A feminine focus

Hospitality: The Giving and the Receiving of It Sally Davey

Hospitality is one of those Christian graces that requires conscious effort to attain. Many of us shy away from it, and are filled with a sense of (deserved) guilt because we do not practise it enough. The reason? It involves being unselfish - with our private space, our time, our energy, our possessions - in short, our homes and ourselves. For some people, naturally outgoing, convivial, and in good health, hospitality comes easily. For others, more naturally quiet, retiring, solitude-loving, older in years - with fewer financial resources or less physical stamina, the thought of having people milling through your home is somewhat less than appealing. But hospitality is a biblical virtue, and one we all need to practise, since it is a tool of much important Christian service. Because of that, I thought it was worth examining the reasons for being hospitable, and sharing some thoughts on the joy that comes from hospitality, to encourage us all to develop this grace among us.

Shown In Scripture

Instruction on hospitality in Scripture is brief, though there are many illustrations of its value in Christ's service. Where instruction comes, it is an imperative. Paul, Peter and John all refer to the giving of hospitality in the context of practical love to fellow believers. Peter comes close to our difficulty when he commands us to “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:9) It surely costs something to open your home to others, especially to strangers (see also Hebrews 13:2), and it is our natural tendency to grumble about it. Peter would not have added the phrase about complaints were that not the case. Of course, Christian hospitality involves far more than having your family or close friends over for a meal, a rugby match on TV, or a birthday party. That is bottom-line, what-we-all-like-to-do kind of home-opening (see Luke 14:12). What the apostles are getting at is sacrificial, thoughtful, for-the-gospel's-sake sharing of home and life. There is a distinct purpose and method involved in it. Let me explain.

Shown At Home

Good books and a number of wonderful personal examples have shown me, over the years, that hospitality is the conscious practice of having other people in your home, as part of your family, for the purpose of showing them practical love, sharing the gospel with them, and building them up in the faith. To do this well means making yourself available by giving them your time and attention as well as your food and a room to sleep in. It means giving careful thought to the spiritual state of your guest, and thinking of ways to draw him or her out in conversation so that what he or she needs and wants to talk about will be opened, and discussed. One friend told me he and his wife give thought to this before their guest arrives, planning the conversation topics that need to be covered. If this is done, your guest can also be prayed for, and you can check Scriptures that you will need to go over with him, or take out books that he might find helpful to read. Hospitality is a great means to teach the young in faith, or to share the gospel with the unbeliever. Conversation doing either of the above comes most naturally and warmly in the context of kind, open sharing of one's home and family with others. When people are in your home, they are able to view what you say to them in the light of the example you set - in regard to your relationship with your husband and children, for example. When they see how you live, they know whether to take what you say seriously or not. In addition, I have heard people say that a habit of hospitality is a good example to their children. If children learn from a young age that it is a natural thing to have others (even the needy and “weird”) in the house, that it is normal for others to be sitting at the table with the family, using their bathroom or sleeping across the hallway, it is much more likely they will go on to develop those graces themselves. And that is what we want, isn't it?

Shown To Us

These things are close to my heart at the moment, as on a recent trip to the U.S. we were the recipients of some wonderful Christian hospitality. Let me share some things that left a deep impression. We stayed in the homes of old and new friends, and spent a weekend with one couple we had never met before. We were in the homes of couples with young children, couples with teenagers, those with grown-up children, and once in the home of a dear 88-year-old friend. All of them had some lesson to teach us about hospitality. What stood out above all was their warmth - everyone seemed glad to see us. In their kindness, they gave the impression that we were doing them a privilege in coming to see them. This had a number of outworkings. Everyone we stayed with had put aside their precious time - sometimes, days of it - to be with us, talk with us, and show us things in their part of the country which they thought we might like to see. This was special: more than one family had sat down before we arrived and planned out various options for activities we might like. The sheer thoughtfulness of this gave us the strong impression of being treated as honoured guests. This is the heart of genuine hospitality: focusing attention on the other; asking ourselves what we can do to make the other comfortable, at ease, part of the family, and giving them the impression they are a gift of the Lord to us. (That is living out the Hebrews 13:2 attitude of seeing your guest as perhaps “an angel unawares”). This thoughtfulness was shown to us in many other ways - in the preparation of regional dishes that we might enjoy to eat, in the inviting of other guests that we might especially like to meet and talk with (our hosts knew our interests), and in taking us to see places new to us, but which our hosts had seen many times before. Others engaged in conversation with us in a planned and deliberate way; making sure that we stayed on or went back to topics they quickly realised we wanted to discuss with them. One or two had their homes carefully set up for guests (we were obviously not the only visitors that year or month!). One family's guest room was set up with magazines and books especially chosen with our interests in mind; it had a small writing desk open with notepaper and pens inside, and outside the guest room was a table on which, each morning, a pot of coffee and one of tea was placed as a welcoming start to the day. This was not an attempt to compete with hotel-style room service - it was simple thought to what their particular visitor might enjoy; it was an act of practical love. And, needless to say, it all stemmed from the obvious effort to provide a welcoming environment for upbuilding conversation to take place.

Receiving The Hospitality Shown To Us

Well, what about the receiving of hospitality? This, I am sure, can be practised better as a Christian grace as well. If our hosts are being thoughtful and kind, and seeking to build us up in the faith, then surely we can try to do the same. How can we make our stay a happy, appreciated one, comfortable for the family we visit, and one that will be remembered with gratitude? Obviously, we should do everything we can to join in spiritual conversation and seek to be of real help and encouragement. But what about practical matters? Here are some thoughts, drawn from my own experience. (Perhaps you will have others of your own, and would like to write in and share them?) In my view, the same principles apply for both guests and hosts. We should try to “fit in” with our host's family life and practices as much as possible. Inquire as to their habits of breakfasting, bathroom use and meal preparation. (This last one can be important.) Often, in our well-meaning desire to “help” in the kitchen, we can actually be more of a hindrance! Some people (myself included) enjoy quietly working away in their kitchen as a service to guests, and find it difficult to be “crowded” by people wanting to chop, peel or wash dishes in synch with the cook. This is great, if you can do it without colliding at every turn with the cook, or asking 1000 questions as to how the cook wants the task performed and where to find every item required for the task. My suggestion is to ask once, sincerely, if there is anything you can do to help - and if not, think of something else. Does your host have small children? Ask if you can read them a story (this also keeps them occupied and is often much appreciated). Does laundry need to be brought inside, or folded? Often, using your imagination and quietly doing something like that is the most appreciated thing of all - you have been kind, perceptive, and unobtrusive. You have been a joy to have in the household.

Perhaps your guests thank you profusely when they leave? Perhaps you too can say, with all sincerity (as we often do when guests leave) - “the pleasure was ours”. May it be so with our efforts at hospitality!

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