Since this blog is in its early days and the lot of the conversation here will be about meals in our homes, I want to talk about why we believe opening our home is so valuable. I recently heard that "43% of every dollar that [American] millennials spend on food is spent outside their home. Boomers spend between 37% and 38% of their food budget that way...." We don't live in America, but seeing those numbers reminded me that the culture my husband and I have chosen, of eating in much more than out, is unique. Of course, we eat out from time to time and taking people out can also show hospitality. But even as millennials ourselves, we believe that regularly inviting people in instead of out is even better—here's why!
1. It's almost always healthier.
When we prepare the food, we can control how the food is prepared and use reasonable amounts of salt, fat, etc. We're far less likely to get food poisoning. And if I do find a hair in my soup, at least it's my own.
2. It's better stewardship of our money and possessions.
Here in Europe, eating out is particularly expensive, unless you want a Turkish wrap. Occasionally we choose to spend a bit more money rather than the time it takes to eat in, but in this season we usually eat in with our friends. It is good stewardship of the space God has given to us, too. Rent or mortgage is usually one of everyone's biggest monthly expenses. Whether or not we have guests, we would need a heated, furnished home. When we share that with guests, it is time and money doubly invested.
3. It puts us in a position to control the atmosphere.
This is one of my favourite reasons to eat in. Restaurants are at best full of distractions. Who hasn't been interrupted by annoying music, a sleazy TV show playing nearby, or an immodest or crass server with more ice water? In our homes we can virtually eliminate these kinds of distractions and create a peaceful environment conducive to good conversation.
4. It makes our home a teaching platform.
Our home teaches others about what we value—and hopefully, about what God values. Our home is full of words and pictures that are meaningful to us. But other things speak, too, like how my husband and I relate to each other, how clean or messy our home is, the kinds of foods we serve...and more. When I was single, I remember a friend telling another guest in our home, "This computer screen is the only screen you will find in this house! Julie doesn't have a TV!" I had to laugh at his gusto, but he and his friend were both learning about my values by seeing that I didn't own a TV. Obviously, we can teach with words, too, when we have opportunity to set the tone and guide the conversation. Sometimes we read the Bible and pray with our guests, or sometimes we just pursue good conversation. Hospitality teaches something; make that something worthwhile.
5. It's interesting and it expands my world without even leaving home.
You probably saw this one coming! Since being married, we've had guests from Syria, India, China, Pakistan, Brazil, Germany, Ukraine.... Their stories are each unique and teach us about the world. The news comes alive when a Ukrainian or a Syrian friend talks about how recent events have affected their families, and we often have conversations about values and morality.
6. It reminds everyone that eating is a community affair.
Eating is something we do together. This might be a minor point, but in a restaurant we usually order what we want individually and have our own personal food experience. At home, we eat what we are served and share the same eating experience. Homemade meals remind us, in our ultra-customized society, that the universe does not exist simply to please us individually; we are made to contribute unselfishly to community.
7. It allows people to get to know the real us.
Our home puts us in a place of vulnerability, because it is a personal space. Sometimes I'm afraid my home is too grand for the guests we're inviting. Other times I've felt my home is far too simple. We know our guests may make value judgements after seeing us in our home. But it's a good reality check, to remind us to be our real selves—even if those real selves forgot to wipe out the sink or still haven't fixed the latch on the bathroom door. Our sincerity is much more important than our status, or lack thereof.
8. It encourages us to keep our home clean.
I'm trying to be better about cleaning consistently, whether or not guests are coming through. But nothing makes me scramble for the vacuum or the mop like knowing that someone else will be seeing our space. (OK, who are we kidding, I only mop if I must. But the vacuum, that I use quite frequently).
9. It's an outlet for creativity.
I believe the home is a perfect place to express creativity. I like to keep an arsenal of colourful serviettes, placemats and banners on hand. And I admit it, I do like theme parties, coordinating decorations....and (not surprisingly) cooking foods from around the world.
10. It encourages others to do the same.
Lastly, hospitality is best taught by example. The easiest way to learn it is by watching others who do it well and sincerely. I've found that hospitality is a bit contagious, if I invite people over, they often do the same in return; sometimes it just takes one person to get the ball rolling.