If you have ever seen the film Babette’s Feast, you know the power of exceptional food and wine to foster the healing of broken relationships.
For those unfamiliar with the film, the narrative culminates in an extravagant meal that mediates grace to an unsuspecting group of people. As they dine on each successive course, these neighbors, ripe in age and full of bitterness toward one another, soften and begin to confess past sins and forgive one another. Eyes brighten, the corners of mouths curl upward, hearts are warmed, and hands are tenderly grasped.
The meal these guests receive is an incredible display of hospitality, one for which they were entirely unprepared. Yet God worked graciously and benevolently through food and wine—lovingly curated and artfully crafted—to bring about wonder, joy, and even reconciliation.
For those who know the story, you know that this feast was anything but ordinary. The sheer cost alone—not to mention the planning and preparation required—certainly renders such a grandiose display of hospitality difficult for most of us to ever reproduce.
Yet there is much to be gleaned from this story—even something that we can take with us into the workplace.
A friend of mine was recently telling me about the many tensions she experiences in her workplace—generational, interdepartmental, even intradepartmental.
As my friend described her work environment, she recounted something she had done not long after starting the job.
As Christmas was nearing that year, she decided to do something fun for her department. She emailed her coworkers, telling them to bring in their favorite Christmas cookies on a given day. They were going to have a “Christmas Cookie Party.”
My friend did not expect much out of this endeavor. She merely wanted to do something special that would add a bit of merriment to the final work days leading up to Christmas break.
When the time came, people indeed showed up with cookies. Someone had even planned ahead to order a cart of coffee and milk from their company cafe. Pleasantries were enjoyed, smiles and laughter shared.
After the cookie party, my friend received emails from her coworkers thanking her for initiating this gathering, saying that it was bringing people together in their department.
As far as I know, my friend had no intentions to heal relationships, per se. She simply wanted to help her coworkers have some fun. She wanted to bring smiles to their faces. But she was able to foster even more than smiles.
These responses to her gesture, this spirit of conviviality… it was no small matter. The environment had been full of bitterness and dissent when my friend entered the scene as a fellow employee just months prior.
Through an act of hospitality—providing an opportunity for merriment and fellowship—my friend opened up an opportunity for her coworkers to let down barriers and reunite.
Not to say that her work environment is now free from all relational tension. Let’s just say they’re not sitting down for lunch each day holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” The situation is more complicated than that.
But the Christmas cookies were significant. They incited restoration, even if in a small way. Moreover, they provided a glimmer of hope. Hope that relationships can be restored. Hope that hurts can be laid aside, even forgiven and forgotten, to make way for friendship.
In most cases it will take more than some Christmas cookies to resolve deep-seated relational wounds. However, it is vital to recognize the power that acts of hospitality can hold, and that these have a special place within the workplace as well as the home.
Most workplaces are a bit different than the home. (Just a bit…) There are certain structures—not the least architectural and hierarchical—that make what we may generally think of as “hospitality” a bit more difficult to exercise.
However, this in no way precludes acts of hospitality from finding their rightful place at work. As we saw with my friend’s example, hospitality is not limited to the serving of hearty, home-cooked meal at a nicely set dining room table.
Bringing hospitality into the workplace will merely require some creativity.
In some cases, we may really want to think outside of the box. But on an ordinary basis, acts of hospitality may be as simple as treating someone to a coffee or inviting them to eat lunch with you.
You might even begin with responding to the initiation of others. Perhaps you’re the person that’s not keen on workplace gatherings, and often don’t want to participate. A next step for you may be moving out of your comfort zone and engaging an opportunity to build relationships with your coworkers. Consider how you might contribute hospitably in addition to your presence and conversation: a bag of coffee beans, a box of tea, a bouquet of flowers.
On the other hand, if you’re the one ready to initiate, consider individuals you can reach out to and get to know. Perhaps there’s a newer employee in your department. Ask them if they would like to get coffee or lunch. Take a posture of receptivity and openness, showing them that you’re interested in hearing their story and in learning how you can both encourage and empower them in this new job.
Hospitality isn’t just about nourishing people bodily—it’s about nourishing souls. Thus, outward acts need to be accompanied by a spirit of willing and open love towards the other. When we begin here, opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit’s work in and through us, there’s no telling what wonders he will work.
You may not be able to single-handedly restore resentment-free camaraderie to your department or broader organization. Relational reconciliation takes time and intentional engagement in conversation. But your hospitality can help to open people up. You can help foster in them a willingness to know and be known, to heal and seek healing with others.
Jessica Schroeder is a contributor to the DIFW blog. She is a Master’s student of Theology at Denver Seminary and holds a B.S. in Theology with a concentration in Biblical Studies, which she earned alongside a minor in Worship Arts. Enthused by the statement “everything is theological,” she endeavors to live into this truth each day, as well as to write about it. Jessica also blogs for The Institute for Faith, Work and Economics and her own blog, Slowing to Wonder.