Hospitality Lessons from a Bachelor

On Tuesday night, Matthew and I went to the home of one of our church’s missionaries for dinner. Karl is a single guy in his late 30s, and he is currently in the US for a year before he goes back to Central Asia. He was so hospitable to us that I saw my own lack in that area very sharply.

Karl had dinner ready for us when we arrived, and the table was already neatly set (I am infamously bad at timing the cooking of meals, and I am always a long way from serving the meal when guests arrive). His little home (the downstairs of his brother’s house) was immaculate (I almost always have clutter lying around). He served two simple but delicious dishes – a Middle Eastern tabouli and a Central Asian rice-chicken-beans-carrots dish (I often forget that the guests, not the food, are the focus of the evening, and I try all sorts of crazy dishes that may or may not turn out well…I have, on more than one occasion, made guests feel awkward by making ridiculously fancy meals that are silly for the purpose of a friendly meal together).

When he prayed over the meal, he also prayed for the people of Pakistan in such a way that it sounded like this is his normal practice – to pray for a different people group each day (What a cool practice, and what a great way to impact guests – and our future children – with a passion for missions!). During the meal, he anticipated our needs, pouring drink refills, urging second and third helpings (I am often too consumed with getting all the details of the meal right, and I forget to be attentive to my guests). There was more than enough food (I am bad at estimating how far food will go, and I have sometimes made far too little, leaving guests hungry).

We stayed for several hours after dinner over chocolate cake and green tea, talking about missions (I sometimes find myself anxious for guests to leave so I can clean up and go to bed).

Karl’s apartment is spartan, his cups and plates vintage, the food simple. But everything was served with a large dose of kindness, servant-heartedness, and generosity.

My apartment is spacious and nicely appointed, my kitchen things new (the benefit of being still a newlywed!), my cooking skills well practiced. But I often fail to show true hospitality.

Lessons learned.

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  • hannahbarton

    So great to learn such lessons– and from a man (God forbid)!

  • Falconschloss

    I have found hospitality to be an attitude of the heart instead of the meal, house, or silverware.  We all need to learn to be hospitable with whatever resources we have.  Something you might try is take a night to completely focus on your guests.  Get a pizza or chinese takeout and focus on people rather than food.  It will limit preparation time, make cleanup easy, there will be enough food, and it will be on time.

  • MattyOOO

    It’s great to have those people around to remind us what is really important.

  • fentzypoo

    ah sweet post. and you are the winner my friend (which i will post later)…yep those are pot leaves on our bedroom walls! (the product of an old hippie landlord…and we are not allowed nor could we paint over them…it is textured!) we actually were naive enough to think they were flowers for like a month after living there!!!

  • whomhavei

    Sadly I didn’t make up the list, someone sent them to me.

  • IssyExley

    Hmmmm…good post there. Hostessing is definitely not my forte’ (in fact I all around suck at it) and there are some great lessons to be learned. So thanks!

    And yes, it is very much like Matthew and the cat. God is good to us that way unlike Matthew probably is to the cat. Ha ha!


  • mmmattress

    Huh? I love it when people’s comments are really just replies to something from an earlier conversation, or a comment on another blog, or an e-mail, or an IM chat, or perhaps even something they heard in their sleep. Meanwhile, my treatment of Muffin is being maligned in front of the entire World Wide Web. It’s scandalous, Issy. Scandalous.

    In other news, I was sitting on the bed this morning reading the Journal, munching a bagel, and drinking my morning Americano. Things were going well. Becky had just left, and I was putting off dragging our car to the shop. I heard a clatter in the kitchen followed by a loud, ceramic crash and the pitter-patter of petulant padded paws. I thundered into the kitchen just as a white furball (who knew better than to be on the kitchen counter) tried to scuttle out. My hand collided with her swiftly departing side with a satisfying “THWUMP.” Her rear end skidded sideways briefly like she was a muscle car peeling out, and she scrabbled her way to the living room post haste.

    I was not happy. A dead bowl. A mess to clean up. A stupid cat. Muffin sat on her haunches on the living room rug with an “I’m sorry, Matthew” look. I was not moved. Then she looked at me like that again…those big, beautiful, stupid eyes…”I didn’t mean to. I was looking at the birds. My stomach fat caught the bowl inadvertently.” How could I not be sympathetic? I went over, petted her on the head, and told her in affectionate terms that if she ever does that again, Kenny Rogers will eat her.

