Hospitality is not about being Pinterest-perfect, but about extending your heart to another. When we make space and extend our circle to include others in hospitality, we are the ones blessed, even though in the moment it can feel intimidating or burdensome.
As a single mom, I remember being hesitant to have my small group over to my single-wide trailer. Where would twelve people sit? I didn't have enough chairs, and where would the children meet for their lesson?
But then I remembered my pastor's wife telling stories of her first apartment (which consisted of a couch and a bean-bag chair) and how she kept a couple of extra frozen hamburger patties in case company came by. Encouraged by her example, I decided to give myself over to hospitality.
Another time a friend asked me to watch their two children overnight. I couldn't even begin to think of what food I was going to serve, as our basic diet then was ramen noodles and cereal. But I trusted God to give me an idea and He did. In fact, eighteen years later, those now grown up children still talk about the homemade donuts we made. They felt so special that I would go to that trouble. But the truth is donuts were all I had!
When considering Biblical hospitality think on these things:
God doesn't ask you to give what you don't have, only what you do have. I didn't always have bacon and eggs or even a loaf of bread in those days. What I did have was flour, baking powder, and the rest of the ingredients to make donuts. Remember the widow of Zaraphath?
…But she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I have no bread, only a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar; and behold, I am gathering a few sticks that I may go in and prepare for me and my son, that we may eat it and die." Then Elijah said to her, "Do not fear; go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make one for yourself and for your son. "For thus says the LORD God of Israel, 'The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain on the face of the earth' " (I Kings 17:12-14).
Elijah didn't ask the widow for what she did not have, only for the little bit that was in her hand. In so doing, she had more than enough!
Gratitude turns what we have into enough. The participants of my small group weren't looking for a perfectly comfortable home, they were looking for perfectly comfortable people. Younger participants were glad to sit on the floor, and quite honestly the seating situation lent to a homier feel. When Jesus fed the 5,000, he broke the bread and gave thanks for it. As one of my favorite authors, Ann Voskamp, often says, thanksgiving always precedes the miracle. Being grateful opens the windows of heaven. Ask God to open your eyes to what you do have.
Creativity often comes in the guise of lack. I can not tell you how many times as a hostess that I have been forced to be creative! The Internet and Pinterest can be a wonderful source when trying to plan a party or look for hospitality ideas. Often you can google ingredients or items you have to find an exciting new dish or a decorating idea. Another Ann once said, “That is one consolation when you are poor--there are so many more things you can imagine about” (Ann of Green Gables).
Good hospitality helps us to see things through the eyes of others and care for their needs. When my children were still home and we were expecting overnight guests, there was always a flurry of action. Furniture was pulled out. Beds were cleaned under. And pillows were brought out into sunshine to air out. But one of the most fun parts of our preparations was to turn the bedroom our guests would stay in into a "hotel suite." We would use some saved hotel travel sized shampoos and soaps, fold towels extra fancy and place them in a basket on the bed along with an Andes mint tucked carefully under the pillow and a small coffee pot and mugs placed in the room. This was especially fun for the children and they didn't mind helping with the cleaning as much when they were able to participate with this part of the process. The whole family enjoyed imagining what it would be like to come to stay at someone's house and be treated so royally. This loving treatment is much more than just creating a comfortable space. Hearts find a home when someone listens to our hearts and cares about us.
Hospitality is an act of obedience to the Scriptures. If there is no other reason to be hospitable, this should be reason enough. Hospitality in Biblical times was a big deal. Just think of the story above about the widow woman. God often not only blesses the the receiver of hospitality, but also the giver in their obedience. Romans 12:13 commands, "Practice hospitality." The verbiage here clearly indicates that the art of hospitality is a journey not a destination. It is something when practiced can become second nature and more and more excellent. As with other spiritual practices, obedience unlocks a door to wisdom and grace in order to accomplish what God has required of you.
When we extend hospitality to others we are blessed in the process. When tempted to avoid hospitality consider the encouragements above. Done on a regular basis, hospitality brings the blessings of a giver. It opens a door for the giver to share so much of one's own personality. It would be difficult to find a more genuine gift.
Rev. Joel Vande Werken
Rev. Joel Vande Werken