I hear so many women talk about hospitality and frankly, it just sounds intimidating! I feel an incredible pressure to make everything go off without a hitch – getting my house perfectly clean, planning and preparing a dinner, all while not making other people feel stressed by how stressed out I am! I want my home to be an inviting place for others, but I feel so inadequate to entertain guests. Am I expecting too much?
A Not-So-Domestic Diva
Dear Not-So-Domestic Diva:
You have taken the first step to answering your own question by realizing that hospitality is important, especially for followers of the Lord Jesus! In the Old Testament era, hospitality was not just good manners but a necessity for meeting the needs of travelers in the harsh desert regions of the ancient world. The New Testament records a mandate (Rm 12:6-13; 1 Tm 3:2; 5:5-10; Tit 1:7-9) and even describes this ministry as a spiritual gift (1 Pet 4:9-10). Jesus modeled perfectly the blending of meeting mundane physical needs with the deeper spiritual needs of those who crossed His path. In laying the foundation for assigning such mundane service to high importance, let me also suggest that to practice hospitality is to deepen your relationship with the Lord (Gn 18:1-8; Heb 13:2) and open the doors to missionary advance (Mt 9:9-13; Mk 1:29-34; Lk 19:1-10; Ac 16:11-15).
God reveals Himself as our gracious Host (Ps 23). Women are very active in hospitality throughout the biblical text: Abigail (1 Sm 25:2-39); the Shunammite woman (2 Kgs 4:8-37); Mary and Martha of Bethany (Lk 10:38-42; Jn 12:2-7); Lydia (Ac 16:11-15). Men also performed this service: the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37); Matthew (Mt 9:9-13); and Paul (Ac 28:30-31).
Here is my personal definition of hospitality, which I often reference as the “gift of welcome”:
Hospitality is the practice of welcoming, sheltering, and feeding those who come to your door or cross your path with no thought of personal gain.
You have the opportunity to share what you have and who you are with whomever God sends your way. Far more important than culinary adventure, lavish service, and elaborate tablescapes is your willingness to be flexible enough to adapt to the needs of your family and guests and a willingness to invest time in fellowship and conversation.
Your greatest gift to your guests is yourself—your time, talent, energy, and creativity.
The counterfeit worldly entertainment is exposed when placed alongside genuine Christian hospitality. Worldly entertaining presents a showplace, has as its goal impressing others, elevates things above people, claims all as yours and admires possessions, expects something in return (especially praise and reciprocation), models itself after things of the world (television and social networking, magazines, your neighbors), and in the end this ostentatious entertaining becomes like a taskmaster who enslaving you and demanding that you meet the expectations of others. God is not a part of the equation.
On the other hand, Christian hospitality provides a safe place—a harbor in the storms of life (Prov 31:21), seeks to serve others (1 Pet 4:8-11), puts people before things (Mt 10:42), makes what is mine yours (Ac 2:44), takes no thought for whatever reward or compensation is in it for you (Mt 6:1-4), frames itself according to the Word of God (Mt 5:43-48), offers freedom that liberates and enables you to exercise your giftedness and creativity to the fullest as you minister (Rm 8:2). You become an effective channel for the Lord’s love and care.
Your expectations can make the task intimidating.
If you are simply giving God what you have and pouring out what is in your heart in service as opportunities open, you are not bound by standards of the world or the people in it. In fact, the emphasis moves from looking at “what you have done” in the splendor of a sensational display of resources and action to seeing “what God has done” in pouring out His blessings on others through you. When we were seminary students, my hospitality event for any occasion was centered around pancakes—hearty and filling for breakfast or brunch, dainty and crepe-like for reception, varied with many different toppings for dinner! You cannot imagine how many ways I found to serve pancakes! My tablescapes and place settings were original but fashioned from whatever I found in the house and outside—bits or ribbon and used gift bags, twigs and pinecones and perhaps magnolia leaves, wedding gift household accessories, souvenirs from travel. In those early years, I did not think I had an ounce of creativity, but I was motivated to dig down and pull out what I did have—any idea of mine or one inspired by someone else’s table! Your expectations are only too high when you are trying to reach someone else’s plateau; you cannot go wrong when you ask the Lord to stretch you and use you and then you simply do what you can and let Him do exactly that.
Your heart is already there—you want to serve Christ and minister to others!
Now just stay alert to how and when you can do just that. When the time comes, give it your best—a gift to the Lord, using what He has provided. No regrets—no whining for what you don’t have or can’t do but gratitude for the opportunity you do have to offer a cup of cold water in His name!
I remain yours in the journey,