“It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.” Psalm 118:9

We have all seen the television ads for new drugs that will deal with any number of diseases. They typically show a video of a healthy woman or man whose lifestyle has been altered since starting this new drug. They are now playing with their grandchildren, building a deck, or dancing with their loved ones. At the end of the ad, for a solid fifteen seconds, the announcer rapidly reads off the list of disclaimers: this drug is unsuitable if you have any history of heart disease, any time in Southeast Asia, any history of high fevers, etc. The disclaimers are important, because not every drug works for every person. But as they rattle off the list, I start to lose confidence in the drug’s effectiveness.

Thanksgiving is next week, and my table will be spread with turkey and all the fixings. Preparation will start early, with some dishes being made a few days earlier. It is a challenge to get everything on the table at the same time, even if you have a double oven. Renowned chefs say it is one of the hardest meals to prepare well. After everyone is seated at the table, I find myself criticizing my food: apologizing for the turkey’s lack of flavor, or if the stuffing has too much celery. The “I’m sorry” or other similar disclaimers continue when I serve pie and coffee at the end of the meal. This habit is not just limited to the Thanksgiving table. I regularly apologize about the meals I have prepared for my family and friends.

It’s a habit that even carries itself beyond meal preparation. My daughter-in-law, Rachel, and I tripped over each other with the words “I’m sorry” when I was at her house for two weeks. Whether it was forgetting to thaw out a meal, or thinking a dish didn’t turn out right, it was a race to say, “I’m sorry.” At one point, we both recognized the absurdity of our apologies. She just had delivered a baby, and was navigating recovery, nursing, and lack of sleep. I was there to help make her life easier by cooking some meals, cleaning the house, playing with Joel, and getting baby snuggles. There was no need for apologies, and even though we declared a moratorium on “I’m sorry”, they continued.

The words “I’m sorry” are important. They signify a recognition that your actions were hurtful or disrespectful towards someone else. I should apologize when I respond harshly to my husband. I should display remorse when I treat a friend unkindly. I should ask for forgiveness when my actions were intentionally harmful. But they lose their meaning when I apologize for something that needs no apology.

Why do I feel a need to apologize to others when I am serving or providing a meal? By nature, I am not a perfectionist. I’m okay if my sheets are not folded perfectly, or if my silverware drawer is a little awry. And, although social media pressure to be a perfect hostess may play a role in my apologies, this habit was in place long before the inception of Instagram. Additionally, it’s a habit I see manifest itself more in women than men. If a man offers to help out his buddy with mowing his lawn, you will rarely hear him say, “Sorry, I didn’t get those perfect lines in your grass.” What are the roots of this obsessive need to apologize?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, it’s my fear of disappointing others. I apologize in advance, because I want to lower the perceived standards I believe others hold for me. It’s my need to stay in their good graces and to find approval. And this puts unhealthy pressure on my relationships with family and friends. My approval needs to be found in my relationship with God, not with others. God calls me to serve, not to have perfectly salted chicken or chili with the perfect amount of cumin. I should always do my best, but God doesn’t demand perfection.

Julia Turshen, one of my new favorite cookbook authors, wrote in “Simply Julia”, ‘“Disclaimers don’t taste good. If something didn’t turn out how you planned it, there’s no need to tell your guests what the original plan was. Just say, “dinner’s ready!” You made someone a meal! That’s a gift.”’ Those words struck me! When I am hosting and serving, I don’t need to offer any disclaimers. I am offering the gift of help and/or hospitality. My goal should not be to create a perfect meal, but to create a place where the other person feels welcomed and important!

Finally, just like hearing the disclaimers of a new wonder drug, when I am on the receiving end of a friend’s disclaimers, it makes me feel a little uncomfortable and a need to praise excessively. Food then becomes the object of the hospitality, not the company of my good friends.

This Thanksgiving, I am hoping to offer no more disclaimers, but to enjoy the company of my family and friends. I will not apologize for my turkey or make excuses for the stuffing or make a disclaimer for the pie. Instead, I will be enjoying my family and friends, extolling the goodness of God!

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