When people asked me what I thought my gifts were, it used to be that hospitality ranked pretty high on my list. Fresh out of college, I loved hosting everything – intentional get-togethers, impromptu gatherings, morning Bible studies, and intricately-themed parties. Then I shifted and became part of a new community; a community with a radically different culture and feel. Suddenly hospitality didn’t seem like my strong suit. It didn’t even seem doable. In fact, I felt bad at it. What had happened?
A large part of what had gone wrong was I'd confused ease in entertaining with a heart of hospitality. “The focus of entertaining is impressing others;” says pastor and author Tim Chester, “the focus of true hospitality is serving others.” It took a change in my comfort zone to expose my faulty thinking about hospitality.
I thought hospitality was the ability to style your home just so, the finances to have an extra bedroom, the buying and eating of special, easy-to-prepare treats, the willingness to scrub and clean to present a spotless place for parties. With some notable exceptions, I was playing at hospitality, choosing carefully who, what, when and where. I enjoyed entertaining and sharing within certain well-defined and familiar boundaries. It was easy, and I thought it was great fun!
After the move, I was confronted with welcoming new people (often complete strangers) into my home at times that didn’t suit me, serving foods I had prepared with great difficulty (and often-times badly), on a reduced budget, and in a much more meager home setting. It was hard and confusing and I wanted to throw in the proverbial dishtowel.
What was hospitality? I thought back to when I had felt it in my own life. First, I thought of a small apartment in Eastern Europe. I had been invited over to a new friend’s home. She had been doing some translation work for me during my stay there, and her family had been eager to meet me. Their small, cozy apartment was brimming with joy, and the sweetness of a simple and filling home-cooked meal, a mother’s hug when away from my own, and hours of laughter and sharing.
Later I learned that, in order to have me over, the family had borrowed silverware from neighbors, having recently sold theirs to pay the rent. The hearty portion of stew I had received had contained the only meat they would have for the month. They were hospitable -- sacrificing to provide a welcome.
I thought back, too, to my final year of college. Due to some traumatic events, I had been invited to live with a couple – professors and pastor of my church – for the year. Day in and day out I watched them be flexible with the many who came knocking on their door. When all they probably wanted to do was tackle their to-do list (or perhaps rest!), they instead pulled up a chair, poured a cup of tea, and listened, laughed, prayed, and loved.
When it would have been more convenient for them to pull back and have time with one another, they took me on, integrating me into their daily life. They provided for me, nurtured me, and loved me. They were hospitable, dying to their own needs in order to provide for the needs of others.
Hospitality, ultimately, is a heart-attitude that has its foundation in what Christ has done for us. It is an opening of both your home and your heart to others (both those close to you and those who are strangers to you) in a way that mirrors Christ’s abundant, generous hospitality towards us.
When I read 1 John 3:1, it reminds me of the incredulous joy we should feel at the lavish love of God:
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”
We’ve been adopted as sons and daughters of God; Christ has opened his home to us – with merciful love and patient sacrifice. At an incalculable cost, he has said, "Welcome, I will protect you, provide for you, you are mine."
This is hospitality!
With this kind of example, it becomes so clear that hospitality can’t possibly be simple entertainment, dependent on what you have to offer in terms of physical possessions and resources. It also becomes clear that it won’t always be comfortable; it won’t always be to the people we would choose or at the times we would choose. Though hospitality is certainly a gift for some, it is a heart-attitude we are all called to discipline ourselves to.
When Paul writes in Romans 12 about the marks of a true Christian, hospitality is listed. 1 Peter 4, talking about how we should be stewards of God’s grace, also exhorts all believers to hospitality:
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
Over these past years, God has worked in my heart, convicting me of both the pride and selfishness that prevented me from wanting to welcome people in to my heart and home when I was out of my comfort zone. Though admittedly I still struggle (can someone please give me a fool-proof recipe sure to please large crowds that I can whip up in a moment’s notice?!), He’s comforted my heart with the reminder of His love.
As I’ve learned to rest in his generous hospitality toward me, I’ve seen the beginning glimmers developing in my own home. I hope that I will continue to learn to extend it freely, joyfully, and sacrificially to all who cross my doorstep.
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