With the holidays upon us, I have had occasion to experience anew a baffling and troubling habit of our society. I am calling it the “lost art of the RSVP.”
Let’s set the scene. A mom of several children decides to host a Christmas party for the other moms and kids they know. She enjoys parties and isn’t doing it out of a sense of obligation or pressure. She creates and hands out printed invitations for a weekday afternoon, a time likely to be less busy than a night or weekend. Then she plans a menu, simple food but with lots of kids you have to make plenty. She prepares a few activities to keep the kids busy, and of course, spends hours cleaning her house.
She puts an RSVP date on the invitation, but as that date draws near, she has only heard from two or three women. At least one of those says “maybe.” Eventually, she starts texting the other invites, asking if they are coming. “We’ll try” is the most common response, followed by no response at all. A couple of people explain their families long list of foods they don’t eat, starting with refined sugar, and suggest they can’t come unless you have gluten free/paleo/vegetarian options. After several days of cleaning, baking and preparing for this party, with her kids excited too, the day arrives.
One person is on time. Two more are late. The rest, who said “probably” or “maybe” or even “yes”, don’t show up. They don’t text that day or anytime afterwards. Later, the hostess might find out they were shopping, or at the park. While it was nice to have those few guests over, it was hardly the party she spent so much time, energy and even money, planning. It was just a glorified play date, with lots of left-over food. Not to mention all the special foods she prepared for those with special requests, several of whom didn’t show up anyway.
Inviting a person to one’s home should be an occasion for generous and joyful hospitality and fellowship, an enjoyable holiday experience to bless one’s friends, where we request the pleasure of another’s company. Instead, inviting others to our home has become an “option if nothing better comes along,” an occasion where attending becomes a favor to the hostess. Often she must pursue the guests for responses, and almost beg some to come so that there’s more than one person coming, so that all her hard work and generosity will be worth it. All this, because she wishes to bless those around her.
What has happened to the beauty of hospitality? Why is it that opening our home to others, instead of being met with gratitude, has become on occasion for neglect, rudeness, thoughtlessness, and downright rejection? Why are we so unwilling to respond politely and to commit wholeheartedly, and instead hold out for something better? Why are people too busy to enjoy each other’s presence, but instead prioritize only themselves, or default to whatever requires little effort?
These situations happen all throughout the year, and have become so common that they are made light of. What used to be common courtesy has apparently become an extraordinary act of virtue, which few seem to practice. But why does this happen? All the time, I hear people, especially moms, complain that they are lonely, isolated, friendless. Yet when offered hospitality and friendship, they don’t have time for it. Many don’t even have time politely decline.
In our modern age, when répondez s’il vous plaît requires no more than a quick text message, why do so few extend this common courtesy to others? Everyone’s lives are “so busy,” and people are quick to complain when they are not “treated well,” but where is the respect for other’s time and feelings? Sadly, this lack of manners and kindness cannot be blamed on secular culture, as everyone I know who has done this to me has been a Christian.
This Advent and Christmas season, let’s try to practice the “art of the RSVP.” Let us see invitations for what they are: an act of generous hospitality on the part of another. Let’s try to respond promptly and politely, either yes or no, not maybe. Let our yes be a commitment (barring sickness, etc.), and let us do our best to arrive on time to events. If you feel lonely or isolated, take advantage of opportunities for fellowship! Be open to friendship and then cultivate those relationships that attract you. Reciprocate hospitality.
Finally (I say this for myself more than anyone) let us have the courage to continue offering, to continuing being vulnerable and opening our hearts and home for hospitality. Each of us has much to give, but in the giving we leave ourselves open for rejection and pain. So let’s pray for the grace to keep trying, to keep seeking until we find others who wish to build a community based on courtesy, generosity, and gratitude.
Matthew 22:1- 10 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.