Oftentimes when we talk about hospitality, the conversation revolves around the state of our homes. Is hospitality letting people into our sacred ordinary dust and laundry piles? Or is hospitality cleaning, lighting candles, and creating an environment of peace and beauty to restore souls?
Perhaps the answer is both – and neither.
Perhaps hospitality has little to do with the state of my home but everything to do with the state of my heart. Perhaps it’s not a matter of offering a specific environment but of freely offering to wave aside my schedule and give my attentive consideration.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, my husband and I moved so that he could attend law school. Like most of the people living in our new town, we were young and well-educated, but I felt as out of place as a hippo in a grocery store. While most of the other young women around me were single and brimming over with career ambitions, I was married and soon staying at home with one, and then two, little boys. For many months I felt isolated. Over time, two women drew me out of my loneliness. One was a fellow young mom, Emily. The other woman, Tilde, was my elderly neighbor. To me, these women were the epitome of hospitality, yet I was hardly ever in their homes.
After I met Emily, she began inviting me to join her for bagel runs, walks downtown, and trips to the children’s museum. She invited me into her daily life, showing me the incredible grace of trying to get to know me. My neighbor Tilde would regularly come sit in my backyard and chat. She was an avid gardener. Several times a week, my older boy would traipse over to her yard to help her water pansies and pull weeds and spread compost. As they worked, Tilde, a retired teacher, would gently explain to my toddler what they were doing. Both women opened their everyday lives to me, offering true hospitality.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines hospitable as “given to generous and cordial reception of guests.” Generosity. Cordiality. These are things of the heart. Generosity goes so far beyond mere money. I can be generous with my time, my attention, my food, my encouragement. It means I hold nothing back out of selfish fear. Cordial is such a lovely old-fashioned word. It’s defined as “tending to revive, cheer, or invigorate.” That is what I long for my home, for myself – to be a source of renewed strength and joy for others. I want people to linger on my sofa because it’s where they feel cheered and revived.
When our vision of hospitality hinges mainly on the state of the home, we can make poor judgments about others, assuming they are either lazy or that they care more about spotless floors than people. Truth be told, all of us have tidy houses sometimes and all of us have messy homes sometimes. Some of us are gifted in keeping house, and some of us are better at a host of other things. None of this determines how hospitable we are.
After all, Jesus was the perfect human, so He was the perfect fulfillment of hospitality. He was homeless, and yet He was hospitable. It had nothing to do with the walls around Him. It had everything to do with the way He gently tended the hearts of the people around Him, the way He made time for people and their abundant squabbles, sicknesses, heartaches, and desires.
So let your friends see the pile of dishes that you haven’t had a chance to wash because you were busy kissing away your toddler’s tears. Let them see the muddy footprints trailing to the bathtub. Or scrub those counters and light the candles and set the table exquisitely to bring a bit of peace and loveliness to an oftentimes-grim world. In all of this, it’s our hearts that matter, the generosity we show with our time and our affection, the way we invite the Triune God into our home to revive and invigorate our children, our spouses, our guests. This is hospitality.