coronavirus

Who’s Coming to Dinner? Practicing Hospitality in COVID-19

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By Annie Lavi

Of course, nobody is coming to dinner. Although where I live, things are opening up more and more, we still feel a mixed wariness about crossing thresholds of households other than our own. Add my very first baby in the mix, born right in the middle of April, and reality is this: Our house remains (mostly) quiet, and my serving platters and extra large pitchers continue to gather dust on their shelves.

I have found myself missing people, longing to stir sauces and taste chicken while music plays and we wait for our company to arrive. At first, I assumed it was simply because I enjoyed hospitality and having friends over, but as time went on I sensed something different. I remained sad that nobody was at our home, of course, but then I wondered why it was I couldn’t practice this kind of “hospitality” outside my walls, and if I did, what it would look like.

That kind of hospitality has been crushed by COVID in the best way, replaced by an idea that is probably closer to how it should have been all along.

The first problem I saw was my definition of hospitality. What I was used to practicing was what the world recognizes as hospitality, but looks more like entertaining: inviting people into my shiny house with my well-cooked meals for the sake of community, but really, letting it be about me (just a little bit) as I shut the door at the end of the night, knowing that I set the perfect place setting. I would congratulate myself on a job well done, a meal well served, conversation well enjoyed, and I would rest knowing that I looked like a darn good hostess to those who came over for dinner.

My version of hospitality had as much to do with me as it did the people coming over. While I was calling it hospitality, I was actually serving myself under the guise of serving them, convinced that they would like me more if I could master baking homemade rolls.

For me, that kind of hospitality has been crushed by COVID in the best way, replaced by an idea that is probably closer to how it should have been all along. Jesus set the best example in the first chapter of New Testament, by coming to us from heaven when we couldn’t get to him, a lesson I shouldn’t take lightly when it comes to serving others. As a bonus, Jesus consistently “didn’t have a place to lay his head,” (Matthew 8:20) always reclining at the table of others, accepting the kindness of those around him. Any definition of real hospitality, he showed us in his Word, has to include two things:

  1. Being willing to go to those who can’t get out themselves, and
  2. Humble giving and humble receiving, being graciously willing to be on either side of the party.

Admittedly, in this season, hospitality looks different — fewer dinner parties, no big backyard BBQ’s with the perfect potato salad, but as in all things, different doesn’t necessarily mean bad. It means a change of the way we offer hospitality, not an excuse to stop. People who really practice the gift of hospitality are generous with both time and money, and are willing to spend both to care for those around them, whether it’s in their own house or on another’s doorstep. Regardless of how good they look in the process, they extend their arms like a drop of dye will spread in water — moving outward in branches, reaching to get to every last person in need on their radar. To drop off a meal at a doorstep, to chat with the cashier in the grocery store, to text someone “just to check in.” This hospitality is less shiny, but a kinder, more genuine offering: one that offers the giver next to nothing in street credit as they sacrifice for the receiver.

A case in point: With a fresh baby, I went to nobody’s house for dinner, but I had three weeks of dinners show up at my doorstep every night. I had women storm in my house, masks on, and rearrange my fridge to cram more food in while I sat on the couch and fed my son. I had a friend come scrub the plates while I napped, and I didn’t do my own grocery shopping for eight weeks. I had packages upon packages show up at the door, with everything from onesies to toilet paper to loaves of freshly baked bread, and one tiny, plastic cup filled with brightly colored flowers, “because every new mama needs something pretty in this season.” Hospitality was happening at my house every day, except I was learning to be the gracious receiver instead of the smiling giver. And in a world where I couldn’t go anywhere to receive it, hospitality came to me.

Home was never meant to be a hideout.

Our houses are good places to invite people in, I still believe that. And yet, home was never meant to be a hideout. Biblical hospitality is about making a space that feels warm, inviting, and comfortable for others — and all that takes is a person with their guard down and a sense of peace, with or without a five course meal. As Christians, we are called to be the type of people who can bring that sense of invitation anywhere we go, far beyond our own entryways.

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Annie Lavi

Annie Lavi is a Christian writer living in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina. She believes in the power of story and the importance of vulnerability, holding heavy things in one hand and flowers in the other. Annie is a current graduate student at Southeastern, and writes weekly at annieandthelion.com.

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