Hospitality: More Than Lace Tablecloths
It was a quiet weekday evening. Some neighbor girls came over to our house to bake cookies and play games. We talked while mixing up the cookie dough. Occasionally phrases of Mandarin were thrown into the conversation. After they were baked, we sat on the living room floor and played Apples to Apples while eating the ooey-gooey-still-warm chocolate-chip cookies. It was just a couple of friends hanging out in our house. The best part of the evening was when one of the girls said, “I come here and it just feels like home.”
In my previous article, I shared some of the reasons why Christians should show hospitality. In this article, I hope to share some ways how we can live out those Biblical commands. We sometimes struggle knowing how to begin showing hospitality. Different places bring different cultures. Hospitality is not the same across the globe, or even across continents. But certain principles still hold across the world. We first need to have a relationship with Jesus. It is out of our fellowship with Christ that we are able to have genuine fellowship with others. We also need to have a love for people. Yes, you can attempt to show hospitality to others without truly loving them, but it will be fake and stilted. People catch on when you do not want to be with them. Finally, we need flexibility in our hospitality. Things will not always go the way we want them to. We have to accept this in our interactions with others.
Rosaria Butterfield, in her book The Gospel Comes with a House Key, said: “Do Christian people practice Christian hospitality in regular, ordinary consistent ways? Or do we think our homes too precious for criminals and outcasts? Our homes are not our castles. Indeed, they are not even ours. So where can you start? Start where you are.” (Butterfield, 100). As followers of Jesus, our possessions, including our homes, should be tools we use to lead others to Jesus. If we want to effectively show hospitality, we cannot cling to our material possessions.
Like Butterfield also said, we do not have to wait for the perfect opportunity to have people over for a nice dinner. Practicing Christian hospitality in the everyday parts of life means being okay with a friend stopping by when we are in the middle of a project and the house is a wreck. It means that people will see our house when laundry is on the couch, waiting to be folded. Sometimes we will serve glorified leftovers instead of a three-course meal.
Our ministry as Christians should not be a once-a-week event that we are involved in. People should be able to see the practical, day-to-day living of a follower of Jesus. Opening our homes is one way that we show the love of Jesus to others.
Below, I have included some practical tips. I hope you can use these ideas to begin shaping your form of hospitality.
Simply add more rice. Maybe we hesitate to invite one more person from the Sunday service because we are not sure if we will have enough food. My mom does the opposite. No matter how many people Dad decides to bring home from church, she remains calm. I often stand in the kitchen whispering furiously that we will for sure run out of food this time. But my gracious mother just tells me to keep cutting veggies and add a couple more cups of rice to the pot. Having a box of brownies handy or even some bags of frozen veggies help stretch a meal when surprise guests show up.
Keep meals simple and filling. Remember, you don’t have to have a complex meal every time. Obviously special occasions or celebrations could be more complex and fun to make, but not every Sunday dinner has to be like that. Sometimes a large pot of rice and a Crock-Pot full of chicken and lentils, along with a large toss salad can be a yummy, yet easy meal.
Just buy some store-bought snacks. Hospitality does not always need a huge meal. When you do not have access to a kitchen, feel free to just have store-bought snacks or take-out food. If you are not comfortable with having a large meal, then invite people over in the evening for dessert and hot drinks. Or maybe you can have them over in the afternoon for veggies and hummus.
Prepare some games and conversation starters. Often your guests will be strangers to each other. Plan activities and games to help everyone feel more comfortable. Ideas for games could be board or card games, group games such as Fishbowl or Occupation. Having everyone share a time in their life when they were scared or embarrassed often brings interesting and entertaining responses.
Allow your guests to help. Depending on their culture, people will bring some fruit or a small gift when they are invited to someone’s house. Feel free to cut up that fruit and serve it with whatever else you are eating. If you know a bunch of people will be coming, ask guests to bring a dish to help out. Allow the guest to help you prepare the food if they volunteer. (But, I mean, if the only thing left to do is wash a huge stack of dirty pots, you can probably just thank them for their offer. It is slightly annoying when you think you’re volunteering to put ice in cups and instead are stuck washing dirty pots.)
Explain what you are serving. This is especially important when other cultures are visiting or when people are new to your area. After you pray, explain what you are eating and how the guests can serve themselves. If it has meat in it, warn vegetarians. If you are serving cafeteria style, stand next to the food line to make yourself available to answer any additional questions they might have about what they are about to consume.
Seek out the loners. As the host, try to look for those who are not part of a conversation or do not have anyone to talk to. If you cannot talk to someone at the moment, you could ask a friend to initiate a conversation. Some people are able to casually start a conversation with anyone while others will struggle with knowing what to say. Be purposeful in looking for those who need a friend.
Admittedly, COVID-19 has changed the way hospitality looks. But I would challenge you all to continue to look for ways that you can show the hospitality of Jesus to those around you. So many of us look “put-together” on the outside, fooling everyone into thinking that it is all okay and that we do not need other people to help us. But so many of us are still lonely and looking for a place to call home. Followers of Jesus, let us stand up, open our doors, and welcome in the stranger, the next-door neighbor, the fellow church goer, the widowed, the orphaned.
Let us show hospitality.