On a sunny day in London, I met my neighbor for the first time standing at the fence separating our gardens. I wasn’t expecting the reception I received.
Holding a watering can under a spigot and leaning on the fence for balance, I notice, over a nest of passion fruit vines, her blond hair blowing through the slats. While cleaning up flower beds in an extravagance of warm weather in springtime, we intersected in the same corner where I boldly interrupted her sweeping to introduce myself.
A few minutes later, she invited all of us to dinner later that week.
But I didn’t take her invitation seriously and there is a reason for that.
After a decade of living in the South, the leader in hospitality for the United States, I learned when someone says they want to have you over for dinner or meet for lunch, that doesn’t mean they are actually going to do anything about it.
As it turns out, wishful thinking is a common courtesy.
Initially, I was bit slow to catch on to that when we moved to the South from the West. I just got my heart broken a lot.
But eventually, I stopped equating intention with authenticity whenever people used phrases like, “I would love to get together this week for coffee” or “We really want to have you over for dinner,” or “Let’s have lunch soon.”
I believe they meant what they said as the words were spilling out but I didn’t believe conviction matched a will to follow-up. I made peace with that reality and then something horrible happened.
I began hearing myself say those hollow words to people. I had become a graceless Christian.
As Christians, a grace-filled invitation to the table is set with inclusion and belonging as the primary hope. Without grace, hospitality becomes a meaningless tease; empty promises that highlight unfulfilled longings of community for people.
My own lazy attitude and careless use of language wasn’t apparent until I moved to London two months ago and we began receiving numerous invitations to be present with people, my neighbor being one of them.
I initially brushed off casual invites as good intentions for welcome without expecting a result. Until each one was quickly followed up with a card, email, or phone call with potential dates and details about plans for our time together.
I tried to let my neighbor off the hook about dinner, assuring her that a glass of wine with her and her husband after their kids went to bed would be adequate. But she insisted and so, we went.
Around their table, we laughed about the oddities of living in another culture. And we learned that we have Phoenix, Canada and the love of elderflower, gardening and good food in common.
Unbeknownst to each host and hostess, every invitation accepted to date has become a balm to my hardened heart and a deep conviction.
“It’s your heart, not the dictionary that gives meaning to your words.” Matthew 12:34 (MSG)
When we choose not to follow up on a spoken desire to cultivate relationship with someone, we are complicit in making their heart sick. A careless tease of hospitality isn’t just careless; it leaves many desperately lonely and hopeless.
“Around the table we offer friendship and celebrate life. Our meals offer a divine moment, an opportunity for people to be seduced by grace into a better life, a truer life, and a more human existence.” Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus
How can you extend grace to someone with invitation this week?