a point to have guests for game nights, movie nights, pizza nights, good old-fashioned homemade food, or just brownies and a campfire. We always wanted to be an example of the fact that people are worth our time. And we wanted our children to understand giving, and serving, and caring for others.
It was in the middle of a typical week when a friend of mine recently suggested we meet for dinner. Her daughter was coming home for a visit, and it was a nice way for us all to have some time together. I managed to include my very busy spouse in the plans, and when the evening arrived we departed for the restaurant looking forward to a lovely evening. We dined a local Italian eatery, and the food was delicious and the company was even better.
I enjoyed chatting with my friend’s daughter who was in the home stretch of her college education and about to embark on the exciting time of life we sometimes call our first real job. We talked and laughed, and caught up on each other’s lives. The soft lighting, warm food, and great conversation made the delightful experience seem much shorter than it was.
But our bills arrived at the table and soon it was time to move along. I didn’t want the visit to be over, so I suggested we all gather at our home for a little more time together.
Immediately I thought of all the reasons why it might not make sense to extend the invitation. Maybe they would have other things to do. Also it was a Tuesday night, I had dishes in my kitchen sink, I wasn’t completely sure I had picked up that pile of mail that seemed to never really go away. Perhaps I should spend the rest of my evening tackling the laundry or any one of a hundred on-going household items.
None of these obstacles were as important as our friends, so off we went to our house.
We settled in to our lived-in furniture for some more fellowship and thoroughly enjoyed the next hour and a half. The laughter was infectious, and we continued the conversation we had been having at dinner. We never once turned on the television, and we didn’t consume a bite of food. We had no specific entertainment planned, but it was a wonderful evening with friends.
The next morning I was still enjoying the memory of the visit and looking around the living spaces in my house. No one had said a word about the dishes in my sink, my granddaughter’s toys that were gathered in a small heap in the living room, and the laundry basket that waited patiently for us. Once we were home and enjoying the company of good friends, these details receded into unimportant territory. It had been a great decision and a fabulous way to spend a Tuesday evening.
My husband and I had been empty-nesters for about six months then, and there were no more kids at home to teach about hospitality and service. But even with no one watching, it was more important than ever to keep the doors to our hearts and home open.
Because hospitality and all forms of service like it, are ultimately not for our guests. As much as we want our guests to enjoy it, we don’t serve because the recipients need to receive—we serve because we need to give. Dust off the pretty dishes, or pull out the brownie platter, or fire up the grill, or just pour the iced tea. Open your home and your heart; who knows the lives you may change, especially your own.