Elisabeth Elliot—one of my favorite authors and an incredibly inspiring Christian—speaks fondly of childhood memories of the company her parents entertained in her book The Shaping of a Christian Family. Visiting missionaries, church members, or friends were regularly welcomed in their home and at their table. Elliot goes on to write of the impression that left on her about being hospitable.
Romans 12 identifies the marks of a true Christian. Hospitality, that old-fashioned virtue, is inexcusably among them. Elliot’s childhood and what is commanded in Scripture formed her view of hospitality. She had an open home just as her parents did.
What is hospitality, though? Is it always having people over and feeding them?
Hospitality can take many forms. Hosting and feeding people are probably the most common way. However, getting into the habit of entertaining people in your home takes work and raises a new set of questions. What if I can’t cook? What if I can’t afford it? How do I put up visitors when I have to work?
These questions fashion the practical side of entertaining. Work schedules, budgets, and not being able to cook are deterrents to having people in your home often and easily. Is hospitality only about feeding people in your house? I posit that hospitality has more to do with the heart of caring for others than loosening the grocery budget or cooking a gourmet meal for the masses.
Hospitality is a definitive characteristic of both elders and deacons in Scripture. Peter says that we ought to always be showing hospitality. Think of the last time you were invited somewhere or invited someone over for the express purpose of being hospitable.
There are shockingly few instances I can remember recently. I can’t answer why we haven’t been invited anywhere, but I can shed light on why we haven’t had people over. You might identify with some of the reasons; hopefully we can eliminate them together.
First: time. Our family has to work around a weekly work schedule and a few Saturdays a month. We also have a baby. Late nights out are simply not an option for our family, but there is nothing stopping us from having people over. It might take some fancy footwork to get a baby ready for bed and a meal prepared for company at the same time. It’s tricky but not impossible.
Second: having a readied house. This is my biggest hang-up. I want my house to always be perfect for everyone who ever sees it. It’s entirely unrealistic. We live in our house. And we have a baby. The diaper bag lives on a chair at the dining room table, little toys are strewn across the living room during the day, and dishes stack up in the sink between breakfast and dinner. Tidying up a day’s odds and ends is easy enough, thankfully, but what can you do when your home starts to feel a little grungy as well?
Cleaning needs a little more planning. I made a weekly cleaning schedule that I mostly adhere to it. Some days I just don’t get to what I intend. I need to be flexible but I also want to be ready. Is it really that big of a deal if someone stops by the day after I meant to clean the bathrooms but didn’t? If I’m cleaning regularly then no it doesn’t matter. One more day isn’t going to ruin the guest bathroom. When two, or three, or even four weeks stretch between cleanings, though, I get embarrassed at the thought of someone seeing my dusty home. I want my home to be presentable and feel like a sanctuary to our guests at any time. It helps me to do a little cleaning every day.
Third: money. Hosting people can be expensive. Those beautiful five-course spreads on Pinterest are enviable, and entirely out of the question for my family’s budget. I’ve found some websites that share affordable but nutritious recipes. I’d be happy to serve most of the recipes I’ve tried before. Also consider having people over for coffee and dessert. You don’t have to have three varieties of sweet treats. It’s okay to only have one. It doesn’t have to be fancy either. Find that one recipe you love, make it often and share it. And don’t forget that if the Lord expects us to be hospitable, he will certainly provide all the means of being so. Do you remember the two times he multiplied the loaves and fishes? There were leftovers.
The practical barriers to entertaining are real. They can be overcome with planning and practice. Christians should be in the habit of opening their homes and sharing meals, a habit I want to be better at. We have been commanded by Christ to love others and the cost of loving others is found in dying to ourselves and giving our time, space, and money to feed their bodies with good food and their hearts with loving fellowship.
God will provide for all we need and he will bless obedience. Do you remember the two times he told his disciples to go fishing?
Their nets were overflowing.