I’m sure you recognized that lyric…right? From Beauty and the Beast? It’s part of the song “Be Our Guest,” and even if you can hum along to the chorus, you should go check out the rest of the lyrics here because they are pretty clever and entertaining. 🙂
People regularly tell me – and I always feel thankful for and humbled by their praise – that our family is an encouragement in the area of OFFERING HOSPITALITY TO OTHERS. There are things I want to say about this to many people at once – but only to those who want my advice on the matter. As with other issues pertaining to domesticity, few people want to be told how to run their homes or families, especially by a relatively “young” person (although – I think perhaps I’m actually one of the “older women” in the church, having just a wee bit of experience with homemaking and childrearing under my belt, but certainly much less than others.) I only write this post, then, to those who are seeking ways to improve this essential function of their homes – that of welcoming friends and strangers, feeding them a meal, perhaps housing them overnight, and really sharing the love of Christ with guest. In our new city we’ve been welcomed by others in the last year and are so thankful each time we have that window into their lives as we enjoy a meal together at someone’s home. Perhaps you’re trying to say it more often yourself: “Tonight you’ll prop your feet up but for now, let’s eat up! Be our guest! Be our guest! Be our guest!”
Here are a few pictures of enchilada overload from a Sunday in May:
What is hospitality, really? What do we think it is, as opposed to what it actually should be? Here’s a quick definition:
Hospitality: the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. (google)
Here’s another, from Merriam Webster’s Dictionary:
“: hospitable treatment, reception, or disposition.” The word hospitable means “1 a : given to generous and cordial reception of guests, b : promising or suggesting generous and cordial welcome, c : offering a pleasant or sustaining environment.”
HERE IS AN EVEN BETTER EXPLANATION, found on gospelgazette.org:
“Many times we feel we are being hospitable when we invite our friends and family members over for a meal. True biblical hospitality requires more. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains gives the following definition for hospitality.
to receive and show hospitality to a stranger, that is, someone who is not regarded as a member of the extended family or a close friend — ‘to show hospitality, to receive a stranger as a guest, hospitality.’
As in every aspect of our service to God, we must have a proper attitude toward hospitality. It must be done in a kind, loving manner, but neither grudgingly nor done with a sense of duty or obligation. We should never grumble at the trouble or expense of showing hospitality toward others. Remember all that we have comes from God and we need to use our abundant resources and blessings to the glory of God, Matthew 6:25-34.”
HOW WE DO IT, AND WHERE WE OFTEN MISS THE MARK
I’ll give you a few examples first of where I feel we slack off so this whole post doesn’t come off sounding “holier than thou” – believe me, that’s not the impression I’m trying to give.
-I have yet to invite any of the neighbors in our cul-de-sac for a meal with our family, or even to organize a mini block party. I’ve sometimes brought baked goods to people who move into the neighborhood, but I haven’t done that in a while. I really fall short in this area as we continue to build up our relationships with members of our church in an effort to feel more “plugged in” the our church home everywhere we live.
-Neither have I reached out to others in my Pipe Band or colleagues of John’s from work. We’ve gathered with others from our homeschool co-op a few times, but still haven’t really shown true “hospitality.”
These are two real shortcomings I intend to rectify as soon as I am able. For now though, as we have moved to a new church (We moved to Charlesotn from England last September, and in November we started attending a church every Sunday morning in West Ashley) and are an integral family in a new church plant where we will soon transfer our membership which has only been meeting since June, I am still working my way through both church directories in an attempt to get to know our fellow members in the body of Christ.
-Lastly, I sometimes speak to myself (and to my husband) begrudgingly about hosting so many people. I admit it – I am just so tired some weekends, and I am drained by constantly asking people over and reaching out when it sometimes feels like an uphill battle. Usually in the first trimester of a pregnancy I just feel too sick to even leave the house, much less feed other people on a Sunday, that I drop back to about once a month. Towards the end of a pregnancy I just hope others will invite us over because I’m about undone by then. I have promised my husband on one of those late Saturday nights when, due to poor planning, I’ve been cooking all day and night for Sunday, that I will take a break soon and stop inviting over so many people because I am weary. [Then we go back out that next day on Sunday and ask more people over for the following weeks because we’re usually back into a friendlier state of mind by the time church lets out. :)] These are my weaknesses, AND YET, when we honor the Lord by obeying His command to be hospitable, we are blessed time and time again with unexpected friendships and encouraging Sundays. So we press on when tempted to step back, and we are thankful for the opportunity to do so openly rather than suffering persecution as we might in other countries. The meals we have with others always bless our family abundantly and make me feel guilty for my previous bad attitudes.
