Even before we were married, my husband and I loved to host dinners for family and friends. In the last few years, as my husband has gotten even more into smoking meat (thanks to my Texas roots, this fantastic book, and our recent acquisition of an awesome smoker), we’ve become particularly fond of throwing barbecues.
But while I always enjoyed myself once the day of the event came, the truth is that preparing to host our guests used to really, really stress me out. As it turns out, the problem wasn’t with “hosting” at all, but rather being stuck in the mindset of “entertaining.”
My average entertaining process used to go a little something like this: My husband would tell me on a Tuesday, “I want to have a barbecue this weekend.” Immediately, I’d begin to sweat while I thought of everything I would need to do in preparation — from the planning, to the shopping, to the cooking, and the cleaning.
“Okay …” I would say, perhaps a little unenthusiastically, even though I knew it would end up being fun. Picking up on my hesitance, my husband would ask me if I’d rather not barbecue that weekend, to which I’d reply that “it’s just so much work for me.” “It doesn’t have to be,” he would say. It wasn’t until a few months later while reading a chapter in Emily Stimpson Chapman’s most recent book, The Catholic Table, that I realized my husband was right and that there was a serious issue with my approach to inviting people into our home.
In the The Catholic Table, Stimpson Chapman outlines the difference between being hospitable and being an entertainer. I had never heard this distinction before, so I skeptically read on to see if she was merely mincing words. She wasn’t: the two couldn’t be more different from each other.
Hospitality is done out of Christian charity and entertaining is done more out of pride. It’s our duty as Christians to be hospitable to others, inviting them into our homes and making strangers into friends, and friends into family, and Christian hospitality is actually a powerful form of evangelization.
Entertaining, on the other hand, is about impressing others, showing off our home and lifestyle like they’re some sort of glamorous image ripped straight from Pinterest or Instagram. Entertaining doesn’t necessarily care about making your guests comfortable, but it does care about making them go “wow.” Hospitality, on the other hand, seeks to make others feel at home and doesn’t care about impressing anyone with anything but warmth, kindness, and comfort.
After reading about the distinctions between the two, I realized I had been squarely stuck in the Pinterest-induced “entertainer’s” mindset, and I resolved to make a few changes. Instead of slaving in the kitchen for days ahead of time, I started politely asking people to bring something to share — whatever they wanted or were able to bring. This helped enhance the sense of community we were looking to create at our barbecues, took some pressure off of me, and helped me to see that my once-perfectly curated side-dishes had been more about stroking my vanity than about serving our friends and family.
I also started caring less about the spotlessness of my floors and more about creating an open and loving environment in which all of us could enjoy one another’s company.
After changing my mindset to one of Christian hospitality, hosting barbecues become much less stressful — and much more fun — because it made me and my husband more committed to creating an environment where our relationships with friends and family could flourish.
Summer is the season when most of us spend more time with family and friends. If the fear of the “work” of inviting people into your home is preventing you from being hospitable, take a hard look at whether or not that work is commensurate with true Christian hospitality, and consider where you can make changes to your hosting approach. Don’t be afraid to ask people to bring things and don’t be afraid of showing off your sandy or popsicle-sticky floors or damp swimsuit-laden bathrooms, which after all, are comforting signs of a summer well-spent, and will undoubtedly make your guests feel right at home. That’s what true hospitality is all about.
Hospitality is about others, not yourself