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.

EnglishGarden

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?

GraceTable

Avatar
Shelly Miller / Posts / Blog
Shelly Miller is a veteran ministry leader and sought-after mentor on Sabbath-keeping. She leads the Sabbath Society, an online community of people who want to make rest a priority, and her writing has been featured in multiple national publications. Her first book, Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World, will release with Bethany House Publishers in the fall of 2016 with a second launching in 2017 with Lion Hudson. Find more of Shelly’s writing on her blog, Redemptions Beauty, and connect on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where she loves to share photos of the beautiful places she visits while living as a committed immigrant in London.
  • Avatar
    Kamille Scellick
    http://www.redeemingthetable.com/

    Shelly this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot these past six months. You are so right about the culture of the West and how it’s merely a good notion; but, sadly rarely acted upon. I appreciate your words as they press me to keep reaching out further with intention for follow through.

    June 10th, 2015 5:52
    Reply
    01
    • Avatar
      Shelly Miller
      http://redemptionsbeauty.com/

      Thanks for your candor here Kamille, I really appreciate your humility. I think there are things that define us culturally, but being inauthentic isn’t how I want to be known by the rest of the world, especially when Christian hospitality is involved.

      June 10th, 2015 12:35
      Reply
      02
  • Avatar
    Lori Harris
    http://loriharris.me/

    Shelly, how guilty I am of brushing off the invites of others! I assume insincerity and thus rob myself, and them, of the gift of fellowship.
    Wen we choose to receive the invitation the soul filling that comes with that is measureless.
    Thank you for the reminder and for your beautiful perspective.

    June 10th, 2015 11:18
    Reply
    03
    • Avatar
      Shelly Miller
      http://redemptionsbeauty.com/

      I love the way people are seeing this story through their own lens of experience! I also think it is easier for us to give sometimes than receive, yes? Especially those of us whose vocation is ministry. You are such an inspiration Lori, truly a gift to those who know you.

      June 10th, 2015 12:37
      Reply
      04
  • Avatar
    Leah Adams
    http://www.leahadams.org/

    Oh my, I had never thought of this. Now, I’m wondering how often I have, with good intent, flung out an invitation that was really not. Thank you for the reminder.

    June 10th, 2015 11:21
    Reply
    05
    • Avatar
      Shelly Miller
      http://redemptionsbeauty.com/

      I think we are all guilty of this at some point Leah. May our conviction move us to action and not apathy, yes?

      June 10th, 2015 12:39
      Reply
      06
  • Avatar
    Sarah

    Yes…so convicted and inspired to change my ways. Thank you for the insight from across the pond, Shelly!

    June 10th, 2015 12:15
    Reply
    07
    • Avatar
      Shelly Miller
      http://redemptionsbeauty.com/

      Aw, thanks Sarah, appreciate your honesty here. That is a gift, not something I take for granted.

      June 10th, 2015 12:39
      Reply
      08
  • Avatar
    Shelly Wildman
    http://shellywildman.net

    “A careless tease of hospitality . . .” Ouch! Yes, I’m guilty.

    June 10th, 2015 12:33
    Reply
    09
    • Avatar
      Shelly Miller
      http://redemptionsbeauty.com/

      I know Shelly, me too friend. Let’s be convicted, not imprisoned by our guilt.

      June 10th, 2015 12:40
      Reply
      10
  • Avatar
    Meredith Bernard

    Ouchy, ouch. You’ve stepped on my toes this morning in the most graceful way, Shelly. 😉 I have been telling a certain family for weeks that I’m going to have them over to eat with our family…and keep neglecting to set a date. I’m doing this TODAY. Thank you for sharing that verse from Matthew. My heart condition is in need of repair.

    June 10th, 2015 12:38
    Reply
    11
    • Avatar
      Shelly Miller
      http://redemptionsbeauty.com/

      Meredith, I had the same thought walking home today about two couples in my church that I desperately want to have over but busyness keeps getting in the way. I’m going to do the same today. Let’s hold each other accountable.

      June 10th, 2015 12:41
      Reply
      12
      • Avatar
        Meredith Bernard

        Yes, let’s do!! It’s actually my Pastor’s family I’ve been promising to have over and he and my husband (who is unsaved) have developed a friendship in an odd way recently, so this is the one part I feel God asking me to play. Anyway…I could write a book on that. 😉 I’ll come back and share later when we have it nailed down. 😀 Thank you!

        June 10th, 2015 12:48
        Reply
        13
        • Avatar
          Shelly Miller
          http://redemptionsbeauty.com/

          Ohhh! This sounds like a story I may have to hear about afterward. And a dinner that might need a little preamble of prayer support. *wink* We’re so on!

          June 10th, 2015 12:53
          Reply
          14
          • Avatar
            Meredith Bernard

            Ok, mine is done! June 26. I’m making lasagna, his wife is bringing banana pudding. Yes, please. I’ll let you know how it goes! Prayers welcome. ???

            June 10th, 2015 22:36
            15
  • Avatar
    Kris Camealy
    http://kriscamealy.com/

    Shelly this post made me squirm a little for all of the right reasons. I too have extended invitations lacking real intention behind them, and I needed the conviction of these words. Thank you for this gentle kick in the pants to truly practice honest hospitality, with intention and love.

    June 10th, 2015 13:13
    Reply
    16
    • Avatar
      Shelly Miller
      http://redemptionsbeauty.com/

      Thanks for allowing me to place my small offering at Grace Table Kris. Your life is a witness to humility and grace. I’m thankful for who you are.

