I grew up in a social family. We like people. A lot. As kids, we knew our friends were always welcome at our house. We regularly had neighbors, friends, and family over for a visit or to share a meal with us. After we moved to a house with a built-in pool when I was 9 years old, the action increased. Now our house was, more than ever, “the place to be”.
Yes, there were times reserved for just our immediate family, but generally speaking our home was open to others. When I got married and settled into a home of my own, it felt only natural to invite people over.
Only it wasn’t natural. It was hard. It was a lot of work. It was awkward. And I sometimes got the impression that my friends were not very comfortable in my home.
I’d had the experience of being in someone’s home and feeling uncomfortable the entire time. But in other homes, I felt welcome and at ease. My mom had made it seem so effortless. She was always looking out for the needs of others, often at extra expense and inconvenience.
I’m a thinker — one of my favorite Bible verses is in Luke 3 where we are told, “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” So, I followed Mary’s example. I pondered. What made the difference between a home that was welcoming, and one that was not? How did my mom manage? What was I doing, or NOT doing, that was counterproductive to hospitality?
I considered the homes I’d been in where I had felt welcome. What was the common denominator? I read, thought, discussed with friends, and thought some more.
And I keep inviting people over and trying to work out my difficulties. I’ve come up with some things that I believe stand in the way of true hospitality:
Clutter – If I have too much “stuff”, there is no room in my life for people. All my time is eaten up with maintaining the stuff. There are two possible fixes for this. The best fix, in my opinion, is to get rid of clutter and excess stuff. Give it away! I still am prone to having too much, so enter the second fix: Simply don’t let it stop you from inviting people in. Yes, they will see the real you. The messy. Oh well. This is actually a KEY to helping people relax in your home. Especially if children are involved.
Selfishness – Hospitality involves giving. Often sacrificially. If you really don’t want to give, or if you want to keep the best only for yourself, it won’t work out well. Folks will be able to tell.
Ineffective home management – If you don’t have some sort of basic system for keeping your home reasonably clean and neat (NOT PERFECT!!!), the idea of having people in will feel very stressful. If you know you will have to scrub toilets and floors and wash a mountain of dishes, you will not be likely to extend a last minute invitation to someone needing comfort or friendship.
Uptight about having everything perfect – If your home is decently clean and you just can’t bring yourself to have people over because you still have dirty windows or cobwebs here and there, you are probably too self-absorbed. Most people won’t even notice. They are coming to see you, not your house. (For the record, my house is NEVER perfect. There are always flaws. I’m getting better at rolling with that.) I’ve observed that, in a home that is too perfect, I feel extremely uncomfortable. It is unnatural and I begin to feel inferior. Until I realize I’m comparing my known everyday reality to their “Realtor-ready” perfection. Apples and oranges.
Uptight about “stuff” getting damaged – I’ve had my share of unruly kid visitors in my home. I’ve had stuff damaged. I know it is a real risk with hospitality. Stuff will get destroyed. It’s stressful. We don’t have room in the budget for randomly replacing stuff that people break. Not to mention that we have kids already living in our house that do an excellent job of breaking stuff. I remind myself that it is ONLY stuff. Stuff can be replaced. People are more important than stuff. They are eternal souls that I have the opportunity to impact with my words, actions and attitudes.
Insecurity – If I am not confident in who I am and where the Lord has me in my life, I have a hard time inviting others in, because it always carries the risk of judgment. I cannot control the impressions and opinions that others form of me and my family when they see my home and how we function and interact. It’s a vulnerable place. And it’s often humbling. Especially if you have kids.
Comparison – This kind of goes along with insecurity. But I had to find my own way with hospitality. Don’t try to copy another person. If will be fake and others will notice. Learn from others, yes! But there is a difference. I regularly notice and learn from the hospitality of others. If I compare myself to my mom, or try to mimic her, for example, I will be discontent and lose my joy. My mom and I are very different people. We do things in our own unique way. Neither way is inferior. They are just different. I need to be me.
