I always tell people if they really want to have a better understanding of where the Spirit has gifted them, they’ll learn more from asking the people closest to them than they will from a Spiritual gifts assessment. As for me, I’ve had more than a few friends and Spiritual gift assessments tell me that hospitality is my jam. And I can tell that it is. Hospitality is what makes me come alive. Unfortunately, it’s not talked about much in the church except in the context of bridal teas and new recipes and basically anything to do with homemaking skills.
I’ve always felt talk of hospitality is akin to taking an Emily Post course where you should get the cleanness of your house, the decor, the food, etc, all perfect. And then the whole Spiritual aspect is tied into everything, so if things aren’t perfect, it kind of makes you not as good of a Christian woman.
Which is why, since the days of Martha, hospitality has stressed out a lot of women (including yours truly). And being stressed out is not a spiritual gift. If it were, it’d be a really sucky one.
So I began to look into the ministry of hospitality, and how to practice it without moving into the ministry of being stressed out. In doing so, I figured out a few lies we believe about hospitality.
1. Hospitality is primarily about cooking and cleaning
We need to get out of the mindset that hospitality primarily means the aforementioned bridal teas, a clean house and a spare bedroom. Not that those things aren’t important, but hospitality is so much more than that. Hospitality means opening up our lives, and by extension, our homes, cars, and anything else we own. It means friends know they can come over whenever they need to, not just when something is planned and we are prepared. It might mean providing a couch to sit on, a shoulder to cry on, an honest conversation, watching a movie, or giving someone a ride. It might mean warmly opening ourselves up to someone and providing whatever they need.
Jesus affirmed this in the famed Mary and Martha story. Martha was the picture of our idea of “hospitality”: she was working, she was cooking, she was prepared, she was stressed. But Jesus said that Mary chose something better. Martha let Jesus into her home, Mary let Him into her life. This has a lesson for us in how we serve the Lord, but it also speaks volumes about how we should serve our Christian brothers and sisters. Maybe the best thing we can do sometimes is to stop the hostessing and just be with people.
2. Hospitality is a girl thing.
If hospitality is all about a clean house, a nice meal and a nice-smelling bathroom candle, then I can see how people would think that hospitality is a girl thing. In general, girls tend to think more about nice-smelling bathroom candles. But, as we’ve established, hospitality is not primarily about cooking and cleaning.
Aaron and I decided early on, before we were married, that his ministry is my ministry, and my ministry is his. Hospitality comes naturally for me, but my strength is Aaron’s strength, so we work together on it. Whether it’s in the big things like being there and talking to people and letting them into our lives, or in the smaller things, like the cooking and cleaning for our guests, we do it together. And I can’t even begin to say how thankful I am to have a husband like that.
I know I’ve already mentioned bridal teas twice, and this will be the last time, so listen up. We Christian women have let bridal teas, etc. hijack the notion of hospitality. Now the whole concept seems kind of girly and frilly and over the top. But we’re all called to practice hospitality in all kinds of different ways, no matter who we are, what our gifts are, or what our gender is.
3. Hospitality means a perfect house
It’s all well and good to clean up before company, to prepare a nice meal for a planned event, or to fix up the guest room, but by the very nature of Christian hospitality, we might not always have that luxury. Or we may not always have the nicest house or the nicest things. To me, the essence of true hospitality is saying, “I may not have much, but anything I have is yours.”
This simplicity is reflected in the Bible as well. Jesus talks about giving someone in need a cup of cold water, Rahab hid Hebrew spies on her roof underneath some grain. Other heroes of our faith like Abraham, Lydia and Zaccheus were quick to offer whatever they had at the drop of a hat. The Bible shows they took this responsibility seriously, but they didn’t wait until everything was in order and a future date was planned to offer food and shelter to someone in need.
We should strive to give our best to others, knowing in serving others, we are also serving Christ, but if we wait to offer hospitality until things are just right, we are missing our Christian calling. I can’t possibly voice this better than Lauren Winner in Mudhouse Sabbath* so I won’t even try.
“I probably shouldn’t have curdling milk in the fridge if I’m inviting someone over for tea, and it might be nice if I emptied the kitchen trash can and didn’t leave dirty clothes all over the bathroom floor. But to be a hostess, I’m going to have to surrender my notions of Good Housekeeping domestic perfection. I will have to set down my pride and invite people over even if I have not dusted … If I wait for the immaculate, I will never have a guest … We are not meant simply to invite people into our homes, but also to invite them into our lives. Having guests and visitors, if we do it right, is not an imposition, because we are not meant to rearrange our lives for our guests – we are meant to invite our guests to enter into our lives as they are.”
Whatever you have to offer, offer it. You may be offering it to Jesus without even knowing it.
* For the best discussion on hospitality I’ve ever read, you really will want to check out this book!