Stay for a Coffee

One of the first things I learned about French culture is that it is sloooow. If a culture has a love language, the love language of the French is unmistakably “quality time.” Which works out well for me, because I am 100% a quality time kind of girl. What living in this culture exposed in me, however, is that as much as I love quality time, most times, I would really rather avoid it.

During my first year in France, I began a weekly standing dinner appointment with my friends Jeroen and Maaike. Born, raised, and married in The Netherlands, and now living in Paris, Jeroen and Maaike became dear friends and started inviting me over every Wednesday night.

The first evening, when I arrived at their home, Maaike made me a cup of coffee and we sat. Dinner was not ready. Dinner was not even started. (In America, I thought to myself, we coordinate cooking time to arrival time. If dinner is not ready when guests arrive, we are apologizing.) Jeroen, her husband, was not yet home from work. So we sat and talked about our days. Then, as became the custom, Jeroen would arrive home and he and I would have (another!) coffee while Maaike joined our conversation from the kitchen. As dinner cooked she would sometimes join us in the living room again, but all in all it would take up to an hour before we were sitting at the table.

We sat and ate, literally breaking bread together off of a baguette bought at the corner bakery. Our dinners were full of conversations about cultural differences, my dating life, how our jobs were going, and faith.

The first night at their home, as soon as dinner was over, I began to prepare my exit strategy.

“Well, guys, this has been really great…” I began.

“Nope,” Jeroen clipped as he took my plate. “Next is chocolate and coffee. In America you leave right away. Here you stay until midnight.”

I was shocked by the display of hospitality. By the true quality time. By them enjoying my company so much that we would have two or three cups of coffee after the dishes were clean. (And what do we rush home for anyway? To put on our sweats and watch TV?)

The invitation from them was scary for me at first. Absent was the safety of control, of knowing the cultural norms of when and how to arrive at or leave their home. The potential awkwardness of hours spent with no exit plan was daunting for me. But what ended up happening in the hours spent resting in the invitation they had offered was the building of one of the most precious friendships of my life. The knitting together of our hearts happened in those hours.

I find my invitation from Christ often works the same way. I am resistant to spending too much time in His presence. I need an exit strategy. I need to know I will not be changed too much. I want the assurance of not having to spend too much time there, of being able to get back home to watch tv.

And yet when I say yes, when I submit myself to the priority of building a relationship rather than a controlled, robotic, parody of time together – I am changed without realizing it. The time becomes the building of a deep friendship. It is not an inconvenience. It is love.

Being invited – in French culture – means you are wanted. Someone wants to spend their whole evening with you. Someone wants to spend hours knowing you, hearing your story, engaging with the whole you. Someone wants you in their home until the wee hours of the morning. I think this reflects the heart of Christ. He invites us to Himself, and as much as He wants us to know Him, He wants to know us as well. To hear our heart. To know our story. And when we release ourselves to that time, to the opening up of our hearts, we learn – like I did in the home of Jeroen and Maaike – that the yielding to that invitation changes us.

Are there ways that you avoid invitation in your life?
How do you respond to the invitation of Christ? How can you be more available to His invitation?

8 Comments

  1. Abi March 8, 2017

    I love this concept! It warmed my heart today, when I needed a boost, and reminded me how much our Father desires to spend time with us. Thanks for sharing your story!

  2. Jenilee March 9, 2017

    There is definitely that influence here as well. When we go, it is for hours. And we stay through the 3rd round of after dinner tea which is a long process. But, it does express that we are wanted. And that is precious. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Wendy March 9, 2017

    Oh wow, I wish Japan, my country of service, was like this! Fantastic application, though!

  4. amanda june March 9, 2017

    wow!

  5. MaDonna March 9, 2017

    This brought back some great memories of when we lived next door to a French family who had us over for dinner. The first time we didn’t feed the kids beforehand. Haha…but making chocolate fudge cake with her and drinking coffee was so wonderful. It was awkward at first, but we left wanting to host like that, to make people feel wanted and cared for, to not be rushed.
    Great application with how Jesus invites us to sit with him and enjoy his company. He longs to enjoy our company without being rushed.

  6. Annalisa March 9, 2017

    That’s so awesome that you had friends like that who were willing to take you in and teach you the culture. (Although, they needed to know your home culture as well which is knowledge a lot of people might not have beyond what they see in the movies.) There are times that I’ve made mistakes over and over again because I didn’t realize they were mistakes or I didn’t know how to fix them. I don’t think I do this a lot, but I think that *sometimes* I avoid invitations because I know that I don’t know how to behave in those situations, and rather than deal with the embarrassment yet again without knowing what I should be changing, I prefer to just not go. (Fortunately, I have some amazing friends here who just roll with my weird United State-ed-ness and shrug anything slightly culturally inappropriate I do as part of being appropriate in the US. If I do anything *really* culturally inappropriate, they tell me gently.)

  7. Ruth March 12, 2017

    Thank you for this reflection. I’m currently based in Indonesia and residing with a host family who has experienced a major loss, during which I was (am still?) part participant and part observer. The concept of time and hospitality here has been a learning curve but drawing parallels with Christ’s invitation to sit and to be with him is encouraging, especially as I over analyse my “place” among them. This reflection reminds me to not sweat the small stuff, to be reminded that Emmanuel is with them as he is with me.

  8. Michelle Wallace March 13, 2017

    We’ve been in France now for over two years. Dinners are still hard for me. You pegged it- I desperately want an exit strategy! I’m an introvert, and after several hours with many awkward moments (all in French), my brain is mush and I can’t wait to go home. But after dinner, after the second cup of coffee, that’s usually when they really open up. So many are desperate for relationships, for someone to connect with. It forces me to be still, wait, listen. Those are such beautiful moments. I need to remember. It’s worth the time, the awkwardness. This is why I’m here, after all. Thank you for the reminder. 🙂

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