    The End.

  • karlitacat

    Hehe… still laughing at the Muffin encounter.  Anyhoo… Becky, it’s good that you find a lesson in everything, but stop being so hard on yourself!  Yes, I will admit that it’s somewhat ironic for a single man to have such a fastidious place… but it’s only one person, so of course he won’t have as much cleaning up to do and has less housework in general.  Since he doesn’t have a significant other to dote upon (friends’ blogs to comment on, whatever), perhaps that gives him the chance to in fact have have the table set and dinner ready in a timely manner.  It sounds like his house isn’t as lived in as yours, so that would account for fewer piles (I think “lived in” is more cozy, if you ask me).   

    I love having my family and friends over.  More often than not, everything is ready (except I don’t even have a table, but I don’t feel guilty about it), and they’re late… I’m just glad when everyone gets here and we have a great time talking and laughing about things.  It’s fun to try new recipes; in fact, what Karl served sounds a little out-of-the-ordinary if you ask me.  There may be something to glean from his attitude of generosity, seeming unhurried air, and meaningful prayer, and I would focus more so on those points.   


  • karlitacat

    PS - Hm…. don’t know what’s up with that last “It.” 

  • whomhavei

    From my experience on being on the receiving end of your hospitality, I agree that you underestimate the amount of food that people need to survive.  However, if your intent is to make people feel empathy for the starving children of central Bratslavia, then you succeed tremendously.  I think that you should follow Daniel’s advice and and have people over and focus entirely on them, in fact, don’t get any food at all - just sit around and stare at each other until it gets very, very boring. (snarfblat, but that’s another story I’ll have to bring up for everyone sometime.)  Or you could combine the guests and the meal.  Also, any luck finding my ring?

  • gwyneth

    matthew, your story made me laugh right out loud. RIGHT OUT LOUD.
    and becky…as someone who has been at your house numerous times (ok, numerous? at least several…) i would like you to know that i always feel welcome and comfortable. there is more to hospitality than just having the food on the table at the right time. from my perspective, it would seem that you two do pretty well with that.
    oh, and the “from my perspective” and “it would seem”…those are for matthew. and my hands are in my pockets. amen.

  • karlitacat

    Mm-hm, I did see the pic on your brother’s site.  That’s just too funny.  And a tad scary.  Did Muffin see it?  Matt’s threat might have no sway until she does. *snicker*

  • sweetiepeatie

    Yeah!! I know Matthew! I used to help keep him awake in Chapel. My maiden name is Wood. And you guys know Lisa Robinson. My husband went to high school with her, and she was in my core at Teen Mania. “It’s a small world after all..”

  • curlyqueqt1

    Sweetheart, you gotta stop being so hard on yourself.  JW and I always had a delightful time everytime we were over at your place.  You are a wonderful hostess, an innovative cook, and a dear friend.  Combine those together, and you have the perfect evening!  Yes there is always something to learn, but be happy for what you are as well!!!

  • ezygiel

    hmmmm. i suppose i didn’t think of the cheery side of it. carrying a baby at 14 is better than aborting it. it still makes me cringe that young girls are even thinking about sex at that age!

    i definately need to be more hospitable. i’ve been thinking about that a lot since we’ve moved from our uber tiny flat.

  • sweetiepeatie

    We were supposed to go and see you guys there actually, but we can’t make it.

  • simply_nikki

    I agree with Karla and others that you’re being too hard on yourself by worrying about dinner not being on time and the apartment being immaculate! Those are just appearances and don’t matter. Just focus on making extra food and attending to other needs during the course of the meal, but be a little relaxed about that, too. I’ve been to houses where I’ve felt extremely uncomfortable because it felt like every five minutes, I was being offered more food or something to drink, and I’ve always been taught not to eat or drink hostesses or hosts out of house and home. Someone else who commented here had it right when they said it was about the heart, and seems to be you are a hospitable lady. I have a tiny apartment that is always cluttered and dirty and so I never really have anybody over unless it is a close friend. I guess I need to get over it.

  • sheldoggy

    Hey, you´re a great host. I can speak from experience. I think I might be a bad guest, though. I´m not sure.

  • mmmattress

    I’d say it’s the latter, Sheldoggy.

    “Do you need the Heimlich?”

    “Sheldon, give me a thumbs-up if you need the Heimlich!”

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