Hospitality Over the Holidays
“Is Opal coming to stay with us Mommy,” my inquisitive four-year-old son, Michael asked the morning before Hurricane Opal hit our home town in South Alabama. What a strange question, silly kid! But I pondered Michael’s question and then asked him what he meant. He sweetly replied, “Whenever we have company you clean like crazy … like you are today!” Ughh! Michael was right. Anticipating the loss of power for a few days, I was vacuuming and running the dishwasher and the washer and dryer as fast as I could! Michael was correct in his assessment of me, and it made me sad to later retell the story to my husband. Our children equated cleanliness in our home with having company. What kind of hospitality message was I instilling? My husband didn’t let me off the hook with an “it’s ok; don’t worry about it, everyone feels that way” response. Instead, he asked me, “Why is your self-worth wrapped up in the cleanliness of our house?” DOUBLE UGH!
For most of my married life I have struggled with my clean house obsession. I love having people over. I love dinner parties, game nights and just a cup of coffee with people I enjoy. But too often I make my family miserable in the wake of my pre-cleaning chaos! 😊 In my husband’s brave and pointed question to me, he was also telling me that my pre-cleaning chaos was driving him crazy too.
“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality (Romans 12:13).”
Jody loves inviting people over and it is not uncommon for him to come home from work at the end of the day with extra peeps in tow, all of them expecting dinner. In earlier years, I was gracious under pressure, but if the house wasn’t company ready, there was heck to pay after Jody’s guests left. My poor family. Most of Jody’s and my married life was in a home with 3 kids, 2 dogs and a cat. So keeping a perfectly clean home was impossible. But now I know that Jody’s guests did not come home with him to see our home, they just wanted to spend time in our home, messy or not, with the Jesus that is inside of us. So, the most important thing about Gospel hospitality is this: intentionally spending time and sharing your life with people. Said another way, Gospel hospitality is about loving your neighbor and letting your light shine! You do this by being the hands and feet of a church that loves God’s people well. Gospel hospitality is not about creating an illusion of a perfect home and a perfect life. Gospel hospitality is about a warm, transparent, salty, loving, and God-fearing life that attracts the lost and the broken-hearted.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).”
As the holiday season approaches, consider your motive and your goal when you entertain. Do you want to impress others with your tidy life or truly embrace the possibility of entertaining angels and letting your light shine in word and deed? Friends, I challenge you this holiday to invite an unlikely person to your house for coffee or dinner. Ask God who He would like you to love on this holiday, and then be obedient. We are bombarded with sad statistics about increased suicide during the holidays. Let us not just grimace when we see the number, but instead get busy about doing the greatest commandment – loving one another!
“Let brotherly love continue. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares (Hebrews 13:1-2).”
Back to Opal. The hurricane came and we did lose electricity. Jody and I filled the many hours of dark evenings by hashing out the issue of hospitality and what we wanted it to look like in our home. We decided that we needed a basic decorum of everyday cleanliness; nothing off the charts. And, everyone would have to pick up after themselves. After the lights came back on, we initiated a once-a-week “deep cleaning.” We decided that we never wanted a guest to feel unwelcomed by our mess, but at the same time we did not want to make an un-planned visit unpleasant because of intense preparation. We decided that the time that we had been spending in extra cleaning we would be better spent making sure that our guests felt welcomed. We also re-looked at the way we organized our home and our meals. We incorporated into our plan the potential for the unexpected guest. When the kids were young and I stayed at home, I led the effort. But when I returned to work, Jody and I hired-out some of our weekly cleaning. We have had a long line of beautiful sisters in Christ to clean our home. Expensive yes, but it was nothing compared to value of sharing our home with others. 😊
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling (1 Peter 4:8-9).”
PRACTICAL HOSPITALITY TIPS:
GUILT FREE ORDERING: If my attitude is a genuinely happy one when I have people in my home, expected or unannounced, I find that it doesn’t matter what I serve. Pizza is a treat if the host and hostess are smiling and truly enjoying each moment shared with family and friends. So put down your Martha Stewart, Pinterest guilt. Serve take-out food with a joyous heart! Your guests will remember the evening fondly because they felt welcomed in your home!
HIDDEN DESSERT: Years ago I started hiding a gallon of ice cream or sherbet in the freezer and a pack of fancy cookies in the pantry. When someone dropped over unexpectedly, I always had something to offer. A bowl of ice cream with a rolled-up chocolate-dipped cookie says “love” to someone who pops by. When I grocery shop, I always try to be on the look out for “happy food.” Sometimes Jesus, coffee and a pastry is the answer!
HOSPITALITY IS GENDER NEUTRAL: Being hospitable is not a “woman only” club. Remind your hubby that he has a role in this too. Because of his military background, my husband is normally the initiator. In the military, if someone moves into town, you have them over for dinner. If someone is far away from their loved ones, you include them in your holiday plans. But, I’m told by my civilian friends, this is not typical in the civilian world. Husbands are sometimes leery about sharing down time with neighbors or hurting church family, etc. The answer to this is prayer! It’s time for a change of heart! If you invite Him, the Holy Spirit can do this in your marriage. Don’t just talk about following Jesus’s commands – actually do it! I can’t think of a way to love my neighbor without having them in my home.
CROCK POT GOSPEL: Many years ago I invested in a great crock pot. I use it once or twice a week. I fill it full of staple recipes: chili, or pork tenderloin with rosemary and sweet potatoes, or good ol’ vegetable soup. Crock pot meals go a long way, and much like the “loaves and fishes,” they are always enough! This year, ask Santa for a crock pot. Promise him you will use it well to love your neighbors and your family!
MANY HANDS MAKE LIGHT WORK: For years I denied others the intimacy and opportunity to serve with after dinner clean up. Not anymore. After dinner, I stand up with my plate in my hand, walk towards the sink and motion to my guests to do the same. I have found that the best conversations happen over a sink of dirty dishes or while loading the dishwasher. Dinner conversation plants the seed, and clearing the table brings in the harvest. Maybe this is because everyone wants to feel valuable and needed, or maybe this is because an intimate task breaks down walls. Regardless of which it is, don’t hesitate to invite and welcome any and all willing guests into your kitchen!
CONVERSATION STARTERS: Please remember that the meal you prepare, your home and its furnishings are just the prelude to true Gospel hospitality. Honest and transparent conversation that is absent of judgment and that is motivated by love is the main course! This is the kind of conversation that draws people to your home to want to know “more about what makes you tick.” Always serve appetizers … a few questions “on the ready” … and then listen with your ears and your heart. Pray for God to guide the conversation. He can and will. He patiently waits for us to forget ourselves long enough so that He can use us! Serve in faith and together as a couple. Love your neighbor!
PUT THE EXCUSES ON THE SHELF: There is always something in my house that is out of sorts. The same is true for every one of my friends. Money will always limit your plans, but trust that God is enough. I’ve had a great night with friends serving nothing more than a couple of pennies worth of Ramen noodles. The truth is that when I opt out of hospitality because of some silly excuse like a stained carpet, a messy bonus room or no extra money for dessert, I say to God that I am discontented with my life and do not believe in His provision. But when I step out in faith, and maybe sacrifice a wee bit, I open the door for God to be big and for me to be used, even if in a very small way. And maybe, just maybe, one of those many persons that my husband dragged home after work over the 32 years of our marriage was actually an angel! For me, many of those nights felt a little bit like heaven! J
This holiday, open up your home, your marriage and your life, and in so glorify the birth of Jesus and let the bright light of the Gospel reach the world! Keep reading, friends!
“For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matthew 25:42-46).”