1 Peter 4:9 “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
Several years ago, my family went to visit some friends for the weekend for the first time. They have a lovely home, nestled in the woods in New Jersey, and every moment we spent in their home was a blessing. We laughed, we ate yummy food, we talked, we had fun. In fact, it is a place I yearn to return to, because of how rich and deep the fellowship was, and how truly meaningful our time was there.
The memories I take away of that weekend include crisp fall air and football games, tours of the town and the most incredible ice cream, dreams of camps for the future while eating chicken and potatoes cooked with scotch bonnet peppers (the flavor experience I have not yet successfully recreated, despite three years of efforts,) the joy on sweet children’s faces, and shy little voices in the early hours of the morning.
But my memories ALSO include a house that was still under construction (with supplies and debris and materials out and about,) a mishap that involved a very stressful clothing change in public, air much colder than we were prepared for, and, at one point, a tired, crying toddler in full meltdown mode.
Both sets of memories are equally sweet. The crying toddler and the construction debris didn’t detract from the weekend. In fact, to my surprise, the opposite occurred. For a few short days, we weren’t just invited into their home, we were invited into their LIVES. They didn’t make their home Pinterest-perfect before we arrived. They didn’t cover the rough parts of raising children. They didn’t hide anything from us. They simply lived, and let us share part of their life.
And it changed us, forever.
I have never been a perfect housekeeper, and I’m not one to hide, well, anything. When you come into my home, you’ll immediately witness the joyful chaos of the Patterson existence. However, even with my limited homemaking abilities, I still had a list of hospitality demands that I placed on myself.
- Food must always be provided in abundance. There should be at least enough food left over for three or four more people to join the meal.
- Your house should be neat enough that it’s not embarrassing. The floor should be clean and swept. Hide that laundry in the hall closet, if you have to. Or in the trunk of the car. (Houseguest never look there. Trust me on this.)
- You should get dressed in something clean and presentable, so no-one sees the spaghetti sauce that splashed on your shirt while you were cooking or the flour in your hair. (Unless it's dry shampoo. That stuff is amazing.)
- For overnight guests, a small welcome card and a few little presents on the bedside table should be provided; chocolates, candles, and perhaps a magazine.
- For all meals, the table should be set with an ironed tablecloth, and you should use the “nice” dishes, silverware, and glasses. (I mean, my nice dishes are from Target and are mostly un-chipped. But still, they're better than my Walmart dishes. I mean, I have standards.)
I enjoy doing those things, mostly. I love people, and I love having people feel loved and cared for by me. But sometimes this list of expectations stresses me (and my family) out. I run around like crazy five minutes before guests arrive, shouting at people to hurry up and make the house look, and this is a direct quote, “Company-ready.” But that weekend, while sitting at my friends’ table, witnessing the way they lived their imperfect lives, I caught a glimpse of something powerful.
Hospitality isn’t about a tidy table, or a perfect meal, or a clean bathroom. Hospitality is about letting people into your life and making them feel welcome in it. Hospitality isn’t a trendy tablescape and a gourmet dinner. Hospitality is an open heart, and a willingness to let people into the real, everyday mess of living.
Fancy meals, gorgeous tables, and bedside-welcome presents are awesome things. I love attending dinners and parties where the chef’s skill is evident, and the designer or decorator has made everything beautiful. It is such an honor to be invited to these places. And when these meals and tables are offered in conjunction with open hearts, hospitality flourishes. I’ve seen it. I have a handful of friends that make everything they touch into something beautiful. Stepping into their homes is like taking a breath of peace and contentment. I have friends whose skill in the kitchen is astounding, and I will gladly eat everything they make, including vegan tacos. (Goodness gracious, Rosa, those were AMAZING.)
Yet, as lovely as those homes and meals are, what makes them truly special are the moments that I was allowed to see past the gorgeous surface and the tasty treats, and into their hearts. When I was able to pray with my friend who is sick, or emergency babysit the children of the friend who had nowhere else to turn, or help a sister clean out her very disorganized closet before her mother in law came to visit. (Does your mother-in-law look in YOUR closet when she visits????)
Real hospitality is messy. It’s saying, “You can see me and my home at its best. But you can also see me and my home at its worst.” It’s an invitation into your life, to share a little piece of the divine that is uniquely reflected in you.
The world needs more messy hospitality. We need more people who will be real and transparent and honest about the good and the bad. We need people who will open their homes, and their lives, to one another and offer the yuck along with the wonderful. Once we grasp that, we become more and more hospitable. Without the pressure to be perfect and to clean everything and to cook amazing meals, we can be hospitable more often. We can offer our homes while laundry is still piled on the dining room table and we are heating up leftovers. We can also set gorgeous tables and make four-course meals. But we can be who we are made to be, and see the gift of hospitality do what it was designed to do: create community, make a family, spread the love of God.
Anyone want to come over for dinner? I’m probably ordering pizza. ;)