Humbled by Hospitality

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Last week’s definition of hospitality looked like this:

  • The generous reception and entertainment of guests.
  • A relationship between a guest and host, in which the host received the guest with goodwill.
  • Showing respect for one’s guests, treating them as equals.

So here’s this week’s question: How much does that definition relate to elaborate food, a perfectly clean home, and ready-to-converse information on the hottest news events? If you answered, “Very little,” then you and I are on the same page.

Steve and I spent many years opening our home to young people. They never cared if the carpet needed vacuuming. (In fact, it made more sense to vacuum after they left.) As for food, we called them the locusts (sorry, guys!), because any sort of leftover was fair game. No matter what we set out on our counters, they swept in and ate it all. And as to conversation, they didn’t care so much about what we said as they did about what we asked and how closely we listened when they answered. I thought the ease of entertaining them had to do with their youth. Now I’m not so sure. Perhaps adults would be just as pleased with an invitation to enjoy simple, relaxed hospitality as all those teenagers were.

Am I suggesting that we welcome guests into a dirty home and serve whatever falls out of our refrigerators when we open them? Not exactly, but how about this. Let’s help revive a culture of hospitality within our circle—and open that circle widely whenever possible.  Let’s stop allowing “I’m busy” to reduce our connections to a quick voicemail or two. What if we were all more willing to tidy up one room, ignore the dust bunnies, and welcome a friend, neighbor or lonely teen to come and play a game of cards? Or perhaps we could share a simple supper without chagrin. Nobody cares that much about what’s on the table when guests are received with respect and a desire for relationship.

This sort of hospitality requires a certain degree of humility, a willingness to let friends and neighbors peek around the corners of our busy lives into our imperfections. So what if they see a haphazard stack of bills, laundry, or dishes? So what if all we have to offer is a can of soup or some scrambled eggs? There is a time for well-planned parties, but we can practice hospitality even when time is short. Chances are that those we welcome into our own kitchens and living rooms aren’t leaving behind circumstances much different from our own.

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