Here are a few pictures showing how we like to employ our guests when we serve paella for 20:
HERE’S WHAT WE’RE DOING in our feeble attempts to reach out to others in the church -as we should be doing in our communities as well but have not, as I said in the last paragraph 😦 :
Disclaimer: Our first church as a married couple – and where I attended the year before we married – taught us everything we have tried to practice concerning hospitality. We learned by having hospitality lavished on us repeatedly, every week, by those who were single or married, those with no kids or ten kids, those with little and those with plenty. The dear people of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, VA, practically ran after visitors each week to see which member would have the honor of hosting a guest. People had each other over – those they’d known for years – along with new people each and every week, year in and year out; with holes in their ceilings and little enough to feed their own families at times, they showered others with love and food. A few other churches we’ve attended have shown us wonderful hospitality as well, but Immanuel deserves special mention. 🙂
1) WRITE IT DOWN. MAKE A PLAN. Get out your calendar, your church directory, your email list, your smartphone, whatever. Don’t be wishy-washy, but follow through with the countless “we should get together sometime”s that you may throw out there on occasion. Probably, some people think this just comes “naturally” to us and that we are very “outgoing” and “organized” people, which could not be farther from the truth. We don’t “find” the time to do this anymore than I “find” the time to play my bagpipes a few hours a day or to cook lots of food for my family on a regular basis. We MAKE the time for the things which we deem important, and this is one of them. I literally can spend an hour a few times a month on the phone and the computer setting up Sunday lunches. On top of that, we always ask new people we meet at church on Sundays since we’re “having people over anyway, and there’s always more than enough.” That last quote only applies because it’s how we operate — you can’t ask strangers over on the fly if you aren’t already prepared – so – PREPARE! We spend A LOT of our time and money planning and preparing food to serve guests, whether it’s on a Sunday or a weeknight here and there for those people who absolutely can’t get together on a Sunday. And this is aside from the other “dinners” we have for fun with the people we have already gotten to know well and consider our new friends. Make time to build relationships or you may wake up one day and find out that you don’t really have any.
2) COOK AHEAD OF TIME IF NEED BE. Perhaps you work all week and can’t fix things during the week, but you can make a time at least once a month to make things for the future, even if it means sacrificing your Saturdays once in a while. If getting to know the church body is important to you, planning to make your Sundays a day of fellowship with others should be high on your list along with all those other things that fill your calendar. Scheduling a day here or there to cook is as necessary as scheduling that next hair appointment or soccer pickup or school fundraiser. Get it done by putting it on the calendar and sticking to it. One lady at church regularly does one of those big “freezer meal” days when she cooks tons of entrees and puts them away for future use, whether it’s having people over, bringing a meal to someone in need, or just feeding her family.
3) KEEP IT SIMPLE IF YOU HAVE TO, AND DON’T WORRY ABOUT IMPRESSING PEOPLE. (I should probably follow my own advice on this one.) If you really want to get to know people around your table and you’re not a gourmet, feed them spaghetti or pizzas, sandwiches or tacos if you don’t have the time to make it beforehand. There are plenty of meals that can be made and eaten on the spot, and YOUR GUESTS CAN BRING PART OF THE MEAL AS WELL, like the salad or dessert or what have you. They can even help you chop up all the taco toppings at the last minute. Really, they don’t mind.
4) DON’T LET THE STATE OF YOUR HOUSE KEEP YOU FROM INVITING PEOPLE INTO IT. SERIOUSLY. I was joking recently with another church member that I’d have to make a pact with whoever arrives first to my Sunday gatherings – that when I ask that first guest to “go light the candle in the bathroom” I’m really saying, “please check over my bathroom and make it a little less messy/gross.” You will rush around right before they get there perhaps, and you may clean just because they’re coming, but either way, the house will probably look fine regardless of how it looked on Saturday. No one else is picking it apart, and if they are, then perhaps they’ll turn you down the next time you ask them. Oh well; their loss.
A few shots of the typical state of my kitchen in between Sundays:
5) ASK, AND ASK AGAIN. If someone can’t make it the first time you ask, keep asking until you’re able to fellowship together. THERE IS NO BETTER WAY TO GET TO KNOW SOMEONE THAN HAVING THAT PERSON IN YOUR HOME. Certainly you will never know people if you only talk to them over a cup of coffee for five minutes once a week. Also along the lines of persistent asking – IF YOUR FIRST PERSON TURNS YOU DOWN, ASK ANOTHER. FILL THAT TABLE TO OVERFLOWING IF YOU HAVE THE FOOD. No reason to waste the opportunity for fellowship if you’ve already got the food planned and purchased and the day set aside.
