We scheduled dinner with a friend for Monday night.
It ended up being one of those crazy weird Mondays. It would be difficult to go into all of the details but a combination of Emily-being-too-optimistic-about-what-can-be-done-before-9:00-a.m., a dirty kitchen that I didn’t have time to clean before my morning lesson, pouring rain, a long drive through the wrong part of D.C., and make-up and regular lessons taking place on opposite sides of town all added up to me being pretty annoyed at my own bright optimism and pretty stressed by a little after noon.
But then a girlfriend came over spontaneously – asked to come over suddenly, just as everything that had made the morning hectic ended- and we worked through the hours of the early afternoon together to the soothing smell of a fall candle, listening to the patter of the rain. And that friend’s sudden need added a soft calm and cheery presence to my out-of-breath morning.
By the time 7:00 rolled around and it was time for our dinner-guest to arrive, somehow everything that was tumultuous about the day had fallen into place. All of the commitments of the day had been fulfilled, the stress of the day had washed away, and dinner was waiting, hot and satisfying, for Mark, me, and our dinner-guest to enjoy.
And on a day that was – in some ways – stressful and weird and wet and unhappy and – in other ways – cozy and delightful and satisfying, I learned an important lesson. There were moments during that wet busy day when I wanted to call off the dinner, reschedule, move it to another more ideal day, whine that we were over-scheduled and over-committed.
But the truth is that the friend who showed up spontaneously in the early hours of the afternoon and the dinner guest who arrived at our door at 7:00 actually made my day far better than it would otherwise have been.
We talk about how to bless others through hospitality but what we often forget is that hospitality blesses us. When friends carve time out of their schedule to come enjoy a meal with us, when they bring conversation and strawberry ice-cream and waffle cones and warm encouragement, when they bring companionship and empathy and love, they give us wonderful gifts that we could get no other way.
Sometimes I forget this lesson and I take out my stress by canceling cozy dinners with friends, by constantly moving commitments around, by trying to pretend that it’s the commitments and people and relationships that are to blame and not my own frazzled, self-centered, anxious, rushing state of mind.
We should practice hospitality simply because it is good for us. It is good for our souls to stop the rushing, stop the madness, stop the fretting and to slow down and pause and enjoy the company of those who are on this road with us.
So take my advice today, my advice to myself that I forget so frequently. Are you too busy, over-scheduled, over-booked, frazzled, tight on time? Have someone over to dinner anyway.
It doesn’t have to be glamorous. It doesn’t have to be complicated. The presence of a friend, the conversation, the change of pace, will remind you of what is good. We don’t need to stress. We don’t need to run around frantically. We don’t need to constantly shuffle our commitments on the calendar like so many pawns on a chessboard.
But we do need each other. Breaking bread together is one of the most fundamental acts of a civilized society. To achieve what is good, to forge those bonds of community, we need to do it. And do it again. And do it more. Until the practice of eating together becomes so natural that we forever shake this terrible habit of feeling like friends and good food are dispensable.
I’ll even help you. Use the menu below and you won’t even have to plan. Just do it. Invite someone over for dinner. On a Monday night. You won’t regret it.
Chairs Around the Table: 3
Main Dish: Brown Sugar and Ginger Chicken
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsps. ginger
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp pepper
5 chicken breasts.
Blend the ginger and brown sugar. Pat the chicken breasts dry and cover thoroughly in the brown-sugar-giner rub. Mix the other ingredients in a measuring cup. Pour gently over the chicken breasts. Let sit in the fridge for a few hours. Place the chicken breasts in a baking pan. Bake at 365 degrees for 30 minutes.
Side Dish: Rice
Salad: Baby kale with Mushrooms, tomatoes, red bell-peppers, pistachios, and this dressing.
Appetizer-That-We-Ate-With-Dinner: This spinach-artichoke dip. I replaced the kale with spinach and added bacon bits and I’m so glad I did.
Dessert – These gingersnaps, plus our guest brought delicious strawberry and chocolate ice-cream along with waffle cones. Scrumptious.