I didn’t know I was a host until no one showed up.
It was the time of group messaging and Beyonce’s surprise album, and I’d made a simple dinner of rotisserie chicken and pesto’d pasta for a few new acquaintances I was getting to know. I lit candles in my apartment and turned on some bossa nova. Fifteen minutes past the arrival time, I shot out a text asking for an ETA. One by one, excuses popped into the group chat, each blue bubble prompting tears that shocked and angered me. . .
Let me back up–I am my best self when I welcome people into my home. It’s not just unique dinnerware, successful recipes, and a curated playlist. It’s jackets coming off, shoes at the front door, the sound of laughter and connection echoing through the house. It’s the trust communicated.
Cultures, both eastern and western, have definitions for the word “hospitality.” A thread through all of them is the welcoming of guests–expected or unexpected–with conversation, intentional gift exchanges, and the practice of escorting out (i.e. “let me walk you out”).
With the year we’d had, a ‘Welcome to my home’ sounded like music to my ears. But I didn’t welcome anyone that night. I fell asleep on the couch. The next day, a friend asked to come over and do laundry. He told me another one of our friends would be coming with him. Peeling myself off the couch, I made my way through the house, putting away yesterday’s disappointment.
When the boys arrived, laundry in tow, we gathered around my laptop and listened to the new visual album. From the relatable “Pretty Hurts” to the empowering “Flawless” through to the romantic “XO.” Another knock at my door and another text later, and suddenly my home was filling up.
I found myself in the kitchen warming up last night’s dinner and putting water on for tea. Uninvited but welcome, my closest ones stood in the kitchen, sat at the dining table, and lounged by the fireplace. Only 24 hours before, I had been licking my wounds because my perfect dinner had flopped, and now here I was pulling together an impromptu evening with a group of friends I wasn’t trying to impress.
Isn’t that just like perfection? It’ll have you pulling out all the stops to meet an impossible aim, only to be dissatisfied by the outcome. Perfection will have you making meals and setting tables for people who would rather be elsewhere. Turns out, the Pinterest-perfect table, recipe, and decor are not required for hosting. It is simply a heart to receive, share, and give.
So, what do we do? Do we flip that table when things don’t go exactly according to plan–forsaking the parts of us that come alive when we host? Or, do we give room for the gift of imperfection: The friendly atmosphere of disproportionate planning and haphazard creativity that gives us our best memories?
Ancient Hebrews have a concept called “shalom.” Although commonly used as a greeting, the meaning is deeper, layered. Accurately translated, it means peace, wholeness, well-being in every aspect of life.
Shalom. Peace over perfection. Creating a holiday experience with memories that center the well-being, wholeness, and peace of all around the table eases the necessity to try and make everything perfect. And while the imperfect turkey, mac and cheese, or casserole isn’t tolerated in some families, imperfection is the color of all our humanity.
As we approach the winter holidays and the arrival of new goals, let us face the temptation to seek out perfection in our gift exchanges, family meals, and final exams with a new resolve. Whether we celebrate with a Nativity scene perfectly alight on our lawns; or the red, black, and white candles in the Kinara; or the surprise and delight of an Advent calendar and real-life pine tree, may we exchange perfection for peace this year.
What can you do to protect your peace and have a joyful season?