My family recently moved into a new house. For our first eight years in Traverse City, we lived in a 114 year old farm house. In some ways it was a great house. It was unique and had some charm. It also provided shelter for our family as we grew from 4 people to 6 people (plus a dog).
But, it also had all the problems of a house that was 114 years old.
Now, my wife and I believe that because Christ welcomed us, we should welcome others (Romans 15;7). We should be proactive and warm. We should have open doors and be generous with our food, time and possessions. However, two of the problems that existed at our farm house created some major issues regarding "hospitality".
One problem was the driveway. It was long and it was gravel... and during the 5 months of winter here it was always a major problem. Now I admittedly do not enjoy snow removal but no matter how much I tried I could not keep that much gravel driveway clear. It caused a lot of problems for us and for anyone who came over. We used to watch with great fear as our guests would leave. We peaked out the window just hoping they would not get stuck. Some did not... many did.
The other problem was temperature control. In the summer that house just baked. Not having central air meant we had no counter measurers and we would sometimes break 90 degrees on the main floor...let alone the second floor. During the winter it got worse. It was terribly insulated and was heated with propane. Some of you can already feel our pain. We could not keep it warm if we wanted to but all of our efforts resulted in extremely expensive propane bills. We lived between 60 & 62 degrees most of the winter. Well, this caused us to be very self-conscious regarding guests. We knew it was uncomfortable and it often discouraged us from inviting people over at all.
We are thankful that our new home, while certainly not perfect, is accessible, cool when it is hot outside and warm when it is cold outside. But, that brings up some good questions. There will still be some inconveniences with our new house... so, what should we do?
And what about you? How do you use your home? Are you worried that it is not big enough, clean enough, quiet enough, close enough, warm enough, cool enough? Are you wondering if you are a good enough cook or have the budget for a "real" dinner? As the holidays are upon us, it makes sense for us to more intentionally ask how a Christian should practice hospitality. We all have excuses... so, what do we do? Do we even really understand what "hospitality" is?
Here is a really helpful article that I think will help us all think a little more clearly this holiday season... and every day after.
by Jen Wilkin
On November 6, 2010 I tweeted the Most Regrettable Tweet of my mediocre social media career. In anticipation of the holiday season, I decided to weigh in on hospitality. The tweet was a flawless blend of selective memory and self-righteousness, designed to heap condemnation on the heads of my followers under the guise of offering wise counsel. It was a verbal “selfie” snapped from my best angle, positioned to make me look very, very good. Let’s have a look at it, shall we?
Note the double-whammy: if your house isn’t orderly on a daily basis, you will withhold hospitality from others and set a bad example for your children. Moms everywhere, be encouraged!
Three years later, I still cringe remembering that tweet, mainly because I have failed to live up to it repeatedly ever since. I presume my house was clean on November 6, 2010, but it has rarely been so in recent months. Even as I type, I am looking out across a disordered landscape of scattered laundry, schoolbooks, dusty baseboards and chipped paint. That tweet neglected to mention what my house looked like when my children were small, how I would hide clutter in the dryer when guests came, how hard I found it just to get dinner on the table for my own family, much less for someone else’s. So I regret that I proposed to moms a standard to which I could not hold myself.
But more importantly, I regret that tweet because I have come to recognize that the standard it proposed is flawed. It revealed my own lack of understanding about the nature and purpose of hospitality. In my self-righteous desire to offer advice, I had confused hospitality with its evil twin, entertaining. The two ideas could not be more different.
entertaining versus hospitality: what’s the difference?
Entertaining involves setting the perfect tablescape after an exhaustive search on Pinterest. It chooses a menu that will impress, and then frets its way through each stage of preparation. It requires every throw pillow to be in place, every cobweb to be eradicated, every child to be neat and orderly. It plans extra time to don the perfect outfit before the first guest touches the doorbell on the seasonally decorated doorstep. And should any element of the plan fall short, entertaining perceives the entire evening to have been tainted. Entertaining focuses attention on self.
Hospitality involves setting a table that makes everyone feel comfortable. It chooses a menu that allows face time with guests instead of being chained to the cook top. It picks up the house to make things pleasant, but doesn’t feel the need to conceal evidences of everyday life. It sometimes sits down to dinner with flour in its hair. It allows the gathering to be shaped by the quality of the conversation rather than the cuisine. Hospitality shows interest in the thoughts, feelings, pursuits and preferences of its guests. It is good at asking questions and listening intently to answers. Hospitality focuses attention on others.
- Entertaining is always thinking about the next course. Hospitality burns the rolls, because it was listening to a story.
- Entertaining obsesses over what went wrong. Hospitality savors what was shared.
- Entertaining, exhausted, says “It was nothing, really!” Hospitality thinks it was nothing. Really.
- Entertaining seeks to impress. Hospitality seeks to bless.
But the two practices can look so similar. Two people can set the same beautiful tablescape and serve the same gourmet meal, one with a motive to impress, the other with a motive to bless. How can we know the difference? Only the second of the two would invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind to pull up a chair and sip from the stemware. Our motives are revealed not just in how we set our tables, but in who we invite to join us at the feast. Entertaining invites those whom it will enjoy. Hospitality takes all comers.
why be hospitable?
Hospitality is about many things, but it is not about keeping a perpetually orderly home. So, forgive me, Twitterverse, for my deplorable tweet. I could not have been more wrong. And may I have a do-over?
Orderly house or not, hospitality throws wide the doors. It offers itself expecting nothing in return. It keeps no record of its service, counts no cost, craves no thanks. It is nothing less than the joyous, habitual offering of those who recall a gracious table set before them in the presence of their enemies, of those who look forward to a glorious table yet to come.
It is a means by which we imitate our infinitely hospitable God.
So, three years later, here is my advice to myself as the holiday season begins: Forgo the empty pleasure of entertaining. Serve instead the high-heaped feast of hospitality, even as it has been served to you.