There’s a table in my apartment. It’s a picnic table turned dining table, painted blue and teal and pink. It was made by my husband and some church friends. There are names scribbled underneath it of those who have shared a meal around it, and just months after the table was made there are already rings from cups of tea scattered in some places. This table has become precious to me.
It is a gathering place like none I’ve ever experienced.
The time spent at this table is technology-lite, full of tea and food. Flowers sit at the end of it often, and books are scattered from hands flicking through the pages. The table is a place where life is paused for just a little while and people can gather, and rest. The table is where James and I can step away from responsibility and talk and play Uno. It isn’t a magical table – though, having chosen the colours, I do adore it – but it is a deliberate place where James & I have welcomed people with open arms and an open fridge.
It’s got me thinking about hospitality and the simple power of a pot of tea, or a cup of coffee, or a meal made of leftovers. I always thought that hospitality had to be elaborate. I thought tables had to be set perfectly and food had to be presented as though in a restaurant. I thought I could never manage hospitality because it was fancy… but I’m learning, around this table, that it isn’t.
I’ve been thinking about Mary and Martha. I’ve thought about how Martha rushed about, upset and trying to pull together immaculate hospitality, but Mary simply sat with Jesus. As Martha lashed out and asked why Mary wasn’t helping, Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen better. In a culture where hospitality was everything, to simply sit with Jesus was what mattered most. Perhaps people are the purpose of hospitality, rather than a display of domestic sophistication.
We put so much pressure on ourselves when people sit at our tables. We want the house to be perfect and we want to be in the best of moods and we want people to think that we’ve got things together. We hide the mess and present the best. But if hospitality is about people, then there can be mess because people don’t come to your table for a show – they come to your table for you.
Hospitality is a requirement for leadership in the Bible. Leaders must be hospitable. They are required to welcome others into their space, and this would be odd if ministry wasn’t about people. But it is. Programs at church are one thing, but to have people gathered around your table requires vulnerability and trust and it welcomes them not only into your church building but into your life – and into the church family.
Anyway, back to the picnic table that sits in the apartment.
It’s easy to hide in the apartment and treat it as a sanctuary for the rest of the world – and sometimes, it is that for me – but the funny thing is, that as we set up this apartment God kept nudging us to make it not just a sanctuary for us, but for anyone else who needed it too. Our spare room was occupied about one month after we got married (which is something we highly recommend, but also encourage doing with a whole lot of prayer and knowledge that it isn’t easy), our couches have seen tears of joy and sorrow, the walls have heard songs of praise and lament, and our table… well… the table is where life pauses for just a moment and we get to stop and think.
I wonder, if you have a place where people gather. I wonder why you don’t, if you don’t. I wonder what God would do if we opened our homes to others and welcomes them into our lives – mess and muck and all.
Do you have a table where people gather? Maybe there’s a table you love to gather at somewhere else. There are stories we need to share more often. I do love that table, but I love the people who gather around it so much more…