Tips to developing hospitality
JUST DO IT! It will get easier. Don’t give up. When you bomb (and you will), learn from it and keep going. We all have failures, embarrassing moments, regrets and times we have put our foot in our mouth! Don’t let it stop you. Have people over often. It’s easier to maintain a home to be ready for company than to “stress clean” only occasionally for a big event. Invite people you are comfortable with, at first. Close family, best friends, etc. Invite feedback. But don’t stop there. Challenge yourself to invite those you don’t know well, people you are uncomfortable around, or even people you dislike. (Yes, I really said that — see Romans 12:20.)
As a Christian, I don’t consider hospitality to be optional. There are a variety of passages in the Bible that address the topic. From outright commands (see, for example, 1 Peter 4:9, Hebrews 13:2), to examples of hospitality shown (2 Kings 4:8-10, Proverbs 31:20, Luke 14:12-14, Acts 16:15, Acts 16:34, 1 Timothy 5:10).
Hospitality is NOT the same as “entertaining”. Hospitality serves others. “Entertaining” serves only oneself. Hospitality is important. It contributes to the needs of the saints (Romans 12:13). It enables us to be God’s hands and feet (Matthew 10:40-42, Matthew 25:34-40).
How can one practice hospitality if inviting people in to your home is impossible? I’ve never been in that situation, so I don’t have many ideas; but one that that comes to mind is to bring a meal to someone in need. Even if it is a grocery-store rotisserie chicken or a “Hot and Ready” pizza. Call someone who you think might be lonely or hurting. Pray and ask God to show you the needs of others around you. I think there are some things in that list I can improve on.
I’m really preaching to myself here. “Do not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9) I am still learning. I still blow it, but I’m pretty stubborn and hard-headed, and I’m determined to keep at it.
If you were a victim of one of my early attempts at hospitality, I apologize. And I thank you for helping me learn. Please come visit again.
I’d like to finish off with a story of amazing hospitality that was offered to our family. In 2008, my husband’s parents were celebrating 60 years of marriage. We wanted to bring the whole family (at that time we had ten kids) to visit. We started planning. We booked airfare and arranged for rental cars.
But we were stumped by accommodations while we were there. My in-laws had a small house. No way was there room for all of us there. Most (all?) hotels have a five-person limit per room. That meant three rooms each night for a week. Not only was that costly, but we would have to divide the family into three groups every night. Not fun, not to mention that there would be minor children alone in at least one of the rooms.
I looked into campgrounds and other creative accommodations (like VRBO), but since my in-laws lived in a non-touristy small town in North Carolina, there did not appear to be anything like that near by. So, I did what any self respecting “big family” mom would do, I started networking. I turned to an email group I’d been a part of for years. A group specifically for moms of big families. I asked if there was anyone in living in that area who had suggestions for where to stay.
Within a day or two, I received a response from a mom who lived in the same small town as my in-laws. She extended an invitation for our ENTIRE FAMILY TO STAY WITH THEM FOR THE WEEK! We did not know each other at all. We had never met or corresponded before. And yet, they invited a family of TWELVE to stay in their house for an entire week. We considered this offer, almost disbelieving that it was for real. I talked to the mom on the phone and she assured me that it was a genuine offer and her husband was all for it as well. We accepted.
We arrived at their house exhausted. We’d taken a red-eye flight and, naturally, no one slept. The first thing I noticed was welcoming smiles on the faces of the our hosts. They had written a “Welcome” message on the chalkboard in their kitchen. They immediately offered us something to drink. The parents had a large master bedroom suite that they vacated during that week so that we could all sleep together. There were blow up mattresses, sleeping bags, portable crib for the youngest one. The bathroom had a large stack of towels and designer soaps and washes. They gave us free access to their washer and dryer. They cooked for us. They welcomed us into their work and play. They engaged us in conversation. They expressed an interest in getting to know us. Their kids welcomed our kids and shared their things with them. And they served us lots and lots of coffee.
I’m sure it helped that we had similar lifestyles. They had six kids. They home schooled. But the welcoming presence and attitude extended way beyond those things that we had in common. They had truly worked hard on, and perfected, that ART of hospitality.
And I believe that what it really is. An art. A beautiful expression of the creator God in us.