Phoebe Farag Mikhail offers us a book, Putting Joy into Practice, that is like a warm blanket to hold onto as we journey through Lent. During those moments when I feel myself turning to anxiety or fear, her words comfort and redirect me so that I stay in touch with joy, love, compassion, and–the true meaning of Lent for me–connecting to God.
Of the seven ways that Farag Mikhail gives us to put joy into practice, it’s her chapter on hospitality that I have returned to several times. I could feel my pulse tick up when I read about the many ways we undermine the true way to experience the joyful gift of hosting. For years, I felt the incredible joy of celebrating the risen Lord on Holy Saturday night turn to anxiety (and resentment) on Pascha Sunday afternoon when I used to hold the feast for family and friends.
As an Antiochian Christian (Lebanese to be exact!), I have been groomed generationally to be a magnificent host (“a host on steroids,” as many of my friends would say). My anxiety around the event starts during Holy Week, the time when I should be completely absorbed in walking with Christ. Instead, in the back of my mind teems with lists. What interesting food will dazzle my guests on Sunday? Which flowers will adorn the table? How can I make my eggs an even brighter red? It’s no surprise that when the day arrives, I find myself in the kitchen the entire time, working away and unintentionally hiding myself away from the wonderful family, friends, travelers, and neighbors who so graciously accepted my invitation to break the fast. Just like Martha of Bethany, who becomes resentful when hosting Christ while Mary sits at his feet, I resent the hard work. I come to the end of the day feeling empty and wondering, What I am missing here?
Farag Mikhail suggests a different way. She explains that Christ tells us that the most important aspect of hospitality is being present to your guest, not fretting about what is on the table. Christian hospitality is connection: sharing your presence first, food second.
She reveals a vital element of hosting: seeing yourself not only as the giver but also as the receiver. She calls upon those of us who host – “the givers” – to see those sitting at our table as people who are giving to you. You, the host, receive their divine presence. Attending to them, but not over-orchestrating the event, is how to cultivate joy.
To me, this is such a beautiful way to think about the culmination of my Lenten journey, to remember that hospitality doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. The house doesn’t have to be perfect. The linens don’t need to be pressed. The food doesn’t have to satisfy a gourmet. Farag Mikhail urges us to drop most of the production around hosting and to be what Christ calls us to be: more present and more joyful as we connect to our guests.
I look forward to hosting differently this year. My challenge? To get out of the kitchen and be with my family and friends authentically, with a listening ear and an open heart. Here is where joy lies and where we truly connect to Christ when we break the fast. Be in community and receive the light!
Want to hear more? Register for our Putting Joy Into Practice webinar.