You may enjoy the first post in this series: Hospitality – Exploring A Rare Accomplishment.
Being hospitable often involves food. I love cooking for guests and stretching their taste buds. I must tell you about the fun we had when I invited my pastor and his wife over for a meal of Thai stir-fry. We were having a great meal and laughing and talking about our days, and all the things that we normally do when we sit down to a meal. I politely asked our guests if they would like to be served more stir-fry. Normally we eat by the “you want it … you take it” rule here but you never know about guests, so it’s nice to offer and serve them especially.
My pastor said that he would like more so I got up to serve him. The large spoon in the wok in the center of the table was full of slippery Chinese noodles. As I passed over my pastor’s glass of ice water … plop, I lost a noodle! How embarrassing and yet so funny! We all laughed so hard about it and had a great time. Moments later the pastor’s wife was being served and the same thing happened. Catastrophic family of servers – yes, we must be that! But that night we bonded in a very special way with our new pastor and our relationship has grown so much.
Beginning with friends is a great way to develop hospitality skills. I know friends can be very intimidating especially because you know their status of living and sort of know what they expect from you. Nevertheless, give of what you have and never, never apologize about gifts that God has given you – your house or your food. Being hospitable is not about trying to appear on the same level as the one you are having as a guest but rather just being and giving of yourself.
American culture is constantly changing its patterns of food and if we have to eat the same thing for three days, we think we are crazy. For instance, if I was very poor and was thinking of serving something to the president, I would think of a Coney Dog as rude and inadequate. But on the flip side of the coin, I would probably feel fine feeding the Coney to a child.
These are huge contrasts but a very real way of thinking for anyone because we always tend to give our very best for the great people. As Christians though, what we do unto the least of these we are doing unto Jesus. Giving our best out of our means is always enough. Never be embarrassed to serve something “normal” to your guest. Even a burned meal can be endured where there is peace, healing, and happiness.
I had a friend who was a student in an English class I was teaching to Burmese refugees. I invited him to have a Sunday afternoon meal with us. Mom had fixed a normal meal – pot roast and corn. We had strawberries and shortcake for desert and afterward, guitar music and singing. My friend was very intimidated by my family and our riches. He had nothing except everything that he could pack in a small suitcase. Now he was sitting in a house seven times bigger than his own home in Burma (and our house is very small – four small bedrooms for nine people).
I learned another aspect of being hospitable that day. Sometimes giving your best is too much. If we had lowered ourselves to his level, his feelings of being overwhelmed by our “wealth” could have been avoided. The meal could have consisted of less variety in accordance with his cultural normality, we could have closed doors in the dining area and kitchen to make things feel smaller and more cramped (a homey feeling), and talked more about his home and family in our broken way, rather than enjoying music and fast English words and expressions. Although my dear friend’s trip to my house was a good educational experience for him, it was very taxing and exhausting. Later another student said to me, ” ––– says you live in a palace! Is this true?”
When being hospitable to people of other cultures, be very sensitive to the culture from which they come. Refugees, immigrants and other international people are flooding the United States and are coming to our back yards. There are literally foreign missions just miles away from virtually any of our homes. Over 99% of these people are looking for American friends and long to fit in and belong in some way to our culture. There are so many open doors here in our own country.
The next time you see a Muslim lady, walk up to her and smile and shake her hand. Say hello and introduce yourself. I can almost guarantee that the first time you do this you will have a positive response. It may be very far out of your comfort zone but this too is a very large part of God’s command to be hospitable. A smile is an internationally understood language. Speak it!
A very good challenge is to be able to give of yourself spontaneously. Many people practice being hospitable in a wide sense but don’t know how to be hospitable in a situation when they feel less than prepared for the task that they are forced to accept.
A family I once knew was moving to another area, when a group of church friends rallied and threw a surprise party for them. The fact that one hundred people spent an hour on their lawn was a shock to them and they felt threatened and frenzied. They said later that they totally missed the blessing that their body of friends where trying to bestow. Sister ––– told me later that at that point, she would have needed several weeks of notice before she could have enjoyed such a quick party on her front lawn. When asked why, she said, “I had absolutely no time to prepare my house or lawn, or time to dress in better clothes, etc.” She had missed the blessing of being hospitable because she had not taken time before to learn how to give of what she had without apology.
My mother taught me many valuable ways to make a meal twice the size intended in less than half an hour. She keeps a variety of fast meals on hand for times when we’ve run late or had unexpected guests. Some of these basics are macaroni, rice, potatoes and bread. Our basement is groaning too with cans and cans of fruit and vegetables. Canning is a very efficient way of preparing for guests … a snack, a meal or a gift of love.
Hosting someone need not include a large feast of fancy food or well thought-out scheduled activities for after the meal either. Happiness is in simplicity and the earlier that you learn about contentment and being committed to serving, the closer you are to being able to give yourself away in a godly way, in a selfless way … in the way of being hospitable. Of course I must make it clear that there is nothing wrong with having a large meal or planning about what you want to do with your guests. Being spontaneous though is so much fun.
Our family loves to sing, play outside games, inside family card or board games, or sit around and talk. Our guests are invited to do whatever our family wants to do. It is uncomfortable for a guest to ask to do something. Normally guests want to be asked to participate in something, not initiate activity. Being with friends and strangers has been so comfortable when I am invited to join into their family plans. Often as hosts we think that something that we normally do would be boring to guests. In reality though, to keep everyone active or interested is just to be natural and normal. Invite your guests to do things that you need to do or would like to do. You will get to know each other so much faster and have such a good time.
Do activities with your guests that you enjoy and in which you can include other people. Hobbies like card-making, scrapbooking or hiking can be very fun to do together. Or on larger scale you may want a game to entertain a whole family. Our family loves playing games like Boggle, Scrabble, Dictionary, Occupation, Pictionary and Dutch Blitz.
Once, after leaving our home, one of my friends wrote to me and said, “I’ve never been anywhere where I felt so much like I could be myself. I had so much fun!” When the hosts are comfortable with themselves, the guests will automatically begin letting their own guards down. You will find addictive joy in entertaining and making yourself available to others, and find a whole world of friends and blessings awaiting you. Being hospitable no longer is a command and something that you have to do, but rather a joy. There will be those that are difficult experiences but look at them as your challenges. God enjoys the impossible.
(This article was originally published in Volume1 Number4/Winter 2008. You can request the entire issue in PDF on this page.)
Possibly sharing at: The Modest Mom, Mama Moments, The Art of Home-Making Monday, Titus 2 Tuesday, Titus 2sdays, Roses Of Inspiration, So Much At Home, A Wise Woman, Raising Homemakers, A Little R&R, Coffee and Conversation, Hearts for Home, Growing in Grace, Imparting Grace, SHINE Blog Hop, Grace and Truth, Fellowship Fridays, The Homemaking Party.