      June 10th, 2015 13:43
      Reply
      17
  • Avatar
    Lynn D. Morrissey

    Just beautiful, Shelly. I too have found Southern souls to be exceptionally friendly. I’ve never lived there, so I’ve not experienced these well-intentioned get-together offers. But I know I’ve been guilty of the same: “We’ll get together soon,” I say, knowing we probably won’t . . . and making no purposeful intention to follow up. Your words convict me. But oh . . . the times I have or they have . . . what lovely, leisurely encounters have taken place. And you have just reminded me of our beloved English friends. I first met the gentleman, now sadly deceased, when I was 21 or so. We began a correspondence, and eventually, when we both married, he kept including a familiar line in his letters: When are you coming to visit? I thought surely this was just a gracious ending to a bit of news. But he was completely serious, I discovered, and we “came to visit” four times. The last offer was by his widow, just 5 months after his passing, but she was serious. She not only set a table, but opened her home to us for a place to stay over the course of days twice on that last trip in 2013. Being serious about hospitality leads to long-lasting relationships. I am one such fortunate recipient….and yes, you must both give and receive. This is so lovely. thank you fo r sharing.
    Love
    Lynn

    June 10th, 2015 13:30
    Reply
    18
    • Avatar
      Shelly Miller
      http://redemptionsbeauty.com/

      I love the story you’ve written here Lynn. It’s a sobering, convicting assurance that life is about relationship at the core. How easy it is to forget that and miss the beauty of presence.

      June 10th, 2015 13:46
      Reply
      19
  • Avatar
    Leigh Kramer
    http://www.leighkramer.com/

    Shelly, it gives me such joy hearing how your new community is filling you up! I’m so happy for you.

    June 10th, 2015 14:02
    Reply
    20
    • Avatar
      Shelly Miller
      http://redemptionsbeauty.com/

      Thank you sweet Leigh, that means so much to me. I pray you find the same in your new home — joy unspeakable and abounding grace.

      June 10th, 2015 14:41
      Reply
      21
  • Avatar
    Mary Gemmill

    Love it that people are following up invitations with times and dates and that something in your heart is healing 🙂
    May each and every interaction have an eternal consequence as you see how Father cares deeply for you and wants you to feel very much a part of your new [ authentic] community.

    June 11th, 2015 6:47
    Reply
    22
    • Avatar
      Shelly Miller
      http://redemptionsbeauty.com/

      I’ve been thinking a lot about those eternal consequences and how God divinely connects us with people. He is the ultimate networker! Thanks for your kind words Mary.

      June 12th, 2015 14:43
      Reply
      23
      • Avatar
        Nancy Ruegg

        We have been living in our new community for almost a year, and have visited a number of churches–several for a couple of months. Yet we’re still looking for a place to call home. Your response to Mary spoke truth to my heart, Shelly: God WILL divinely connect us with a fellowship of his people. He IS the ultimate networker who will bring us together with those he has already ordained. Meanwhile I am learning more about patience, perseverance, and hope!

        June 12th, 2015 21:52
        Reply
        24
  • Avatar
    Janet from FL

    Shelly, I like this look at the difference in cultures for making invitations. I have found a similar thing when my husband and I started a small group — People would sign up, but then not answer their phone, voicemail, or email, or they would say they were coming to the meeting and then not show up, and say, “Oh we went on a vacation to visit family.” Yes, I had my feelings hurt, and sometimes had meetings with only 1 person. I now expect this to happen, and am surprised and thankful when people do what they say they will. Now we try to be flexible, although it does make planning a meeting more difficult.

    June 11th, 2015 20:59
    Reply
    25
    • Avatar
      Shelly Miller
      http://redemptionsbeauty.com/

      That makes me sad that you’ve had that kind of experience Janet. I do think once we get over our expectations, it makes the disappointment less of a sting. Thanks for being here.

      June 12th, 2015 14:44
      Reply
      26
  • Avatar
    Laura Boggess
    http://lauraboggess.com/

    This is a good lesson, Shelly. How often have I found myself uttering shallow invitations too? Thanks for this little bit of conviction–a reminder to be authentic, even in the small. Love you.

    June 12th, 2015 14:23
    Reply
    27
    • Avatar
      Shelly Miller
      http://redemptionsbeauty.com/

      Love you too Laura!! And miss you.

      June 12th, 2015 14:44
      Reply
      28
  • Avatar
    Joy B. Rudolph
    http://joybrudolph.com/

    As always, thank you Shelly. For so long we’ve been the ones throwing open our door but rarely welcomed into someone else’s home. I believe God is bringing us into a season of allowing ourselves to be cared for by others and it is much needed.

    June 13th, 2015 16:48
    Reply
    29
    • Avatar
      Shelly Miller
      http://redemptionsbeauty.com/

      Oh I love that Joy. That is some good news! It’s so interesting the way our transitions are parallel on so many levels. Thanking God with you.

      June 13th, 2015 17:07
      Reply
      30
  • Avatar
    Liz

    Thank you for this. After reading your article, I just followed up on two off-hand invitations I’d made to make concrete plans.

    June 14th, 2015 19:30
    Reply
    31
    • Avatar
      Shelly Miller
      http://redemptionsbeauty.com/

      Wow, what an encouragement! Thanks for letting me know that.

      June 15th, 2015 10:06
      Reply
      32
  • Avatar
    Jennifer Dougan
    http://www.jenniferdougan.com/

    Shelly,

    Thanks for this conviction. It reminds me of people I need to follow up with, because my lapses have not been intentional but due to busy lives. We can’t though, huh?

    Thanks,
    Jennifer Dougan
    http://www.jenniferdougan.com

    June 21st, 2015 18:14
    Reply
    33

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *