There’s a tradition around our house. It’s been in place for a while now. We serve dinner on paper plates. Actually, we usually just do this when we don’t want to do the dishes. When we do, someone will get the “star plate.” That’s the plate that has a small star drawn on the bottom of it. We shuffle the plates like a deck of cards so no one knows who’s getting the star plate. Getting this plate is a big deal, because whoever ends up with it gets to pick what we have for dessert. It’s really nothing other than getting to choose between a scoop of ice cream or a handful of grapes. But for the one who gets to choose, they’re given the ultimate power and everyone knows it. It’s all done in fun, but you should hear the paper plate trash talk before we discover who got the plate. What we like the most is that in the end, everyone wins.
Practicing hospitality right where we are with the people we love is always a good place to start giving away our love. Especially when we use what we have and do with it what we can. Whether we use paper plates or fancy china, no one really cares what the place settings look like if a person is sitting where they’re loved. It’s a reminder to me that we buy the plates, but love sets the table.
I have a friend whose favorite word is with. I bet that’s one of God’s favorite words too. I can see why. God wanted to be with us, so He sent Jesus. He even named Him Immanuel, God with us, so that we would know He meant it. When Jesus left for heaven, He told His friends the Holy Spirit would be with them.
With. With. With.
The Bible is like a manual in that way, teaching us how to be with each other in the same way Jesus was with us: fully, completely, and sacrificially.
The concept of being with one another is both easy and difficult. At our core, I think we all want to be with the ones we love, in the same way Jesus was with His people. There are more than a few ways we do this, but hospitality is one that resonates best with me. The very nature of hospitality finds its footing in love.
Many of us put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be hospitable, but that pressure doesn’t really belong—it’s inconsistent with the goal. The world sets high standards, but in God’s economy perfect hospitality is synonymous with tremendous love.
I have the same insecurities we all have. Maybe even more. Inviting people in isn’t always easy for me. One time when my kids were young, we hosted the ambassador of a country in our home. When we heard he accepted our invitation, I was terrified. The ambassador and his family would be traveling to San Diego to see us, and they would be arriving in two weeks. I was honored they were coming, but our home was still a work in progress. My mind was spinning. I calculated whether there would be enough time to remodel the kitchen, lay down sod, grow a few new trees, paint the house, and repave the driveway. Perhaps. We didn’t have much time. I imagined them pulling up in a black limousine adorned with little flags above the headlights.
I wondered if we would need to provide security.
Would they have guns? Would we need guns? I wasn’t sure.
On top of thinking I needed to make the house perfect and their lives safe, I thought I’d better learn to cook something gourmet.
I wondered and worried about all of this for days. All the time, my insecurity level approached code red. Nothing in life had prepared me for this. I didn’t have the proper training, prior experience, a butler, or a chef. All our family had was ourselves, a stack of paper plates, and a modest home. All we could really offer was our friendship and love. Deep down, I knew it would be enough.
Some time later, the ambassador and his family pulled into the driveway in a rented minivan. They looked like a family on vacation from Ohio. As it turns out, our guests weren’t expecting us to be anything other than what we were when we first met. No one would have eaten any of the fancy food I thought I was supposed to prepare, and pizza was at the top of everyone’s favorite food list. Who knew? When we’re ourselves, it gives others the freedom to be who they are too.
After dinner, our kids got out a bag of balloons, inflated them, and decorated the ambassador’s seven-year-old son from head to toe. When they finished, they twisted even more balloons into the shape of a crown, a shield, and a sword. The look of delight on this young boy’s face was priceless. I think the world needs more people covered in balloons. Love and laughter heals our souls and warms our hearts no matter who or where you are.
All of this was a good reminder to me that inviting people into our lives doesn’t start with worry and stress. It starts with a desire for connection. Hospitality is always a matter of the heart; it’s not the condition of our home.
Excerpted from Love Lives Here by Maria Goff. Used with permission from B&H.