Entertaining goes deeper than inviting guests and whipping up a simple meal. It means practicing community around the table, sharing stories, and finding out more about what makes our guests so interesting.

People are hurting, our experiences make us real, and it’s our privilege to be their friend and listen. I served a platter of simple Buttery Chocolate Almond Bites and espresso for a snack a few weeks ago, when we found ourselves taking in an unusual situation with our neighbors.

It’s interesting how the food can take a backseat when someone is hurting, and you get deep into a discussion, and you forget about the dessert that’s in front of you. Or, if you even made a dessert, perhaps instead just serving a meal (or simple snacks). And that is okay with me.

In my home, I always want people to be more important than the food or drink that is served. I realize that not everyone feels this way, because we live in a “what’s cool and hip” society, and we focus more on “things that make entertaining cool” and less on our guests.

Have I been guilty of this? Yes. But I’m glad when I catch myself.

It takes discipline to catch ourselves from getting caught up in the limelight of entertaining, to think it has to be perfect, and to remain humble, with soft hearts that are ready to love on our guests, at all costs.

Even when we don’t have an answer to give, we can surely listen.

How to listen and engage with others:

1. Be there for them. We can’t always fix another’s hurts, but we can be there for them, by inviting them into our homes.

2. Listen to them. We don’t always advise, but we can listen. Sometimes injured souls just want a listening ear, and want to talk things out.

3. Give advice. It’s easy to jump in and give advice, but sometimes it’s best to sit back and wait to be asked to share some wisdom. So give it out at the right time.

4. Be empathetic. Sometimes our own pains and failures will help others, so be willing to think about your own experiences and how they might help.

5. Be a connector. Listen and think of other people who can help. Connect people together by sharing a name, introducing, and bringing the right people together, who can help with healing. Often it’s out of our hands, but we can be that conduit to get them other help.

6. More than words. Sometimes it’s a hug or a smile, or even sharing a tear with a guest, that means the world to them. It can also be a book, a podcast, or another resource that can help your guest beyond what you can give. Offer to help in ways that you feel in your heart will guide and uplift the person. And if you are a person of faith, pray with them, and let them know that you will pray for them.

We can live happy lives when we practice community around our tables. It really does go further than the latest hip table setting, or new patio furniture. The heart of the matter is the deep connection around the table.

When’s the last time you really listened to the people around your table?