Practicing Hospitality, All For Heaven's Sake | Sue Donaldson
Practicing Hospitality, All For Heaven's Sake
My friend, Ceslie, regularly practices hospitality with joy and ease. In fact, she goes into the depths of despair if she hasn’t served a meal to someone besides her family at least once every two weeks. One reason she hosts with such flair is because she was raised by a mom who did the same. Mama Marian, as we affectionately call her, is a wonderful hostess, and we love going over to her house. That’s great for Ceslie — and for us! — but you may be wondering, “What about me? I wasn’t raised by a Mama Marian. Hospitality must only be for the extroverts, the great cooks and those raised in hospitable homes, right?”
If you were surrounded by constant company growing up, the act of opening your home likely doesn’t cause you stress or anxiety. Yet God doesn’t make a distinction between those raised in that environment or not when he calls us to “Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (I Peter 4:9). I might add, and “without misgivings, dread or sheer panic.”
I was raised by a “Mama Marian,” but I can become overwhelmed with all the details, planning and downright work that hosting involves. Yes, hospitality is work, but I know it’s worth it even when faced with changing the sheets one more time or adding a gluten-free item to the menu at the last minute.
How can we continue to practice hospitality, to open our doors with grace, confidence, even joy? Two things have helped me renew my strength and both have to do with my mind. First, remember the “Why?” behind doing hospitality. And, second, focus on the difference between hospitality and entertaining.
When we invite, we look more like Jesus. I can’t think of a better motivation. God is the Ultimate Host. He welcomed us at creation, then continued the invitation through redemption until we finally sit at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9). God invites over and over again, so when we invite, we display his welcoming heart. The act of hospitality takes on a divine dimension when I know I get to display God’s welcoming heart while serving a young family pot roast and brownie sundaes.
Liz Heaney said, “Hospitality is a metaphor for how God woos us. When we welcome others, we welcome them to God.” That sounds so intimate and personal because it is. Jesus invited little children, seasoned fishermen, a tax collector and me! “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden,” he said as recorded in Matthew 11:28, and that “come” includes you, your family and the neighbor you haven’t met yet. We have the privilege of passing along his invitation to know him personally by opening our homes to whomever he brings our way.
Not everyone is called to go to seminary, be a missionary or teach a Bible Study. But we are all called to do hospitality. When we invite someone to our table, that person may meet Jesus for the first time while eating your famous — or not-so-famous! — grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, and that makes all the difference.
HOSPITALITY VS ENTERTAINING
Besides a God-focused motivation, understanding the difference between hospitality and entertaining gives me the gumption to keep trying amidst culinary failures and awkward moments around the table. Hospitality can seem difficult — impossible even — simply because we have the wrong idea about what it is. We’ve been fooled into thinking that hospitality is the same as entertaining. Both can be great. Both can be used by God. But they are not the same. The difference is focus and purpose.
The focus of entertaining is often the host rather than the guest. The purpose of entertaining can often be to impress others rather than to serve them. True hospitality is all about the guest and their need. And their greatest need is to know the Ultimate Host, God himself who welcomes the world to know him intimately.
We’ve all been to the perfect party. I attended one the other night. I thoroughly enjoyed it! The home shimmered with candlelight, the gourmet food wafted its seasonal fragrance throughout each room, and I ate with relish and delight. It was perfect in every way: the way it looked, the way it smelled, the way it tasted. The evening was truly a work of art.
What my host did was entertain, and she did it with flair and beauty. But is that what is meant by hospitality? If I thought so, I may never have anyone over.
Entertaining can be far more pressure than most people want to add to their lives. No wonder couples would rather hire a sitter and meet at a favorite restaurant. With such high expectations on the host, only the most confident person would dare send out an invitation to the perfect party. Most cry, “It’s too much work and too much pressure!”
Hospitality and entertaining both can be used by God, but they are different in focus and purpose. Hospitality focuses on the guest. Entertaining focuses on the hostess. Hospitality’s purpose is to serve. Entertaining’s purpose can be to impress.
