What is hospitality, really?
Maybe it’s inviting someone to dinner, or letting a friend-of-a-friend spend the night when he’s passing through town. Does that make you feel nervous? Or maybe it’s the stuff of Pinterest and Martha Stewart–making place-cards out of ribbon and burlap or setting out the fine china. Lord, help us. Exactly what makes someone hospitable? What are the rules?
Most of us feel a bit insecure about hospitality. We can’t even handle our relatives staying for more than 3 days, so strangers and new acquaintances seem out of the question.
Hospitality is relegated to those folks with an extra bedroom and bath, or those gals gifted at flower-arranging and bread-making, right? Surely, it’s okay to remain reasonably polite in public and completely cocooned in private. Or is it possible to develop the gift of hospitality, to become more hospitable over time? Does God expect all of us to be hospitable?
Some people are naturally hospitable; they are intuitive and proactive–modern-day Barnabases who see others’ potential and invite them into the elite crowd. But for those among us who may not come by hospitality naturally, I think I have good news. Hospitality is a skill that can be learned; with courageous practice, it will develop into a beautiful habit that will bless everyone around you. Hospitality is essential at work, at home, and at church. I’ve broken it down into 5 simple rules we can all follow.
Change your perspective. What would make other people comfortable or uncomfortable? Are they weary? Quiet? Active? Talkative? Nostalgic? Hospitality considers the environment and plans accordingly. Hospitable people know that introverts will feel self-conscious sleeping on the hide-a-bed in the living room and night owls won’t feel comfortable sitting alone on your couch while your family hits the sack at 8:30 pm. So they adjust accordingly, to benefit their guests. At social events, hospitable people make introductions and share their friends. They facilitate connections. They include. They value putting people at ease, even though that requires some sacrifice on their part. Here’s the great difference between hospitality and manners: good manners give something, but hospitality gives up something.
Stop what you’re doing. This is hard. We live in a fast-paced, every-minute-counts culture, so having people over generally means we have to stop doing something else. If you drop by someone’s house unexpectedly, hospitable people postpone their plans, put down their work, and make some tea. And they don’t let on that anything is amiss. Truly hospitable people would never want you to feel like you’re interfering or interrupting. In order to tell you how much you matter, they quietly and happily discard what they’re doing and focus on you. Hospitable people don’t have more time than anyone else, and they aren’t doing less important things than anyone else. They just value others’ needs more than the rest of us do.
Be authentic. Hospitable people aren’t Mrs. Bradys or I-Dream-of-Jeannies. No Alice or quick head-bob will make putting on a dinner easier, yet they make dinner anyway–or they might order out. Either way, they let you into real life in their houses, sometimes even into the messy parts. Rooms aren’t quarantined; apologies aren’t made. They just smile and say, “Come on in.” Now that’s not to say they invite you into a pigsty. That wouldn’t be considerate. (Not everyone can stomach the smell of your kids’ dirty socks and last night’s dinner rotting in the trash can.) Hospitable people don’t put on a show; they just share their lives.
Be humble. Serving guests is about serving guests, not about reciprocity or first impressions. While a hostess may love making table decor from carved pumpkins and canning jars, her decorations aren’t the point of the invitation. Decor just facilitates the thrill of providing a setting which whispers, You are worth my labor. You matter to me. Hospitable settings will honor the guests instead of the hosts.
Open your doors. Hospitable people actually hope you will stop by unannounced. They want you to feel comfortable enough to open the back door, walk in, and help yourself to something in the fridge. Hospitality is the relational science of connecting people together, and an open door policy prioritizes connectivity. It means no matter what’s happened, you’re welcome here. No matter how big the fight, how long the time, or how awkward the situation, we will remain connected. You can come anytime, for any reason. And I want you to come–I’m not just saying that to be nice. An open door is always open.
Hospitable folks keep our society running. They foster children, they shelter the runaway, they befriend the lonely, they welcome the new-moves. They create team unity and start small groups. They sustain long-distance relationships and plan reunions. They think of the million little details that most people don’t notice but everyone feels. Hospitality is not a hobby; it’s a spiritual gift. And when it happens to me, it affirms that I am worth a little time and a little trouble. I am special. I am loved. Hospitality is Jesus in the room.
So change your perspective. Stop what you’re doing. Be authentic. Be humble. Open your doors. Someone is waiting to connect with you and with everyone you will introduce them to. Someone will feel valued because of your kindness.
Romans 12:13–Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
1 Pet. 4:9-10–Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully, administering God’s grace in its various forms.