Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Enjoying Instead of Entertaining

My wife, Patience, is the queen of hospitality. She loves to have people over, and really enjoys cooking and hosting. Over the past eleven years of our marriage, we have had many guests come for dinner. Early on it was not like that. Probably because we were doing good just to feed ourselves! But once we had settled into our home several years back Patience sat me down to explain something lacking in her life.

“I want to have more people over,” she stated.

“Like, for dinner?” I asked.

“Yes, I really love cooking and I love people,” she paused for a moment and spoke clearly, “I need to have more people over.”

To be honest, this did not sound like much fun to me. I am just the opposite of Patience, and find a great need for silence and solitude… both of which were stripped from me the day we had children. I am an introvert to the bone, and recharge by being away from people. Patience’s idea to invite people into our home sounded almost tortuous. I asked her if I had to be downstairs while the people were over. She was not amused by the question, which I took to mean I should probably make an appearance for dinner.

It wasn’t long after that conversation that we began opening our doors to friends and longtime acquaintances. Patience would clean for a solid day, cook an immaculate meal, and have coffee brewing for her favorite part of the night… conversation. This all seemed like such unnecessary work to me, but I found I kind of enjoyed the company. I got to know people I had “known” for years. They would sip their coffee, and I would listen as my wife would converse in a way I could never do. Questions about life, and marriage, and God, and family… and in such a way that engaged the others without coming across as pushy or nosey.

We have had a lot of people around our eight-seat high-top kitchen table since. From missionaries, to coworkers, to friends we liked but just never got around to getting to know better, we found these opportunities together fascinating and more enjoyable than previously anticipated. Our lives have since been so deeply enriched from that single decision to open up our doors and letting others in.

As much as I love all the people we have had over throughout the years, I have to admit, hosting is not always enjoyable. Through the years I have noticed two main groups develop that I could divide all of our guests into: those to enjoy and those to entertain. Patience has noticed it too. It seems there are two very distinctly different experiences that come from these polar opposite types of people.

Let me explain. 

Those to Entertain

These are not bad people. In fact, they are often great people. But at the same time, they require a lot of work. These are the people that have a certain level of expectations about your time together. These are the people you scrub the base boards in preparation for. You worry about what they think about the meal, and feel the need to keep the conversation flowing. 

We have not had much experience with these types, but enough to know that hosting a couple or family like this is terribly exhausting. That’s not to say that you won’t have fun together, but it seems to take so much effort to achieve it.

The entertainment syndrome doesn’t just apply to dinner guest though; it can be found in marriages, friendships, and families across the world. How many times have you gone on a vacation to entertain the kids and came home feeling like someone had beaten you with a baseball bat? It’s one of those vacations you have to plan in a couple of extra days just to recover from the fatigue acquired from the nonstop “fun.” Maybe it wasn’t a vacation. Maybe it was a date. If you are not careful you can fill your time with so many activities that when the opportunity comes for actual quality time, you are too exhausted to make it happen. 

We live in a culture that is obsessed with entertainment, and are raising kids that expect nothing less than to be entertained every day of their lives. And though movies, games, sports, and activities are all fun, I can’t help but think that we are so busy entertaining our children that we have forgotten how to enjoy them.

Just this past Saturday Patience and I decided to bring the boys up to North Chickamauga Pocket Wilderness to swim and play in the creek. We have a community pool membership, but I didn’t feel like being with the crowds. I wanted something quiet and peaceful. We packed a backpack full of snacks and towels and hiked a short distance into the woods before cutting down to the creek. The water was crystal clear and gently rushed past huge boulders and stacks of river rock. It was shallow enough for Sawyer and Wesley to play in, and deep enough in certain areas for me to join in as well.

Quality time on the creek

The boys and I climbed over the boulders and splashed in the water. We spent a solid hour trying to dam up a portion of the creek. Sawyer worked hard at stacking the rocks, and Wesley dug up the rocky mud and piled it on top. For nearly three hours I played with my two sons in that creek without interruption. 

As we drove into town to get some pizza afterwards, I thought to myself how rewarding our time together was. We could have put on a movie. We could have sat at home on our tablets. We could have even gone to Chuck-E-Cheese. All of those things are fun, but our time together on the creek with nothing but the rushing water and an endless supply of stones was so much better.

Those to Enjoy

Have you ever had someone call and tell you they are on their way to drop by your house? You can always tell what level of friendship you have with that person by how you spend the following five minutes before they get there. I can’t tell you how many times we have scrambled around picking up mounds of toys and clothes and flinging them into a bedroom and locking the door. We light candles and hide dishes. I guess the goal is to make your house look as if no one lives in it.

Through the years of hosting couples over for dinner, we found a core group of friends that we can enjoy being around without the pressure of feeling the need to entertain. These are the friends and family that have seen our nasty house. They’ve seen the dishes in the sink and the dirty clothes in the floor, and they just don’t care.

I have come to appreciate our time together with people like this, because we can enjoy each other. There doesn’t have to be a game involved or a movie to have fun. Most of the time we find ourselves around the table or on the couch just talking, and laughing, and sometimes even crying. I have learned  I would much rather have one friend I can be real with than a hundred I have to pretend around.

That realness… that comfort and enjoyment stems from a place of deep trust.

Some of the people we enjoy the most!

The same is true of my marriage. I use to think I had to entertain my wife for her to like me. I would plan plan plan, and we’d always have a lot of fun. We would often see an older couple sitting at a restaurant quietly enjoying a meal together and ask ourselves if that would be us one day. I dreaded the thought of becoming like that, but I see the beauty in it now. Any couple can entertain one another, but it takes a special bond to enjoy each other. 

The same applies to those of us who are parents. Don’t worry so much about making every waking moment of your kid’s life an amusement park. Instead learn to enjoy them right where they are. 

I’ll never forget the time I took my son, Sawyer, out for a father/son day downtown. He was 4 years old and I had been telling him for days about the Duck Boat Tour I was going to take him on. HE was excited to ride on a vehicle that could just drive right into the water. It was a scorching June afternoon when we paid to park and arrived at the Duck Boat only to find that the entire day had already been booked. Now I had to explain to my four year old, who I’d been hyping up, that we would not be going on the boat/bus hybrid. 

“Sawyer, I am really sorry buddy, but they don’t have any seats left,” I explained as I crouched down.

Sawyer was quiet.

“I tell you what. You name anything you want to do and we will do it,” I said.

“Anything?” he said, as his eyes lit up,

Sawyer thought for a long moment.

“Dad, I just want to be with you. I don't care what we do.”

My heart melted in my chest.

“Well, is there somewhere you want to go or something you want to do together?” I prodded

“Let’s go home and play with my toys together!” he said with a big grin.

“Let’s do it!” I replied.

And so we went all the way back home, and I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in the floor playing cars and ninja turtles with my son. 

Like I said, don’t get so caught up with trying to entertain that you miss an opportunity to enjoy.

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