With gloved hands I pull the chicken casserole from the oven. To my own amazement, I didn’t burn it. Relief fills me.
I have only fifteen minutes before our guests arrive, so I take a special packet of seasoning and carefully sprinkle a fine layer over the casserole. I step back to admire my handiwork, and for the first time in my life, I’ve actually cooked something edible.
My husband rounds the corner and gasps, “Why did you cover it with that seasoning? You’ve ruined it!”
“What are you talking about? It’s perfect!”
“Denise, the family had one request: no MSG. And that seasoning is full of MSG.”
“I don’t understand. What in the world is MSG?”
He rattles off some multi-syllabic word that resembles something from biology class a couple decades ago. Apparently, it’s a chemical. The family I’m cooking for is allergic to it, and I’ve dusted the entire casserole with it.
So we order pasta to-go from Olive Garden and welcome our guests with the latest story of my cooking failures.
When it comes to hospitality, I have this deep yearning to open the doors of my home, to welcome newcomers in, to widen my circle of friends. The very idea of hospitality warms me straight through.
Except for the cooking part.
I don’t like to cook — probably because my failures in the kitchen far exceed my meager successes.
For years, my conundrum left me feeling disqualified from most hospitality conversations. Whenever I tried to join a conversation about hospitality, the discussion inevitably turned to food and recipes and cooking tips. I’d slink into the background, hoping nobody noticed me trying to join the hospitality crowd.
When it comes to food prep, I don’t have much to offer.
I once attended a church where there was an official hospitality team, and I eagerly joined the score of volunteers. On Sunday mornings, the team showed up extra early to set a beautiful table of pastries and to brew large vats of coffee. By the time people arrived at church, the donuts and coffee were ready to serve. But I’m not a coffee drinker and don’t have a clue as to what it’s supposed to taste like, so I felt pretty inept around the hospitality team.
All I could do was offer to taste test the donuts.
I tried to give up this crazy notion that hospitality and I belong together, but then my church invited everyone to take one of those test-like inventories to determine your spiritual gifts. My test results said hospitality is one of my primary spiritual gifts — except I couldn’t remember any of the test questions asking if I knew how to marinate chicken or whip up some tasty enchiladas.
Something was amiss, and I didn’t know how to reconcile my desire to practice hospitality with my woefully deficient culinary skills.
To remedy my problem, I purchased cookbooks with the hope of figuring out the whole kitchen thing, but the recipes called for ingredients I didn’t even know where to find in the grocery store. Have you ever seen ginger root in its natural form? I finally had to ask the produce manager to show me where they hid it. I brought some home that day and just stared at it, wondering why God ever created such a thing in the first place.
I pictured God sitting on His throne, with the angelic host gathered round, all of them up there having a good laugh, while I stared helplessly at my new ginger root.
Eventually, my cookbooks ended up on a high shelf, and that ginger root was never to be seen again. I accepted my lack of culinary prowess and decided that whenever a clipboard is passed around church, asking us to sign up to take a meal to a family, I’ll let the clipboard pass me by. If a family is hurting, then I certainly wouldn’t want to add to their pain by bringing them one of my meals.
Instead, I chose to focus on the things I can do.
On Sunday mornings, I can keep an eye out for first-time visitors so I can say hello. In the nursery, I can offer to hold a crying infant so the tired mom can sit through service without her child’s number flashing on the screen. At Bible study, I can invite the new gal to sit at my table.
And I’m constantly offering my home for gatherings. Whether it’s a moms group or a prayer group or a Bible study group, I love opening my home and inviting others in. I love making others feel welcome. And if food needs to be served? I buy it — without shame.
Over time, I’ve learned that hospitality can include a wonderful spread of food that’s been prepared with hands that delight to serve in that way, but more than anything, hospitality is about creating a space to make others feel welcomed and know they’re wanted. And that’s what I love doing most.
How do you practice hospitality?
Hospitality is about creating a space to make others feel welcomed and know they’re wanted. -@DeniseJHughes: Click To Tweet
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Kim Atkinson says
Oh my goodness! This is me! This spoke so much to me! Thanks for broadening the sphere of hospitality!!
Michele Morin says
An open heart and an open home! I’m sure God and the angels have moved on from the ginger root thing and are now high-fiving over your understanding of hospitality.
My cooking is serviceable (definitely quantity over quality for all these years), my housekeeping ranges from derelict to inhabitable (we do not require guests to update their tetanus shots before coming), and my decorating prowess runs toward simple and easily dustable, but I am thankful for a home to offer up and for love enough to spare.
Thank you for sharing your own practices and thoughts here as a remedy for all the images and posts that make perfection the standard for hospitality.