Hospitality reminds me it’s not about me, so I don’t need to feel nervous or afraid. Hospitality doesn't require perfection. It can happen with laundry on the couch and dishes in the sink. It can happen around a noisy table with macaroni and cheese as the main dish and ice cream for dessert. My sister Lori says, "Almost anyone can serve a bowl of ice cream." And she's right.
When I get flustered, uptight, nervous or impatient in preparing for guests, I need to remind myself that hospitality is for the sake of honoring another. I want to ask myself before each event:
- What are the needs of my guests?
- How can they be served or comforted or accommodated?
- Do they need a place to stay or just a listening ear?
We've been fooled into thinking that hospitality has to do with us, the host, rather than the one who needs a place at our table. We may think we are in charge, but God will give us all we need when the time comes to answer the doorbell.
LET GOD TAKE THE LEAD
CS Lewis wrote, “At this feast it is He who has spread the board and it is He who has chosen the guests. It is He, we may dare to hope, who sometimes does, and always should, preside. Let us not reckon without our Host.”
Recognizing I’m not in control of just about everything reminds me to depend on God for my strength. As my friend, Bonnie told me, “It’s God Who does the real work, anyway – the work that lasts for eternity.” Recently, I got to practice hospitality while allowing God to lead the way. I prepped and planned and then watched him choose the guests in spite of my prepping and planning.
My friend Katy had back surgery in LA. I promised a meal for Katy and Ed. But I didn’t know exactly when they’d be home and neither did they. So Saturday before work, I made a double batch of Jaime’s yummy Chicken Corn Chowder — half for us, half for them — just in case. My brother Hyatt and wife Anne, both so dear as well, were expected overnight but not until nine o’clock, so I made a cake Friday night to split with Katy and Ed, of course.
Then, Saturday at work, I got a voice mail from Anne. “Hey, plans changed. We’ll be there for dinner. Knew you wouldn’t mind. See you at six.” (I get home at six. Oops!)
Then, Katy called. “We’re home, but our fridge has food. How about another night?” Perfect! I told Katy her meal would be eaten by Hyatt and Anne instead. She said to tell them hi.
It’s enough to make you want to have company, isn’t it? Let God lead. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but who needs perfect? It’s referred to as “practicing hospitality” for a reason. If you’re not used to it, you may feel as if you need practice. However, the more times you invite someone over, the easier it gets. Of course, you won’t know that until you try it three or four times.
Have fun practicing hospitality this week. Choose a day or God may choose it for you. Either way works when he’s in charge.
Here’s Jamie’s Chicken Corn Chowder. Double the recipe. You never know when you’ll need it. All for heaven’s sake.
Jamie's Chicken Corn Chowder
2 cups cubed potatoes
1 small diced onion
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups diced cooked chicken
1 - 8 ounce can corn
1 - 8 ounce can cream corn
1 cup light cream
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Chopped parsley for a tasty garnish
Fry bacon until crisp. Drain, cool and crumble. Sauté onions in bacon drippings until tender for eight to 10 minutes. In Dutch oven, combine onions, potatoes and chicken broth, and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, 15 minutes or so. Add chicken, whole corn, cream corn, light cream and pepper. Heat thoroughly.
Garnish with parsley and crumbled bacon.
About Sue Donaldson:
Sue and her husband, Mark, live in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Sue taught high school English, including as a missionary in Brazil with Wycliffe Bible Translators. She and her husband have raised three daughters who keep them at the bank and on their knees. Sue loves connecting people with one another, God and his Word and has been speaking for the last 20 years or so with long pauses for babies, diapers and soccer pasta parties. She blogs at WelcomeHeart: Knowing and Showing the Heart of God and hosts a weekly podcast, Make it Count: Living a Legacy Life. She has written three books about hospitality and table mentoring. email: email@example.com website: www.welcomeheart.com