Hospitality: Place or Space?
I love the concept of hospitality. If I could invite you over for coffee right now and sit by a fire and hear what you’re thinking about and learning in life, friend, I would do it. Even the word “hospitality” brings to mind for me all the cozy and familiar feels of home and belonging.
And yet, if you enter these four walls with hopes of taking your time over a freshly brewed cup of joe, know that you may actually drink said joe, but you’re just as likely to end up sopping it up from the carpet with half a roll of paper towels before it ever hits your lips.
My understanding of hospitality has deepened over the past decade, no doubt, but I would say my pride has had to die — OK, let’s be real: It was publicly executed — in the process.
Nine years ago, I was newly married and still had the stars of idealism glistening in my young eyes. My college diploma hot off the press, I was enamored with the ideas of community and hospitality, phrases like “doing life together” and “building intentional relationships.”
This was all dance parties and canoe trips, late night conversations over coffee and friendsgiving dinners — until life sped up. We added another family member or two and I was still able to host a nice dinner or throw a pretty baby shower now and then, though it would take a mighty and costly behind-the-scenes effort.
I got into this habit of getting overly excited about hosting an event (I’m a total sucker for party planning), promising it would just be a “simple affair” and then going way over the top in the end, partially because I wanted to and partially because, my word, people, Pinterest.
Then bambino numero three hit the scene.
Now, no matter how valiant my efforts, how earnest my little hostess heart, no event I plan is going to be pinned to anything you will ever see. Like, ever.*
You think I’m being modest to be cute and humble. Thank you, but no.
A few weeks ago we hosted a potluck soup night for our church small group. When people started walking through the kitchen door, I was — this is not a lie — turning on the burner under an empty pot to start making soup. The night was an elbow ram-fest in our nooky cottage as friends helped dig out paper bowls and take trips to the basement to rummage around for a Ziploc bag of plastic spoons.
When everyone left, Ben and I looked at each other, laughed nervously and thanked God for a group of such gracious and willing friends. By all worldly standards, it was an epic hosting fail.
But (and you know where I’m going with this), that’s the point isn’t it? I love to host and even entertain on occasion. However, it all puts me at the center. I get to be in control and usher people through an experience that unfolds just how I planned it.
It’s so much more uncomfortable to invite people into the mess and just see what happens (especially when what happens is usually so loud and so sloppy).
Lately I’ve been thinking about what it looks like to have a heart of hospitality, to be hospitable to others just by offering a space (physical or not) for them to be honest, a space that isn’t about me and isn’t punctuated with me apologizing for how I didn’t have time to do the dishes before they came. I’m going to stop pretending like the dishes are usually done, OK? They’re not.
In the Bible, in Romans 12, Paul encourages Roman Christians not to think of themselves more highly than they ought. He tells them they are like a body with many members, each having a different function but all working together as “one body in Christ.”
He then lists out various gifts God has given his people (serving, teaching, exhortation, generosity, leadership, acts of mercy) and calls people to use those gifts with cheerfulness.
The next section mentions hospitality by name, but the whole text is this really incredible picture of how hospitality can look when it doesn’t center on the host or hostess.
“Let love be genuine,” Paul writes in verse 9. “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
I’m convicted by the words in this section. I’m often so busy twisting hospitality to be about me impressing others or “getting it right” that I miss the truth of biblical hospitality - outdoing one another in showing honor, praying with my friends, being a blessing to those I’m around, offering a safe space for the sweetest joys and the deepest sorrows.
I already told you I love party planning. I know there’s an element of Heaven that hangs just over a beautiful dinner party with friends. My kids will always, always have a piñata and way too many balloons at their birthday parties.
And yet, I’m in a season that doesn’t usually allow me to love people in an impressive or even necessarily beautiful way. Rather than lament my inability to get to that place or, worse yet, buy into the shaming lie that I should be able to do this or that, I’m praying for a humble heart of hospitality.
Nine years ago, I didn’t understand what it meant to be in a community that required both giving and receiving.
Now, I’m praying for God to help me get over myself and hold fast to what is good (Him) and then trust that He can use me to show honor to those I’m around and to receive it from them as well. This is a surprisingly hard work for me, and I know I can’t muster up the courage on my own.
Thankfully, friend, I’m not alone, and neither are you. Let’s be a people who show hospitality with our words and actions just as much as with our tables and chairs.
From the mess,
*Unless I’m frosting cupcakes because I could (read: do) spend hours watching people ice cakes and cupcakes on Instagram. I am literally in awe.