Your description of housekeeping really made me giggle…thanks for the smile!
Michele Morin says
I’ve decided to be light hearted about it, so thanks for joining me in that.
On the one hand, I want to serve my family well, but the truth is that there are so many other things I find more compelling than vacuuming and dusting.
Beth Williams says
Love your joculaity today–both the ginger root & housekeeping. I agree that life is too short to worry about a perfectly clean home. Sure sweep & dust some, but then move on to family & other things. Your comments bless me immensely!
Michele Morin says
I think we’re in the same housekeeping camp. . .
Blessings to you!
Nicole Goodly says
It warms my heart to be hospitable to others but I never really knew that it was a spiritual gift. Thank you for this message.
Well, I may know what MSG is… but I’m not a great cook. And I am definitely a messie – with a cat that sheds. (and I can jam the vacuum without even trying!) But, like you, hospitality does show up in my “gifts”. I am always trying to make “new” people feel more comfortable at work or church… but when I bought my little house, I wanted to use it for hospitality. And I want it to be neat and somewhat clean before I invite people in…so frequently, people don’t get invited over! Last month in church, I had a thought pass through my mind…hey, my house is still fairly neat after Christmas, I should invite over…but what would we eat? (Along with being cooking-challenged, my budget is pretty tight as well!) hmm…I could have a “tea”…I could invite them to bring their Mom’s (who are friends as well) and their small daughters… In the past, when I’ve had an idea like that, I’ve let it go, but this time, I got up after church, walked over to my one friend and told her my idea. (accountability!) And we settled on a date… I pulled out my mother’s teacups and my pretty dishes and made egg salad and ham/cheese sandwiches with the crusts cut off and “lemon squares” (I’ve always been able to handle dessert baking!). We had a marvelous time. And no one had to know that a “tea” was way easier than a meal where I actually had to cook food! Maybe I’ve found my sweet spot 🙂
Pearl Allard says
Trudi, I love your tea party idea! That sounds way easier and more fun. 🙂
Beth Williams says
Way to go girl!! Hospitality is about feeling welcome & wanted not about the “perfect” meal or home!!
Keep up the good work!!!
I actually like to cook but have learned over the years, that you can work to do one of two things, impress people or make them feel welcome. People feel much more welcome in the cozy imperfect with a transparent authentic hospitality than a Pinterest perfect home and menu. My last get-together…the power went out the night before but coworkers were looking forward to coming so I opened the door anyway and put a flashlight in the bathroom
Over time you’ll learn what your God-given gifts and talents are. I believe our individual gifts make up the Body of Christ. My friends have taught me how to say what I am good at and what I’m not. And we rely on each other to make up each other’s “deficiencies” usually defined by the way we see it. I love how you sought to serve in other ways instead of giving up!
I am British. I married an American and have lived in America for 38 years happily married. When I came to America I learned very quickly that all social events revolve around food. My husband was raised Mennonite and so was used to fabulous cooking and a clean and tidy home.
I do believe I have the gift of hospitality however I felt totally in adequate with the women who surrounded me. However I very quickly learned that they all loved the idea of afternoon tea and wanted to have British tea done “the right way”. I decided to do hospitality my way. I did not try to compete with their immaculate homes and fabulous cooking. I made tea. I closed my blinds lit a candle played some quiet worship music with no words and invited a few women into my space. I just served British tea and used my china cups from home. Fellowship, laughter, ministry and fun followed.
I still worried about my home not being perfect but I soon learned they did not care. I gave them my time and my tea. I used to say “ if you find some dust which you probably will, write your nam in it and I will pray for you when I dust”.
God will show us how He can use us and the writer of this article definitely learned how to give hospitality with her own unique gifts.
That a good idea “ if you find some dust which you probably will, write your nam in it and I will pray for you when I dust”. 🙂
Beth Williams says
God bless you!! Thank you for offering your British Tea & lovely home to women! We just want to come & be friends no pretenses!! God wants us in community no matter the size, type of home you have. Just have friends over & chit chat for a spell!!
Lynn Koukal says
I like that about “if you find some dust around write your name in it and we’ll pray for you” lol
I belonged to a womens bible study group and once a month someone would host a time in their home. We sll brought our own brown bag of lunch, and the hostess supplied the dessert, tea, and coffee. I just loved the fellowship with other women, and sometimes the hostess used different tea or coffee cups. Women are usually so natural in conversation and have a genuine heart to care and pray.
I cherish those memoies. We should sll just be ourselves, that’s the interesting thing about being individuals who have “life” in common to share.
