Recently the subject of hospitality came up in a discussion with my sister. Her family is in the ministry (foreign missions, to be exact) and they spend large amounts of their furlough time in the States traveling the country. Since much of their time is spent on the road, they rely very heavily on the hospitality of local parsonages, friends, and church members.
In contrast to this, I spent most of my adult life in the military. When I traveled, the military took care of me. My travels were often quiet and secluded. This lifestyle has caused me to be very much a homebody and one who considers her home a sanctuary from the rest of the crazy world. This sometimes makes it difficult for me to invite others into my home, even those I love the most.
My sister and I were discussing these differences in lifestyle and what we believed is a Christian’s duty in regard to hospitality to others. This discussion intrigued me so much that I decided to research the topic and write a post about hospitality.
What is hospitality?
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”Sister Consuella Livonia
Twenty years ago, while a student at Kansas Christian College, I took a class entitled “Ministries of Women”. It was an interesting class, mostly geared toward those who would eventually end up in the missions or ministry line of work. However, there was one particular class period that I found exceedingly useful and kept the material in my files for future reference. This was the class on hospitality and having guests in your home.
There were lessons on dinner etiquette, decorating your guest room, how to entertain, and guest care. Looking through the material, I noticed that parts of it are outdated. Time and technology have changed immensely in twenty years. However, there is one thing that has not changed, and that is the process of treating your guest the way you would want to be treated. The Golden Rule (do unto others) is never outdated.
To find the definition of hospitality, I did what most of us do when we have a question and I “Googled it”. Lexico.com defines hospitality as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers”.
Let’s look at the first part of this definition. “A friendly and generous reception”. This means to be friendly and generous to others. I will admit, the friendly part is harder for me than the generous part. I am one of those people who would love to give you a cookie, a piece of pie, or even a glass of milk. But want me to stand on the sidewalk and chitchat? Not so much!
The next piece “entertainment of” is even more difficult than that. I like my house silent. So silent that I can hear the clocks ticking on the walls. Tick, tick, tick. Entertaining guests can send me into serious anxiety. I have a feeling that I am not the only one out there who has an issue with hospitality! If many of us struggle with hospitality, then why is it so important that we show it to others?
Why do we care?
If you are a Bible believer and a Christian, then you will want to show hospitality to others because God asks you to. 1 Peter 4:9 says “Use hospitality one to another without grudging” (KJV). Without grudging, it says! Ouch! That one is for me. Can I get an “amen” from anyone else out there?
So, God is asking me to be a friendly, generous entertainer to others without grudging (give reluctantly or resentfully)? Other translations say, “without complaining” or “without grumbling”. Oh, how hard that can be sometimes!
One of my favorite authors, Laura Ingalls Wilder tells a story about a neighbor who was always borrowing from her husband and herself. One day, during hog butchering time, the neighbor came over to borrow a barrel, then again to borrow her wash boiler, then her knives, and so on. She said she figured he would be over eventually to borrow their hog to butcher, but then she guessed he must have had one of his own since that was the only thing he did not ask to borrow. (Wilder 28, 29 italics added)
I have always found a lot of humor in that story because we all have someone in our lives like that neighbor. Sometimes it is not things they ask of us, but our time they want from us. Either way, it can be frustrating, annoying, and oh, so very hard to be hospitable! Even when we manage to be hospitable, it is extremely hard to do so without grumbling and complaining about it to someone else.
There was another story that I read one time (don’t remember where) that talked about how someone felt obligated to loan things because the Bible said, “Give what is asked and do not ask for it back” (Luke 6:30 paraphrase) but she never received them back. One day this woman saw one of the items sitting in the neighbor’s yard and just went and got it since she was not supposed to ask for it back. I have to admit, I have done this a few times with family members.
To whom should we show hospitality?
The second part of the definition talks about to whom we are supposed to show hospitality. It says, “guests, visitors, or strangers.” There does not seem to be a lot of difference between guest and visitors, so for the purpose of this post, I am going to break it down like this: guest are those who come to your home for a party, get-together, tea, or other such short gathering and visitors are those who come to your house to stay for an extended length of time (several days to several months).
