Fall stirs in me a longing to gather people around my table, to practice hospitality. After months and months of social distancing and not gathering, I’m thrilled to be able to welcome friends to my home.
Feeling that same longing? Or feeling intimidated by the idea? Here are three easy ways to practice hospitality without getting stressed out.
- See hospitality as a spiritual practice. Our culture misunderstands hospitality, confusing it with entertaining. The “hospitality industry” is even a thing—which of course is about profit, not expression of faith. But hospitality is a practice, not necessarily a gift. (Which means that anyone can do it.)
I’ve been told numerous times I have a spiritual gift of hospitality. But when I read the Bible, I don’t see hospitality listed among the spiritual gifts. Hospitality is a spiritual practice, and it’s something that Jesus invites us to do, but it’s not a gift. The lists of gifts in the Bible are not necessarily exhaustive, but still—since the Bible talks a lot about hospitality, you think it would have made at least one of the top-ten lists. Nope.
I love the word “practice” because it precludes perfectionism. You’re not performing, just practicing, and mistakes and imperfections are expected. Spiritual practices are not ways to earn God’s favor. Nor are practices ideas that we simply think about or philosophical positions we affirm. Rather, practices are actions we literally do with our bodies that form us spiritually. Practices are not the same as gifts, although our gifts may shape the practices we are drawn to, and help us to grow. Practices draw us into God Space, invite us into intimacy.
- Start by listening. Pay attention by praying with intention. Ask God to show you the needs. Will you host a meal in your home, or provide one to a neighbor who is going through a tough time? Be open; listen to God’s leading. Does someone need a place to stay for a few days? Do your kids’ friends need to gather around a table and be invited into conversation that builds them up? Does a friend just need you to invite them over to have a cup of coffee and conversation?
With almost any spiritual practice, it’s easy to run ahead of God, focused on self-improvement that we think may earn favor. We tell God our plans, then ask for blessing. What would happen if instead, we begin with stillness, with paying attention to our deepest longings and knowing. And then tell God about that desire, and ask God to direct and lead us into action? Prayer is conversation, which means we listen, not just talk. Be an intentional listener.
- Keep it simple (but have a plan). I know, there is some work involved with welcoming others to your home: everything from cleaning the bathrooms to setting the table to decluttering and oh, yes, cooking. Make lists, do as much as you can ahead, and keep as much as you can as simple as you can. This time of year, everyone loves soup, chili or stew—all easy to make ahead.
When I have friends over, I make pie. Because I like making (and eating) pie. If you don’t enjoy baking, buy something delicious at the bakery and let it go.
You do need a plan, only to free you to focus on what matters. Ask yourself how you can create a welcoming space without making it about you. Focus on loving, not on impressing. Hospitality is about love. In the bible, the invitation to extend hospitality is mentioned in the context of loving others. Some of us may be more comfortable with it than others, but we’re all asked to practice it.
Hospitality can be an expression of worship, because worship is more about serving than singing. The apostle Paul instructed believers, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:10–13).
Offering hospitality shows love to people. It is closely linked to both worship and generosity. We share our bread with those in need of food, or of fellowship, not to earn God’s favor but so that we might be transformed. Remember, the purpose of spiritual practices are not to get good at the practice. Practices shape us into people who are more like Jesus, and are more deeply connected to Jesus.
Hospitality is not about entertaining or perfectionism. It’s about love, letting the love God’s lavished on you spill over onto others.
Whether or not we’re gifted at love, Jesus asks us to love. And to welcome others. When we do so, we experience his love coming back to us in a fresh and transformative way.
Want to learn more about hospitality and other spiritual practices? Some of the content for this post was adapted from my book GodSpace: Embracing the Inconvenient Adventure of Intimacy with God, which has a whole chapter on hospitality and also guides you through six other spiritual practices. Get your copy here. Read other popular posts on hospitality here and here.