At Work

‘Present over Perfect’: How Your Outdoor Barbeque Connects You More Deeply with God and People

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I’ve been exploring the topic of hospitality as it relates to the call to community, and several sources have been great food for thought (no pun intended).

Some, of course, are cookbooks and cuisine magazines, but another is Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist.

Each chapter is anecdotal in nature, describing life lessons learned through the fruitful (though at times painful) collision of faith, food, family, and friends. The table and the home are highlighted as settings for many of life’s richest and most profound moments.

One quote that deeply resonated with me addresses the nature of control as it relates to the practice of hospitality. Niequist writes,

It seems like most of the things we try to make profound never are, lost in our insistence and fretting and posing. When we want something to be momentous, it rarely is. Life is disobedient in that way, insisting on surprising us with its magic, stubbornly unwilling to be glittery on command.

I know firsthand what it’s like to imagine how something will happen. To plan the flow, daydream excitedly about how perfect all the details will be, how much each person will enjoy himself and one another’s company…it’s something I have to fight to keep myself from doing all the time.

Yet, all things considered, rarely do things actually turn out as we plan them.

Great Expectations

In just such times—when we are overly concerned about making sure the table settings are just right, the kids are perfectly well behaved, all the food comes out of the oven and off of the stove simultaneously (and fully cooked)….you name it—things tend not to be spectacular.

We even try to control things that are entirely out of our hands. Have you ever been disappointed because the weather didn’t turn out as the forecast predicted? Sometimes an outdoor barbeque can turn into a quick dash indoors (and a disheartened host).

Too often we set ourselves up with highly specific, very grand expectations, only to be let down because we don’t receive or produce the feelings and experiences we thought we would (thinking that we know best what we ourselves and others need or want most).

This posture of control is deeply rooted in pride. Pride says, “I’ve got this,” “I know best,” and, “Leave it to me—don’t touch.”

Proverbs 16:18 says,

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Although there may be generosity and obedience at work in your heart through showing hospitality, it will be haughty before the Lord when it takes too firm of a hold with the arresting grip of control.

What Is Hospitality Really About?

Hospitality is about the two greatest commandments—loving God, and loving others (Matthew 22:37-40). Rather than considering how you’d prefer the time to commence, why don’t you open your hands to the Lord, showing him honor, reverence, and love by submitting to his lead?

Don’t neglect details that would leave you with overcooked veggies and rubbery chicken; serve your guests with excellence to the degree that you are able. Absolutely.

Do stop micromanaging the mingling and hors d’oeuvres; let people meander to the living room if they’d like, even if you’d prefer everyone to stand cheerfully in the kitchen as you finish up food prep.

Allow the kids to gleefully exhibit some of their cool gadgets—the Lord may desire to minister deeply through intergenerational connections.

An indispensable posture to have as host(ess) is the ability to let things happen as they will, taking each moment—with gratitude—as a blessing from the Lord. Rather than micromanaging, we must “make space” in our own hearts and minds for God to work through food, friends, and table.

Instead of planning out and imagining every detail, we must see ourselves merely as stage hands-turned-audience members whom the Lord loves to delight with surprises, even in the little things.

Present over Perfect

Niequist uses a phrase she finds particularly important during the holidays, “present over perfect.” In a nutshell, this encapsulates the desire to prioritize being present over making sure everything is perfect:

Either I can be here, fully here, my imperfect, messy, tired but wholly present self, or I can miss it—this moment, this conversation, this time around the table, whatever it is—because I’m trying, and failing, to be perfect, keep the house perfect, make the meal perfect, ensure the gift is perfect.

Let us not miss the moment.

Let us not miss the conversations with those we invite to share a meal around the table.

People are what matter. Food, ambiance, and timing certainly play roles within the dance that is hospitality, but they are not the stars of the show. They are merely helpful methods for connecting with God and people on a deeper level.

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