When the last of the lunch things had been returned to the fridge, the dishes washed and put away, and the table wiped down, I set about gathering ingredients for dinner.
If you’d told me five years ago that I’d be writing that sentence today, I’d have been horrified. What kind of dystopian future was I doomed to? What kind of monster would have me chained to the kitchen table, forever peeling and chopping and slaving over a hot stove?
Five years ago, fresh out of university, my meals at home were few and far between. I was much more likely to be found with a bowl of curly fries at the pub with colleagues. A ready meal grabbed on the way home from an evening that had slipped away at work. Dinner and drinks in the City with university friends. Apart from haemorrhaging money and forgetting what a vegetable looked like, it wasn’t a bad lifestyle: I worked hard, I had fun, I spent time with people I liked and I ate exactly what I wanted at that moment.
But there wasn’t much space for being hospitable. In a house shared with strangers, I was awkward about spending much time in the kitchen for myself, let alone inviting others to spend time and eat there. I loved spending time in the houses and flats of friends who had settled down with a partner and had their own space; I basked in a second-hand sense of home. But I had nowhere to welcome them into in return.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised then, to have discovered over this last year a real joy in cooking for others. It’s not born of any confidence in my cooking abilities – average, at best – but a kind of deep contentment which has grown in the months since we tied the knot and settled in to our first house together. Maybe it’s because a year has passed and the seasons are on repeat. Maybe because we’re preparing for a cosy autumn this year with the same familiar soft lamps and blankets and candles and bookcases as we did last year. Whatever the reason, the contentment that’s setting in is like a very old friend: for the first time in a decade, I really feel like I live at home.
And the more I feel at home, not only in this physical building but in the life it represents, the more I want to invite others into it. It’s not because they don’t have homes of their own, but because it’s so natural to want to share the life you love with others. For me, that looks like cooking for them. Something happens to me when friends, family, or even new acquaintances step through the door, especially if they’ve come to stay for a while. I whip out meal plans and dream up new recipes, I set the table with condiments I’ve forgotten we had, I play with the lighting to create a space I’d want to be welcomed into. And with each evening of eating and laughing, each catch-up brunch, the house grows a little bit more like home.
I find it hard to believe that our emotional, physical and spiritual lives are unconnected, so I can’t help noticing a very similar pattern when it comes to mission: inviting others into life with Jesus. This summer has been a particularly warm season in my relationship with God, and in many ways, it’s been about rediscovering familiar patterns of prayer and worship that are deeply connected with home. It’s settling down in our prayer room in an evening, lighting a candle and curling up with a favourite passage of Scripture. It’s sitting outside with a cup of tea, before anyone else is awake, and talking over the day’s plans with God. It’s seizing on the surprise moments of closeness, pulling the car over to give full attention to this prayer that’s somehow bubbling over.
I keep smiling to myself; I remember this. It’s not that everything’s the same as when I was a teenager; I’ve changed, the place has changed, the people have changed. But I remember the deep contentment. This summer with God, it feels like living at home.
And so just like my desire to invite others in, cook for them and spend time with them in my kitchen, I’ve found that home feeds invitation. It feeds mission. I spent time last month in Byker and Walker, east Newcastle, working with a brilliant team of people to put on a community mission including holiday clubs and family fun days. It was exhausting, but it flooded me with energy. When an eight-year old asked “Why did God want Jesus to die on the cross?” it felt like every one of my cells joined in praying for wisdom, for words of life and hope to offer her. Morning and night, I found myself praying for those young people and their families, praying for the team, praying for the churches. With each puzzle piece played and each cake iced, each football headed and each story enacted, I buzzed with the joy of inviting young people to get to know Jesus, the one who welcomes us home.
Because of the nature of the ordination training journey, we’ll only be in this house about 10 months more. The next one will be for a little longer, three or four years. There’ll be times when everything feels new and unsettled, when the kitchen is full of boxes and I don’t know anyone to invite over anyway. But whatever the roof over my head is like, whatever food I have to offer, I hope that the sense of home with God is one that only deepens.
In another five years time, I’d love to be able to invite family, friends and folks I’ve just met into a warm, family kitchen filled with the smell of roast chicken and an Aga. But even more than that, I hope I’m going all out to offer the invitation of life with Jesus, to anyone who wants to come home.