I had gotten to know their mom a little bit on a previous visit and expressed my amazement as dish after dish was brought out, covering almost every inch of the tablecloth on the floor.
She grinned and said that she’d been up since 3am cooking the noon meal. When I peeked in the kitchen later, I saw her daughter and other female relatives who had come over bustling around in the kitchen, cleaning up all the food we had left behind.
Months later, when we invited a couple over to our home in Delaware, I knew my spread would look nothing like the abundance we’d been shown in Iraq. I wasn’t even planning to make a jello salad, which seemed to be a staple when my mom had people over after church.
Instead, when the day came, I was just trying to make sure the chicken was cooked through, and the rice was fluffy enough.
Well, that and a number of other household tasks I hadn’t left myself enough time for– cleaning the bathroom, sweeping, taking out the trashes, and washing the dishes—all in the last half hour before our company came.
I started ordering Christopher around, frustrated that I couldn’t clone myself. I wondered what our friends would think if they showed up fifteen minutes early, to me running around and thinking that if I was stressed enough, things would get done faster.
Sometimes I felt like it wasn’t worth it—the potential for marital conflict, trying to get the house clean all at once, and the possibility of something burning and feeling ashamed.
Why would God ask me to do something that felt so hard?
I needed to discern what the Bible said, rather than trying to imitate the culture I had observed.
In Romans 8, we are reminded that not only are we not guilty, but we have also been adopted as sons and daughters of the Father.
Romans 12 begins with the words, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
God has given me all the mercy I need to have a guilt-free relationship with Him. So when He asks me to do something, my actions must come from that place of acceptance and peace.
Which is where the idea of hospitality comes in. In the second part of Romans 12, Paul talks about the qualities believers should desire.
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
I can’t force myself to have any of these qualities, just like I can’t practice hospitality without His joy giving me the strength I need.
Though I still feel I have a lot to learn in this area, here are a few things I’ve discovered five years into the journey.
- Entertaining is not the same thing as hospitality.
When I’ve thought of hospitality, I’ve often pictured a white table cloth on a candle-lit table, more side dishes than can be counted, and a main dish that resembles a piece of art more than something to digest. I’ve thought of pinterest ideas and decorating magazines.
Just conjuring up the images made me tired.
I couldn’t get excited about hospitality until I realized the difference between entertaining to impress and inviting people into our home because we wanted to enjoy their presence.
I was also inspired by some podcasts about hospitality given by Nancy Wilson and her daughters who currently have an abundance of little ones. You can check them out here.
- Hospitality doesn’t have to involve a home-cooked meal.
When Christopher and I were both working new teaching jobs, I had little social energy left for other relationships. When it was our turn to host our small group at our house, we served a small snack or a pitcher of lemonade. One Saturday, we had our Sunday School kids over to bake cookies.
Since becoming an at-home mom, I’ve been able to have ladies over for tea and prayer. We’ve had a few of Christopher’s co-workers over. If Christopher has some guy friends over to play games, I try to have a couple snacks squirreled away for that, too.
- It doesn’t just happen. It takes intentionality and planning.
It encouraged me that even if we could eat more frugally ourselves, part of showing love to others might be budgeting those extra dollars to feed a few more mouths. If I plan ahead, I can even get the items I need on my regular grocery shopping day.
Once I spread my cleaning jobs throughout the week instead of cramming them all in on the company day, I could focus on food and dishes before people came over. I figured that if they saw a stray hair on the bathroom sink, they probably wouldn’t decide to walk out the door.
- It opens the way for relationships to be deepened.
When my mind was on making sure water glasses stayed filled and toys didn’t get strewn too far, I couldn’t focus on the conversation or ask thoughtful questions.
When I was able to lower my expectations of hospitality, I could relax a little more and respond to requests, rather than trying to preempt them.
When I quit worrying about how my hospitality was being perceived, I was free to enjoy and be encouraged by the people God had brought into our home.
- It gives us the chance to welcome others in the same way Christ has welcomed us.
When we reach out to others and invite them into one of the most intimate parts of our lives, it is a way we can imitate the God who delights to welcome us into His family.
Who knows? Maybe God will use us as part of His invitation to draw others to the greatest banquet ever.
Who might the Spirit be leading you to welcome into your home?
Do you have any tips for practicing hospitality with little ones?