Intimidating Guests

From time to time older women will tell me that they are seldom invited out, but that they, meanwhile, are having people over all the time. They wonder what gives. Now this doesn’t mean that they are looking for a payback. They simply wonder if they are doing something wrong. I tell them that this comes with the territory. To whom much is given much is required. They may have bigger homes and resources than many of the young families they are having over.  Some are called to extend hospitality more than others. So I remind them to be faithful and not worry about it. In fact, if everyone was inviting them over, they might feel swamped!

My opinion on this is that older women can be very intimidating to younger women.  This came as a shock to me when I first realized it. Me? Intimidating? How could that be? It’s just me, after all!

When Doug and I were first married, he was in college and then in grad school. He was fond of inviting his professors to dinner, and I tell you, I was very intimidated. I was not a great cook. In fact, I think when we got married, I knew how to make soup (just put a bunch of vegetables in a pot and see what happens), and of course I could make a grilled cheese sandwich or fry a hamburger patty. I learned to make macaroni and cheese from my  mother-in-law, and I gradually picked up the knack of the crock pot. I honestly don’t remember what I cooked. Maybe meatloaf. I know it was some time before I knew the difference between round steak and chuck or how to cook either one.

Some of my intimidating guests included Doug’s Latin instructor (who turned out to be a jolly character), his philosophy instructors, his major professor and his wife (who were a real pleasure). Then there were the Mormon boys he invited (who were trying to convert us), and an outspoken feminist from one of his philosophy classes. Some of these were more intimidating than others, but I generally always felt way out of my depth.

So back to the intimidation factor. I assumed that since his professors were far more established with nicer homes and bigger budgets, they would not want to stoop to come to our home. We had a funky little apartment with gold shag carpet. (I think this was during the phase when I needed a side table for a lamp, so I covered a big cardboard box with corduroy!)

I think young wives (like I was back then) feel that they can have peers over, but older people might be too critical of their meager attempts at hospitality. Why would they want to come to our house to have sloppy joes anyway? The kids will act like kids, which won’t be dignified enough for such lofty guests. My bathroom is too shabby. My dishes are chipped.

Hospitality is much bigger than the menu or the furnishings. When Bekah was an adult, she met Doug’s old Latin teacher, who by that time was near retirement but was still teaching at the same university. He reminded her of being at our home for dinner back when she was just a baby. I was amazed that he still remembered (and I had completely forgotten)!  This made me realize that God was doing more in our hospitality than we knew, whether I was intimidated or not.

We want hospitality to make us feel like awesome hostesses and cooks. But the truth is, it’s not about us in that way at all. It’s about connecting with people around a table and making them feel welcome and fed. So if you have people in your life that you’ve thought of having over, but you feel too intimidated to try, do a little experiment and have just one. Make a meal that you’ve made a million times before. See how it goes. It may be that nothing magical happens that you can see, but trust God to use it to shape you and shape your guests.

Especially be willing to have those people from your husband’s workplace or school. Even his boss! These may be the very people who are seldom invited into anyone’s home. Then ask God to give you a spirit of peace as you set the table and offer it all to Him. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect. Perfection has never been the standard, and it would be dreadful if it was.

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30 thoughts on “Intimidating Guests

  1. Good encouragement, Nancy. Younger women, not all of you are headed for a black-belt in entertaining. If you love the higher-end approach to cooking and decorating and it pleases your husband, go for it and have fun with it. You’ll be a blessing to your family and your guests! If you feel more comfortable and happy doing buffet-style with paper plates and your husband likes it that way, relax and set out those paper plates with pride. You’ll be a blessing to your family and your guests! I’m fifty, and if we had waited to have people over until we had it all together, we would still be waiting.

  2. Thank you, Nancy. I struggle with this quite frequently. I’ve got a lot of cirucmstances that would (and do) make me feel inadequate about hospitality. I’ve taken to praying that the Lord would help me to be willing and that He multiply what we have to make it work, and that it would bring Him glory and not us. I believe that’s the right prayer to pray and course to take. Your post encourages me to keep on with what seems to be a chronic battle with inadequacy and insecurity.

  3. Thanks for this reminder! I feel like my Mom modeled this really well, and I’m so thankful for her example. She was not (and is not) a gourmet cook, but she cooks yummy and hearty meals. She always told me that the people around the table are more important than the food on it. She also used to make a big show of taking the pie out of the oven from warming, commenting on how she’d “obviously slaved on it all day” as she threw the pie box in the trash. 😉 It’s so freeing to be able to laugh at yourself and not take things like hospitality too seriously by putting undue pressure on yourself.

  4. Great post! My husband and I call these the “Scary People.” For example, we have a a wonderful friend who happens to be a professional chef – gulp. We have always been blessed when we just take the plunge and invite them anyway! A little tip that helps me is to invite someone less intimidating at the same.

  5. This is so true! I tend to think that other young moms won’t mind my kids’ mess, but somehow when we have older couples (or my husband’s students) over, we need to make the house look like it doesn’t have four children 6 and under living in it. Pretty silly.

  6. Thank you so much for this! God has been pushing me on this recently, and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon . . . so this is a very timely encouragement for me. Do you have any books about the practical part of hospitality that you would recommend? I am working on being ok with the imperfect (which any effort will always be!), but I would love to hone my skills as a hostess as well.

  7. I think a lot of women (young and old) get really intimidated because they confuse entertaining with hospitality. Kirsten (commenter above) mentioned this as well. I’m so thankful to my parents – well, especially my mom! – who modeled true hospitality. Sometimes she’d do it up fancy, but more often it was a paper-plate-BBQ-on-the-deck kind of thing. But she made people WELCOME.

    Karen Mains has a good book about hospitality called Open Heart, Open Home. Not sure if it’s still in print, but it’s worth hunting up a copy.


