I was already peeling potatoes for dinner when my phone vibrated on the counter next to me.
The text on the screen was from my friend and it said, “I invited____ and her son over for dinner, too.”
I reached over and grabbed a few more potatoes, as I imaginary-fist-bumped Jesus that the meal I was making was easy to expand. I had invited my friend and her 3 kids over for dinner while their husband/Dad was on a business trip, but now we were adding a young mother and her almost one-year-old into the mix. No big deal.
But is it no big deal to most of us?
There are several things to unpack from this little moment in my kitchen that I’ve been mulling over and would like to share here regarding hospitality: particularly why it is often missing in the body of Christ here in the United States, and why it’s so vital for the Church to be at it’s healthiest, and from my own experience for me to be at my healthiest.
Potatoes and Pride
Often what keeps us from fulfilling the Lord’s call to be hospitable1 is pride. Hospitality has morphed into a time of social status. Actually, strike that, it has probably always been that way!
When we look at Jesus’ teachings we often see him setting hospitality right. We see him reminding people not just to invite their friends and family and those of importance, but also the lowly and the downtrodden, we see him teaching people to sit at the low end of the table rather than trying to get the best seat in the house. 2 We see him modeling all this by eating with tax collectors and sinners a. lot.
The fear of what others will think of us, of our family, of our home… Our focus is all wrong. It took me a long time to realize that even as a believer, I was caring a little too much how my house looked before I invited others into it. Or my personal kryptonite-I needed to have a really *nice* meal in the works before I was willing to send out a dinner invite. Imagine if, in my story above, I didn’t have more potatoes to offer my extra guests. Would the shame of giving my kids Kraft mac and cheese to fill in the gaps been too much? Thankfully we’ll never know, but it did remind me of a story a friend of mine told me once when her husband called to say he’d invited a few young soldiers he worked with over for dinner. She looked around helplessly. “We were having leftovers for dinner and I had been so thrilled there was just enough to go around!”
She quickly added a loaf of sliced bread to the table and miraculously there was enough food for the family, plus the extra mouths. It wasn’t fancy but everyone was full. She and I agreed after she finished the story, that usually it’s just our own pride that is hurt in situations like this when we feel “caught off guard” in hospitality, or we don’t have the nicest meal or the side dishes are a little *too* crispy.
And while we didn’t get into it when my friend told me her leftover’s story, I feel sure that those soldiers only remember how they were loved and served that day, not whether or not they ate a gourmet meal or not. Hospitality has turned into a status symbol rather than the act of showing love and service to another. So no wonder we do it less! How incredibly hard to have our lives seemingly so put together! The perfect food! The perfect house! That is all pretty exhausting.
But what if we changed hospitality into something other than a way to feel good about ourselves?
Making the Space for Others
It may have seemed a little surprising, considering social norms, that my friend invited someone else over to my house for dinner-without asking. But for me, I was delighted. It meant my friend was investing in this young mother and knew her needs. It meant that my friend was confident in my love, my love for her but also for this other person who I’d only met once before. She was confident enough to know that she could invite someone else over without asking. She knew that hospitality is not about something other than the perfect dinner. But I definitely haven’t always had this attitude.
I confess that as a pretty type-A planner of a person it can be hard for me to shift my own plans to make space for others. In truth, often what keeps us from fulfilling the Lord’s call to be hospitable3 is selfishness. It takes time, energy and effort to show hospitality to others and it can be a challenge to start seeing things like our homes and our “family/me times” as things that should be shared with the body of Christ and with the Lost. If your life is anything like mine, then the busyness of life is your biggest idol.
Adding something like having someone over for dinner or even hosting Bible study at your house can feel like too much to add. For one, you inevitably have to clean the laundry off the couch and find a place for the dirty dishes in the sink, right? But also for those who are “introverts,” the need for extended rest and relaxation at the end of the day or on your day off can become equally a “good” excuse to not be hospitable.
As I think about the innumerable things that keep us from being hospitable to others it doesn’t surprise me that hospitality is right alongside self-control and living a holy life when Paul listed the qualifications of an elder in the letter to Titus 4. If anything this was full-on GENIUS of Paul! I would hasten to suppose that the things keeping all of us from being hospitable, or maybe even not what’s keeping you from it, but what is making it hard to do, are areas that might need a little refining. Ugh. I know. Not fun truth.
Hospitality is Just the Beginning
Pride/comparison to others- we’ve already talked about that one, selfishness covered it, but what about disciplining our children? Time management? Discipline in our home lives? I guarantee even if it doesn’t end with a personal call to invite someone over for dinner tonight, I do think that by challenging ourselves in the area of hospitality, we will find areas that we may need to ask the Lord to work on.
In writing about hospitality, I realize now, that what I’m talking about is not the church’s reluctance to invite people into our homes but a willingness to invite people into our very lives. The sooner we realize that we need to be the church ALL WEEK LONG then we might as well stop pretending we’ve got it all together. We might as well start showing people that we’ve stuffed all the dirty laundry under the metaphorical beds of our lives.
After all, it’ll be too exhausting to keep up pretenses! And the sooner we realize that church is ALL WEEK LONG than we can stop being selfish with our time, realize it all belongs to Jesus, and the parts that we’ve kept to ourselves, woe to us for keeping these idols and sins hidden for so long.
The sooner we realize that hospitality is inviting people into our lives then we can start allowing others to help us put away the laundry (really putting this metaphor to the test!), allowing the Body of Christ to see us for who we are, to love us where we are, to help us clean up the areas we’ve been hiding. And on the other side, it will allow the Lost to see what following Jesus really looks like-day in and day out, extra potatoes and all.