Some teenage girls wait anxiously for the latest issue of ‘Teen Beat’ or ‘Seventeen’ to come in the mail.
I was not one of them. Oh no. Instead, every month I eagerly anticipated my mom’s latest edition of ‘Traditional Home’. This could explain why I always felt a tad out of place among my peers.
For several years running, the incomparable Dixie Carter was their writer in residence and while I loved seeing the photos of beautiful homes, what I really looked forward to was the way this genteel southern lady spoke right to my little Southern California girl heart. And while she will forever be Julia Sugarbaker from ‘Designing Women’ in my mind, I know that role was only a snippet of her life’s work.
But, I’m not really here to talk about her career.
I want to talk about what she talked about. You see, every month she shared her thoughts on life and how we interact with each other. I think it was supposed to be a kind of ‘Miss Manners’ type of series. But the reality was that her insights went way beyond understanding which utensils to use in which order at a fancy dinner.
And there was one article in particular that has stayed with me for all of these years.
In it, Dixie Carter said that the purpose of etiquette is to make others feel comfortable.
Think about that for a minute.
It’s not really about YOU. It’s about THEM.
And I’ve been thinking a lot about how this definition of etiquette is very similar to the definition of hospitality.
Or, at least what I think is the real definition.
You see, somehow in our culture, we’ve gotten it all mixed up and we think that hospitality only has to do with a home.
But, I don’t believe that.
In fact, when you get right down to the core of the meaning of hospitality, it doesn’t have anything to do with a structure at all.
And as I was ‘fluffing’ up my living room this week, I was thinking about what it means to be hospitable.
I love creating spaces that are warm and welcoming.
I love it when I find the perfect side table buried in the back of a consignment store.
Or when I move things around and finally find the best combination of items for the top of my grandmother’s china cabinet.
But, the reality is, having a pretty home isn’t really part of hospitality.
Neither is hosting fabulous parties or having the most awesome media room for watching the big game or perfecting the best recipes.
I mean, I know a lot of people who can throw a fantastic party but if I ran into them in a store they may or may not be friendly to me depending on their mood. I’m sure you know some people like that too, right? 😉
You see, I think hospitality is actually more of a way of ‘being’. One definition I read said that hospitality was the ‘act of caring’
And friends, this act of caring can take place just about anywhere.
Yes, it should happen in our homes.
But, it should also be happening in our everyday interactions. There are opportunities all around us!
One evening, not too long ago, as I sat watching my youngest at swim practice, I heard the tell-tale sounds of a kid throwing a temper tantrum. I looked over to the younger swimmers and saw a little guy who wanted absolutely nothing to do with the water. He wailed when his mom tried to get him to go in and then he wailed when she threatened to have them leave swim practice. She was in a lose-lose situation and this kid was only getting louder. And everyone was watching.
After somehow managing to scoop him up as his arms and legs flailed, she marched past all of us sitting there in the chairs and you could just see it all over her face. Frustration. Anger. Weariness. Embarrassment.
She was gone for awhile and then came back with her son in a more subdued state of mind. But as they got closer to that water, he went right back to wailing and flailing. This precious mom scooped him up again and marched in front of all of us again looking even more weary and embarrassed.
This time, though, as she was getting ready to pass by me, I reached out my hand to gently touch her arm and just said,
“It’s ok. We’ve all been there.”
And as her son continued to wail and flail, she looked at me with the most grateful eyes and the embarrassment that I had seen on her face earlier was now gone. We shared a chuckle together and then she hurried right on out of there.
It was a simple moment. Probably no one else noticed. But I like to think that in that 5 seconds of interaction, that worn out mom experienced an ‘act of care’. At least I hope she did.
Dixie Carter said that the purpose of etiquette is to make others feel comfortable.
And while I think that hospitality is also about making others feel comfortable, I believe that it goes far beyond just that.
I think that hospitality is an opportunity to show love. And to show we care.
Once again, it’s about THEM not about US.
For some of us, extending ourselves in this way comes naturally. But for others it just feels so awkward and uncomfortable.
I mean, are we really all supposed to have the ‘gift’ of hospitality? Well, yes. Yes, we are.
1 Peter 4:9 “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Ummmmm…doesn’t get much more blunt than that, does it? 😉
But, here’s the good news! Learning manners is a process, right? I mean, anyone who’s raised kids knows that teaching them to not chew with their mouths open or to remember to put the toilet seat down or to remember to actually flush the toilet or to say please and thank you or to wipe their mouths on a napkin instead of their sleeve (not that any of these things happen in MY house!) knows that it is an ongoing, daily effort.
So, doesn’t it stand to reason that learning to be more hospitable would be a process, too?
We tell our kids all the time that the most important thing to us is only that they are trying and that we can see evidence of their efforts.
No one gets all of it right all of the time.
But, it’s the effort that’s put into something that really matters.
Whether that something is learning if you are supposed to use the bread plate on your right or on your left, or learning how to extend love and care to those around you.
Alexander Strauch said this, “Hospitality, therefore, is a concrete, down-to-earth test of our fervent love for God and His people. Love can be an abstract, indistinct idea; hospitality is specific and tangible. We seldom complain about loving others too much, but we do complain about the inconveniences of hospitality. Hospitality is love in action. Hospitality is the flesh and muscle on the bones of love. Through caring acts of hospitality, the reality of our love is tested.”
I think even Julia Sugarbaker would agree with that, don’t you? 😉