I really enjoyed your story. When it comes to the kitchen I too have had my share of mishaps that I can now laugh about. It’s good that you’ve learned, and have shared, that hospitality comes in many different forms. It’s about us reaching out to others, and not about us trying to prepare a perfect meal. Thank-you for sharing with us this with us……
I hope that you all have a good day,
Thank You for this post!! It is so me!! I have all these same feelings. I would love to entertain, but I feel like I can’t because I am not a good cook at all. I hate when someone I love is struggling and everyone is offering to prepare meals and I just don’t want to go there. I have now started giving gift cards to local restaurants because I think sometimes they are overloaded with food and by giving a gift card can use it anytime.
Elsa Seidel says
As I get older, 76, preparing a big meal for guests, is becoming more exhausting. A tea sounds great as does several varieties of pizza delivered. I like the idea of gift cards to restaurants as Tara suggested. As to a “perfect house”, I have a cross-stitched sign given to me by a friend which announces, “You may touch the dust, but please don’t write in it.” And hospitality can be extended outside the home also. Last night we listened to our waiter share a bit about his life and then prayed with him at our table.
Appreciate your post. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to invite someone over. Thanks for your sincere post. very helpful! 🙂
Jill M Richardson says
Thanks, Denise. You are so right! Cooking is not my spiritual gift–and my whole church knows it! But that’s not at all what it’s all about!
I loved the story and all the comments. You all made me laugh and brightened my day! I am an avid baker and do the hospitality at our church on Sunday mornings, after having spent most of Saturday baking lovely little cakes to put out with the coffee. Sometimes the Saturday baking does not meet my expectations and my family is happy to eat those items that don’t meet my “standards”. I’m off to the kitchen now to do baking for a church event being held tomorrow, too. I love to open to my home to guests but we don’t do that as often as we could. I don’t enjoy dusting and cleaning and working to make our home as spotless as I think it should be. You all have shown me I need to let that go! I have a little cross stitched verse, too, reminding me that “dust is a protective covering for furniture”. Bless you all for making my day!
Working full time twelve hour shifts at a local hospital, my schedule is less than consistent. The only “constant” in my life IS change. Weekly bible study? Out of the question because I never have a set day off. If asked to host a party or shower, I usually am frantically searching for someplace BESIDES my house to hold it. With 3 cats, one of whose fur is so fine textured it weaves into any fabric at 10 paces away, many folks prefer not entering our domicile thanks to their allergies. Our house can best be described as lived in! So my “hospitality” is limited to social media. And there are days I fail miserably at that. I also can relate to the challenges some face with cooking…there is a magnet on my refrigerator that says “dinner is ready when the smoke alarm goes off.” Not kidding. Literally is the truth 3/4 of the time! (The other 1/4 is either a miracle or we have cold sandwiches!)
Bless you Denise for writing this. Glad to see that many of us share the same foibles…and faith.
Beth Williams says
God will bless you for attempting hospitality. Working 12 hr. shifts is hard enough much less the changing schedules of hospitals. Most people don’t care about the food. Get something catered or from the store. It is more about being with ones you love & enjoying some good time together!
Beth Williams says
Loved this post!! I can cook pretty well-everyday foods. Don’t expect gourmet meals & fine china. My motto is “Martha Stewart” doesn’t live here. You get plain Jane with me. God wants us in community with each other. Decorating is not my thing at all. I keep a fairly clean house. Hospitality is more than a Pinterest perfect home. It is about community. Women coming together to just sit & talk. A way to get to know each other more. Most women don’t want to see a picture perfect neat & tidy home. They want to see lived in & love flowing. That is the main ingredient to hospitality.
One suggestion Denise: when the “clipboard” is passed around for a meal-you can give money to someone to help out & let them handle the cooking. I have given money to our church’s Food fund. That way others can cook/buy what’s needed & you can still get credit. Also you can offer to get drinks or jsut buy the meal somewhere.
BTW: What the heck is ginger root? I use everyday spices. I don’t like coffee either!!
I love to host Pastors, Missionaries, Guest Speakers in our home. On the “Spiritual Gifts” test host/hospitality was my #1. I have never been shy & I love to cook. Now I tell everyone I invite that I am not a fancy “gourmet” cook. I am a “southern” cook. Meats, fresh veggies, homemade desserts. Funny thing is I am hosting several Pastors for lunch in a couple of weeks. The lead Pastor speaking at the conference jokingly ask if I was going to cook for him. Of course, I told him I would be happy to feed them. My husband is a Pastor so I have been doing this going on 30 years now. I enjoy it but have had to slow down some because of some health reasons.
Afton Rorvik says
What a great reminder that hospitality comes from the heart and not from the oven! Thank you!
Claudia Thompson says
I love your story because it shows being authentic, being open as a means of sharing of yourself with others. God can use all circumstances in our lives.