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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Practice Hospitality

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A few weeks ago I was invited to dine at a famously scenic restaurant in Austin. I was ushered into a beautiful room overlooking the lake. My vantage point, one of the top stories of a multi-tiered establishment, also gave me a view of several crowded tables below me. One gave me pause. It was party of ten, apparently a family plus a couple of friends. They were enjoying appetizers and beverages as sunset approached…and eight of them were bent over their smart phones for many long minutes. I admonished them in my mind, then caught myself in a similar crime just days later.

  • When was the last time you looked at your smart phone?
  • When was the last time you looked someone in the eye?
  • And do you ever call someone, hoping to get their voicemail so you can just leave a message?

We have allowed ourselves to become broadly connected, yet at the same time oddly isolated. Is this shyness? An enslavement to efficiency? Just a bad habit?

Romans 12:13b is exquisitely direct. “Practice hospitality.” There was a time when I thought hospitality meant simply opening one’s home and serving cookies. (More about that in a later blog.) A bit of research has extended my understanding. Here are a few more detailed definitions.

  • 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.

Reception, relationship, and respect all speak to our definite and deliberate focus on another person. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said, Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” The gathering of believers is a sacred thing. What do we miss when we are distracted? And if we are gathered with those who do not know the Lord, what does our distraction say to them about their worth?

Furthermore, children may be heavily impacted by the number of words spoken to them in their early years. How much has that volume been reduced by the constant pull of a smart phone screen?

Focus. Attention. Concentration. These can be difficult to maintain in our swirling culture. But they are gifts we can give to those around us. They are gifts I think our Lord would have us mete out with generosity. They are a part of hospitality. Will you join me in a renewed effort to be fully present at the table–or at the office, or in the kitchen or…? Let me know how it goes. And if you discover tips that help you pay attention, I hope you’ll share them here.