At The Table With My Husband
Words by Erin Diaz Cleveland // Image by Marisa Albrecht
I sit at the dining room table and stare across it at my husband. He’s eating some variation of pasta, which is his favorite meal to prepare. It’s been three months since we were married, meaning we’re new to this whole marriage thing. We’re new to a life of seeing each other daily, as we spent some time while dating trying to work out the kinks of long-distance love. I’m new to the way he washes the dishes; he’s new to the way I attempt to vacuum with our seemingly 100-year-old Rainbow vacuum. Mostly, we’re new to sharing a home.
My husband’s name is Ross, and he is kind. He has dark eyes, dark hair, and he smiles so big that sometimes I think if he still had wisdom teeth, I would probably see them. Yet, in the midst of the pure joy that comes with this marriage, we have quickly learned marriage is not all butterflies and giggles. We are extremely, tremendously, vastly human—meaning when we wake up daily we are still imperfect, embarrassed sinners. In light of this realization, we have vowed to make the most of our life together by practicing a virtue often overlooked in the American culture, which seems to be overrun with people being “busy.” That beautiful, difficult virtue we are striving to practice is hospitality.
In his 1985 sermon “Strategic Hospitality,” John Piper stated, “The ultimate act of hospitality was when Jesus Christ died for sinners to make everyone who believes a member of the household of God.” There is no better way to begin a discussion about hospitality than to lay the foundation of the virtue: Jesus’ ultimate act of hospitality, his atonement for our sins. Every day, Ross and I challenge each other to fix our eyes on the hospitality that has been lavished upon sinners by Jesus since the moment he made the ultimate sacrifice. It isn’t difficult to look toward this virtue in the Bible, as passages and stories about the topic of hospitality flourish from the beginning of the Old Testament until the end of the New Testament.
Along with this foundational story for exhibiting hospitality, there are more examples of the virtue peppered throughout the Bible. Some can be found in Luke 10, including the parable of the Good Samaritan—one of the most outright examples of hospitality in the Bible. In this story, a Samaritan came to the aid of a Jew. The hostility between Samaritans and Jews was no joke—it even caused each of the groups to walk hundreds of miles out of their way just to avoid interacting with each other. A Samaritan helping a Jew was almost unimaginable at the time Jesus told the parable, meaning Jesus found hospitality to be important, no matter your background.
Another example from Luke 10 is about a pair of sisters, Martha and Mary, who invited Jesus into their home. I don’t know about you, but from time to time I have a Martha-versus-Mary complex. It doesn’t always seem clear to me whether I should be “doing” or “listening.” As the story goes in Luke 10, Martha’s invitation for our Lord Jesus to come into her home resulted in her bustling around, probably washing dishes and sweeping her floors and moving those knickknacks just a liiiiiittle to the left. I imagine her thinking, My home must meet the highest standard of perfection, while buzzing around like a bee. If this situation happened in the present day, I think I would be making a quick phone call to Joanna Gaines and begging her, “Could you come flip my house really quick?” (I don’t have access to Joanna Gaines, but if Jesus were coming to my house, I would definitely try to pull some strings.)
And then there is Mary. In the midst of Martha’s buzzing, she’s sitting at Jesus’ feet, enjoying his presence. Imagine having the ability to be at his feet, soaking in every word he spoke and observing every move he made. The experience would probably feel like the more closely I watched him, the longer my memory of the encounter would last. How difficult it is to imagine being anywhere besides where Mary was—as close to him as possible! Yet, Martha was undoubtedly doing her best to show her version of hospitality.
The paradox of Martha and Mary seems to be one that my friends and I, and surely many more Christians, are navigating. As we juggle the roles of trying to care for people, opening our homes as often as possible, and giving what sometimes feels like everything we have to better other people’s lives through hospitality, feeling overwhelmed at times is natural. When is there time to be as present as Mary was? But that’s just it—Mary’s role was showing us how to act out hospitality in a much different way than Martha. Mary was exuding the type of warmth in hospitality that so many people need: a present and consistent listening ear.
Jesus, in response to Martha and Mary’s difference in behavior, spoke to Martha directly in Luke 10:41–42. “But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’” When it comes to listening and doing, Jesus made it clear that listening to him and spending time with him trump all other efforts. In listening to him, we receive guidance about how to listen to others better and how to serve them, both of these Martha-and-Mary qualities funneling into effective hospitality.
This biblical story brings me back to marriage and navigating hospitality within it. Both my husband and I were raised in Christian homes, meaning we have been instructed since before we can remember to be respectful and serving of others. But despite our in-home examples of hospitality, we live in a culture that reminds us of the 50% marriage/divorce statistic constantly. “The first few years are the hardest,” we’ve been told on multiple occasions. Whether or not this is true, being wary of these first few months and years in a way that makes us chase after God to answer all our new questions is the best way we can navigate hospitality.
As a newly married couple, Ross and I make the choice as often as possible to serve each other—not just by using Martha’s example of hospitality in cleaning up our chickens’ coop and making the bed every morning—but by sitting down and listening to each other, like Mary. We have the chance every day, even if we aren’t physically together, to listen to each other with intent like Mary listened to Jesus. Oftentimes, I would rather my husband sit with me and listen to what is weighing on my heart than for him to wash our dishes. This doesn’t negate the importance of both of us making the effort to keep our home tidy and put-together—instead it shows that the two, listening and doing, go hand in hand. Martha and Mary’s actions are not either/or, as I sometimes think of them. The sisters’ expressions of hospitality actually complement one another. The combination of both personalities is a picture Christians, especially married couples, can look at every day to remind us what is important.
So now we sit at the table, eating a meal together, listening to one another’s best and most difficult parts of our day. It’s my favorite thing to do. Since he cooked, I’ll probably clean up tonight—and maybe I’ll get that Rainbow vacuum to work.