6) FILL UP YOUR CALENDAR OF SUNDAYS (UNLESS SOMEONE HAS ASKED YOU OVER ALREADY TO ENJOY THEIR HOSPITALITY) because there will be plenty of weeks when you’re out of town or under the weather when you are unable to have people over. Just think – if you’re not asking people over, who is? Don’t always leave it to the other person – have people over yourself when you’re able. My husband and I have discussed this repeatedly: No matter how tired I am before a Sunday or how frequently we’ve had people over (“Hey, we’ve had people 5 of the last 6 Sundays – maybe we should skip this week?”) MY SUNDAY IS ALWAYS SUCH A BLESSING TO ME AND MY FAMILY WHEN WE SHOW HOSPITALITY TO FRIENDS AND STRANGERS. It is crazy and makes no sense, but the extra “work” is multiplied in blessing. The days when it’s just me and my family, guess what – I’m STILL WORKING to feed my family, but there’s no one here to lighten the load, talk to us as we put food on the table, or help clean up. There aren’t the extra church members to encourage us to reflect upon that day’s sermon or urge us on to evening worship. Which brings me to my next point:
7) IF YOU WANT TO ENCOURAGE ATTENDANCE AT THE SUNDAY EVENING SERVICE, ENCOURAGE CHURCH MEMBERS TO FELLOWSHIP TOGETHER WITH EACH OTHER AND STRANGERS (NOT JUST WITH THEIR INDIVIDUAL FAMILIES) ON SUNDAYS. That church I mentioned earlier in Norfolk had essentially a 100% attendance rate at the Sunday evening service. People went to church in the morning, hung out enjoying fellowship in the afternoons, and returned to worship in the evening. In case you’re some sort of church ELDER, DEACON, OR PASTOR reading my blog, which I sincerely doubt, THERE IS NO BETTER MODEL for a Sunday than this. JUST LOOK AROUND – DO A SURVEY OF THOSE CHURCHES WHO HAVE PEOPLE RETURNING FOR THE EVENING SERVICE, AND YOU WILL FIND THAT THEY FREQUENTLY FELLOWSHIP TOGETHER IN HOMES. I’ve seen many articles floating around facebook recently talking about the decline of evening worship in American churches. Don’t just lament the fact that the evening service is disappearing and that attendance is abysmal. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. START WITH YOURSELVES. INVITE PEOPLE OVER FOR SUNDAY FELLOWSHIP. Some churches have occasional church dinners in their facilities, but these still do little to encourage real fellowship as they often require a lot of child wrangling on the part of parents as well as plenty of work for all hands. The relaxing time of fellowship found in homes offering true hospitality cannot be replicated within the church facility. It’s just a fact of life.
8) FINALLY (I think) – OFFER YOUR HOME WHEN SOMEONE NEEDS A PLACE TO STAY. I know what you’re saying: “But my house is a mess. But we don’t have enough room. But my kids will be overwhelming to the guest.” NONE OF THESE THINGS ARE ACTUALLY TRUE, NO MATTER HOW ACCURATE THEY SEEM TO YOU. Your house may constantly be a mess, but you can probably get it straightened up enough to house people who are just trying to save money on hotel costs. They really don’t mind the stacks of papers here and there or dishes on the counter and probably are truly thankful that you are hosting them. You DO HAVE ENOUGH ROOM if someone you know needs a place to stay for the weekend. If you have more than one bedroom, then you can stick all the kids on your bedroom floor and straighten up the kids’ room for them. I KNOW PEOPLE TO WHOM THIS DOES NOT APPLY, people who truly do not have a spare bed or room. BUT MOST OF THE PEOPLE I KNOW HAVE MORE ROOM THAN WE DO, AND FEWER CHILDREN. You can do it. Come on, I dare you. Also, if people need a place to stay because of an upcoming conference in the city or something, they’re probably not spending their weekend at your house. Your children won’t be too much of a nuisance. Again, referring to people we’ve been blessed to know at other churches – families with seven kids and four bedrooms have always made room for others, even housing us for 6 weeks one time in between duty stations. The pastor’s family in England lived in a place tinier than most newlyweds in America, and had ten or more people over on a Sunday for meals, and our whole family several times. Their door was always open to us even though they had a kitchen the size of my bathroom, three small children, and a dryer out in the garage. Their freezer was under the stairs and was smaller than my dishwasher. They always had enough for others, and I thank God and them for it.
Picture of a typical British kitchen:
ALL FOR NOW – I hope whoever needs to read this will do so and be encouraged, and that if you read it out of curiosity it has given you a few good ideas regardless of your need for them. 🙂 Please feel free to leave any of your helpful tips about offering hospitality in the comments, because I always love new ideas and fresh perspectives! 🙂