Hospitality to Strangers
The Bible talks a lot about hospitality to strangers. The two most famous passages are probably Hebrew 13:2 and Matthew 25:34-46. The first talks about showing hospitality to strangers because you never know when they might be an angel. The second is the parable that Jesus was telling when he said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Strangers often do not seem difficult to show hospitality toward. You often hear about the “pay it forward” movement, where you help someone in hopes that they will also help someone. It is not that hard to allow someone with two items to cut in front of you in line at the grocery store or to stand up and allow an elderly person to have the one remaining chair at the DMV. Most of us consider those good manners and never think that we are extending hospitality to strangers. Strangers are there for a brief period of time and then they go away. You have done your duty.
Hospitality to Guest and Visitors
Guests and visitors are perhaps harder to show hospitality toward. They come to your home and are often comfortable there. They may move things around and help themselves to your food. If they are there for a few hours (family dinner or holiday), it might not be too difficult to show hospitality. You give them a good meal, everyone uses their manners and you overlook them doing things like placing their drinks on your good surfaces, stirring your yogurt, and/or using your good towel(s) to wipe up a spill.
It becomes even harder when someone is visiting for several days or lives so close that they are there often. Then hospitality can begin to feel like a chore, even if it is with people you love. The first day, you try to make everything nice, but by the third day, even though you are still trying to be friendly and generous, you often want to pull your hair out.
And then, what if they are friends/family who live very close by, how do you set boundaries? How can you still be hospitable, loving, and generous, without having them walk all over you? When do you say, “No, you can’t have any more chocolate!” or “It would be nice to have my house to myself for a while, thank you!”
When I am struggling with an issue, I often look to books for inspiration on how to be a better person. In the Bible, we see many instances of hospitality. However, in most of those instances, hospitality seemed to come easy for the host/hostess. I like to take inspiration from people who seem to struggle, who were not perfect, and who often fail. In this instance, my examples of hospitality are Naomi and Martha.
When we hear about Naomi, we mostly think of Ruth and talk about her loyalty to her mother-in-law. But let us look at this from a different perspective. What if you were Naomi and you were about to go back to your homeland? Your husband and sons were dead. There was no money and no hope of it soon. Here was this “heathen/foreign” ex-daughter-in-law insisting on going with you. Insisting on going back to your country and living with you. Kind of puts the story in another light, huh? Of course, we all know that Naomi was paid in full for her kindness, but she did not know this when she agreed to take Ruth home with her. Naomi showed hospitality when it was not easy to do so.
Then there is the lady who often gets a bad rap for complaining about her sister. When you look at the whole story, however, this was not the first time that Martha had cooked and cleaned for a large party of people. It is apparent that her brother, Lazarus, had quite a bit of money and entertained often. Back in those days, who would be expected to do all the cooking and cleaning? Why his old-maid sister(s) of course! It sounds like Martha just had one bad day and complained a bit, but what about all those other times she worked so hard to be hospitable. Martha showed hospitality even when she did not want to do so.
Hospitality to our Households
The last piece that I want to talk about is hospitality to our households. This piece is often overlooked. It was not even listed in the definition of hospitality! This is hospitality to those who live within our own homes: our husbands, our children, and any other people God has placed in our homes under our care.
One of my favorite go-to books is Elizabeth George’s A Woman After God’s Own Heart”. Every time I read it; I learn something else. If you have not yet had a chance to read this book, I highly recommend it. Mrs. George does not specifically talk about hospitality, but when I am reading about taking care of my home, my husband, and my children, I hear and understand that I should be hospitable to them.
After all, how can we extend hospitality to others if we do not first begin with those in our home? I love the story about the mother who set a formal table for her daughter’s snack every day and used that as her special time. (George 129) I have taken that as an example and try to make morning snack a special time for my son and me, even though he is only two years old. It can never be too soon to let him know that his time is important to me! The same is true for my husband.
We have learned that hospitality is “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” We also know that the Bible tells us to “use hospitality one to another without grudging.” Sometimes it is difficult to show hospitality; sometimes it is easy. No matter if you find it is easy or hard, it is our Christian duty to show hospitality to others, whether they are strangers, guests, visitors, or members of our own household.
I would love to hear from you! Comment below and let me know how you may struggle with hospitality or share tips about how you show hospitality to others.
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George, Elizabeth. A Woman After God’s Own Heart. Harvest House Publishers, 1997.
Wilder, Laura Ingalls. The First Four Years. HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1972.