I made elaborate cards and sidewalk chalk murals and detailed itineraries when a friend would come to spend the night, starting from the age of about six. I think I’ve loved hosting since always. On one occasion, I believe there was a “Welcome!” PowerPoint presentation made in honor of a visit from my grandparents. In the interest of cultivating that tendency, I feel lucky that I grew up with a mom who hosts people. I am thankful that she likes to host at all. She wouldn’t have been doing anything wrong if she didn’t, but I’m glad I got to learn from her. And I am thankful for the particular way that my mom hosts. My mom’s style is low-fuss and genuine. I can’t remember an instance of frantic scrambling to clear every last piece of debris and remove all smudges pre-guest arrival (although, I feel it should be noted, we did clean enough to be considerate of them.) There was never a feeling that we had to perform for the people coming over, that the event was in any way about how we looked. Dinners with guests over were just like family dinners, but with more plates. We ate normal, school-night recipes that might show up any other day of the week, and dessert wasn’t served because we had guests, but because dessert is always eaten at our house.
As I’ve moved out of my parents’ house and into places that are increasingly more “mine”- where I have more power to choose what the space looks like, and what happens there and when – I’ve started dreaming about what it looks like for me to host. I’ve felt comfortable and at home in countless places that were not mine. There’s something uniquely rest-giving about the experience of having a home shared with you, regardless of the amount of time or the amenities that come with it. Because I have nothing else to draw on, I’m stealing hosting moves from the friends and family and strangers who have made room for me – so when you come to my house, you’ll get a little bit of my mom, some Annette and Sabrina and Sam and Kate and Allison, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, and family friends from church.
So you sit
A couple summers ago, my mom started hosting an ongoing event – backyard campfires, every night, for anyone who wanted to come. I think the simplicity of those fires was a perfect prototype of my mom’s hosting style. Preparation consisted of dragging outdoor chairs to the fire (maybe, if we hadn’t left them there the night before), starting the fire, and making sure the s’more basket was restocked. Invitation was by a very public Facebook event, or word of mouth – however, really. Guests sifted in as the sky got darker, and once we were there, the main goal and activity for the evening was simple: we sat. Including my mom, the hostess, because once everyone had a chair and bug spray, not much else needed to be done. And that’s my number one hosting guideline for myself, and the thing that I see over and over in my favorite memories of being hosted: I love when the host has enough time and intention to stop and sit with guests.
Let me tell you about times I’ve been sat with, so we see what that could look like. I do actually think the position of sitting is kind of important. It shows that you’re not about to bolt to do something else or talk to someone else. When you’re sitting, you’re somewhat committed. Bonus points if you find some kind of sophisticated adult high chair that you can actually strap yourself into. Sitting, Exhibit A: When I interviewed at graduate school programs, one of the schools made me spend the night with a student who had already been accepted and his girlfriend. (I don’t say “made me” because I hated it, but because I truly didn’t have a choice). I got up to make breakfast and coffee in the morning, and when he got up, he made his breakfast and coffee and sat with me in the kitchen, answering all my questions about the upcoming interview and the program and grad school in general. Exhibit B: I used to spend the night at my friend Kate’s when we were both in college and she lived just off campus and I lived way off campus and I had a late Monday night commitment and an early Tuesday morning class. When I got to Kate’s room, no matter how late, she unfailingly offered me a cup of tea and made time to stay up and talk to me before going to bed. Exhibit C: On longer visits, there are several people in my life who are great about making the effort to set up a time for the two of us to have coffee together while I’m staying with them. My mom is great about this, as are Allison and Annette. Exhibit D: A couple from the church my husband and I attend invited us over for dinner, sometime shortly after we were very new to the church. After dinner, they had dessert prepared and asked us to sit with them in the living room to eat it and talk. It meant a lot that they took extra time to get to know us, in a way that was clearly on purpose. Exhibit E: Any and every instance of lingering at the table after a meal. (Side note: I don’t know exactly how to force people to linger – I think keeping the food and drinks coming probably helps. If you have ideas, maybe you can share in the comment section.)
Taking the time to sit with someone says a lot of things, and they’re all good. To name a few “I have time for you” or “You’re worth my time”, “Time with you is more important than ________”, “Our relationship is the priority of this event” and “This is about you, not me.” I think that’s why being hosted well feels so good. It’s a way that we have worth and value and belonging communicated to us without so much being said (and to me, it feels even more true when actions say it). It’s fulfilling for the host, too, because they get to feel that same truth about people as they preach it with their table and home.
My husband shares my love of hosting, and he and I started hosting people together at his home while we were engaged last year. Flopped on the couch eating leftovers after the last guest had left, we often found ourselves talking about how the sitting with people part of hosting can be difficult. He (more than I, and I’m so thankful for this) loves to help, and the more people there are in the immediate vicinity, the more possibilities to help, which leads to him pinballing around and doing everything as close to all at once as possible. We both see this as a gift of his. He’s able to serve people and take care of needs intuitively, and that makes people around him feel loved. I, on the other hand, can get caught up in details of food and drinks and decorations, which I genuinely like getting caught up in, and I can become preoccupied with how it all might look to someone else. We both have to make an effort to pause the flow of how we act when we’re not thinking about it and to sit down with people; we’re both really glad when we do. (And a little surprised, because we haven’t quite learned yet.) We’re excited to keep learning this and to watch how rest and life comes from it, as we tell other people and ourselves the truth about them through our food and time, and sitting.