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?