  8. I’d love to hear a good book recommendation as well, but I thought I’d throw out one I found to be pretty great: “Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition” by Christine D. Pohl.

  9. Somewhere in the archives I recall Nancy recommending a recipe book with tips for the hostess ie what to serve it with, etc. But i cant recall where you could find it in the archives. X0

  10. Nancy, I love this. I can’t think of a single time someone has cooked for me and I wished they hadn’t! There is no better, more practical way to love our neighbors than to cook for them–I’ve heard people say they are too nervous to take a meal to a new mom and her family and I think of all the meals we’ve received after each baby (and after later hospital stays with two of them) and they were all amazing (especially the Papa Murpheys pizza!), not because they were gourmet with loads of homemade breads and sauces but because someone cooked them for me and probably gave me the time to take a shower that day!

    I recently read “Bread and Wine” by Shauna Niequist and I can’t recommend it enough–a beautiful (funny!) book of stories and recipes, that I have already read twice and just spent an hour rereading when I was looking for a quote to print here! A lovely picture (with great tips!) of entertaining and Christian hospitality. “But our goal, remember, is to feed around our table the people we love. We’re not chefs or restaurateurs or culinary school graduates, and we shouldn’t try to be. Make it the way the people you love want to eat it…try it a million ways and cross a few off the list because they were terrible….Learn, little by little, meal by meal, to feed yourself and the people you love, because food is one of the ways we love each other, and the table is one of the most sacred places we gather.” She also has a great bit in there on contentment (hers from infertility struggles): “It’s not wrong to want another baby, but there’s a fine line in there and I feel I’ve crossed it a few times in these last months, and moved over into that terrible territory where you can’t be happy unless you have the thing you want…I want to cultivate a deep sense of gratitude, of enough…I’m practicing believing that God knows more than I know, that he sees what I can’t, that he’s weaving a future I can’t even imagine from where I sit this morning. Extraordinary indeed. More than enough.”

  11. I still struggle with a deep-seated belief that no one would really want to leave their nicer house to come to mine and have worse food than they would cook themselves, so if I invited them I’d be doing them a disservice. (And my home is by no means a hovel and I’m not totally incompetent.)

    I need to get a better grip on what hospitality actually is, and the spiritual nature of fellowship. And lose my unbelief.

  12. I love this post! I am a young mom, but I love having people over, even in our strangest of circumstances… Our family never gets invited anywhere, though, and all my friends say it’s because they are intimidated. (by my paper plates? HAHA) When we are invited, it is SUCH an honor, and joy to me, even if they serve pizza or take out. I just LOVE the fellowship around a meal.

  13. Thank you again for such a great reminder. God provided for us a 12 foot table so we could easily entertain almost twice a week. Our guests sign their names under our table as a reminder of their breaking bread with us. It is such a privilege to serve a meal!

  14. I know I need to work on this also, but one thing I have also noticed is that the more children I have, the less we are invited to someone’s house. The last two times my husband and I were invited to eat, they were just adult ” get together ” so I had to get babysitters. Big families need fellowship also! I am starting to wonder if my kids are to much of a hassle for some folks, which is sad.

  15. You know, if people are intimidated about having a large family over one way to overcome that is to have potluck dinners. The hostess doesn’t have to provide everything 😀

    And you know what? Hospitality doesn’t always have to be a meal. Have someone over for games and popcorn. Or build a fire outside and make s’mores. You can ease into it gradually 😀


  16. I am mid-50s now and I DO so remember this. When we first got married, my husband made our table out of scrap ply-wood. We once fed our pastor’s family lentil stew after church. Not really haute cuisine. I have always felt the “need” to have things nice for company, but sometimes you cannot live up to your own expectations. When I was a young mom, I used to give myself courage by misinterpreting Paul’s admonition to practice hospitality. I’d think, “It will be OK, it is just practice.” Go for it!

  17. Thanks, this is not something I’ve thought that much about. The older women I know and love stay SO busy that I feel that another commitment would be just another commitment. Also, seems to me, some people are initiators actively participating in hospitality while others just aren’t. It is RARE for us to get an invitation to eat at someone else’s house.

  18. Love having people over but I stress because of any number of things that we could just fill in the blank for – old carpet, the dust I am behind on is authentic, bathroom still needs to be repainted, etc. Our recent guests were many Russians and others from surrounding countries. We had a great time singing and eating. They are all such lovely people! After they left I realized there had been no toilet paper in the bathroom only decorative paper napkins for hand drying. I can’t wait to see them next year and tell them the word for toilet paper in Russian!

  19. Thank you for this. I often struggle with this, because I learnt to cook after marriage too. I loved to entertain prior to having five children until 8, now it seems too noisy to have guests. But that is no reason to never do it. Great encouragement to serve God and let him use it as he will!

  20. Sara, I, for one, love being a guest in noisy houses, so don’t let that stop you! Invite another gang of noisemakers over to share the joy, or invite single folks over to get a healthy and much needed dose of Vitamin N. ;^)

  21. Thanks for the reminder that hosting is not about me! I’m thankful I found your blog and read this post before my first time hosting Thanksgiving.

  22. My husband and I are in the empty nest stage of our lives and living in my father’s home. For a variety of reasons, including nursing my mom in hospice at home, hospitality has taken a back seat for a season. Thank you, Nancy, for the encouragement to pick this up again. Thank you, too, for encouragement you have provided to so many single young women, my daughters included, to practice hospitality. I would also like to encourage young moms that sometimes the empty-nesters would love to be practiced upon! We miss the noise and bustle of a home.

  23. I am an “older woman”, and I try to make my home, and what I serve when showing hospitality, as simple as possible. I want to take the focus off of the externals, and focus on the people. I don’t want to be intimidating in any way. This is a great post!

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