Last night we threw a dinner party. For ten people. It was a last minute decision. We’d been wanting to have my husband’s “team” from work over sometime and on Monday he realized that a few were heading back to Europe this weekend (I will not try to explain the complexity and fluidity of Chris’ company and how often people are going back and forth to Europe). So we pulled it together.
Chris and I both love having our home filled with people. We loved our lifestyle when I was on staff with Young Life: leaders dropping by and sometimes sleeping on the couch, high school kids watching movies or driving past to say hi. We miss that.
So, a last minute dinner, especially when my husband is mostly in charge of cooking, is not a big deal to me. While people are in my home I feel like a hummingbird. For better or worse, my wings (not literally, people) wind up and I float around from conversation to conversation, filling glasses, checking on the food, reminding people of the bread and cheese. I’m in love with guests.
What is a big deal to me is the preparation work and the clean up. It’s not because I’m opposed to cleaning the house. I do it often (enough, I think) and sometimes even enjoy it. My problem is when I FEEL like a housewife. The difference is subtle and it’s mostly in my head. But yesterday, as I spent August’s nap time not writing (as I usually do) but ironing a tablecloth and napkins, mopping floors, scrubbing the toilet, I noticed a lie slithering up into my little hummingbird brain: This is all you do with your life, it said. Your husband works all day while you iron napkins in a super cute floral apron.
I imagined what Chris’ women coworkers would think of me and my life, if they would snicker behind my back that I must have been ironing in the middle of the afternoon while they closed deals and walked confidently down carpeted hallways in pointy toed shoes. (Why is that my image of women in the workplace?)
But what I want you to know is that it didn’t end with that thought. I didn’t let the little liar worm eat my brains. In the moment that the worm showed up, suddenly God was near and I remembered: I am now a monk! This is my job! I iron tablecloths, not because I’m lame with nothing else to do, but because I get to love 10 of Chris’ coworkers today. And I’m going to do it by scrubbing that freakin toilet.
Here is the difference between what I’ve always assumed about hospitality and what I learned during August’s naptime yesterday: It’s all about my mind and what it’s consumed with. I cannot be consumed with myself and be hospitable. If I’m consumed with myself (even if those thoughts are negative), I’m simply a host. Nothing more. When the physical work becomes about the other person, that’s when it becomes hospitality.
August woke up and he and I kept working. (He has his own broom.) As I vacuumed and put away toys I kept thinking about St. Benedict, wanting to tell him, “Benedict, buddy, I’m getting it!”
After dinner, our guests and my husband walked down the street to get some ice cream and a drink. Of course, I couldn’t go. August was sleeping in the next room and it was good for Chris to spend that time with his coworkers. However, the miracle continued. As I watched them walk out the front door I actually had this thought: “I get to practice hospitality right now.” I walked straight to the kitchen. Without feeling shame for my failures as a liberated woman, I carried each dish to sink. I washed. I rinsed. And I believed, maybe for one the first times, that out of that group of ten people I’d shared a meal with, I was the one being blessed.
I’m grateful that my following The Rule of St. Benedict is not just writing ploy or a series of silly rules that make for clever storytelling. It’s a spiritual practice that just might be changing my life.