I have been told that I have the gift of hospitality. I beg to differ. Yes, I have a guest book by the front door that has 188 entries in it from the many guests I’ve had over for a meal. However, I don’t consider it a gift to experience major anxiety leading up to the guest’s arrival, wondering if the food will turn out, wondering if there will be enough, wondering how our kids will behave, wondering what the seating arrangement should be, frustrated the house isn’t spotless, etc. I consider that fear of hospitality! The guest book provides evidence that I have faced my fear many times—not that I have a supposed gift of hospitality. Hospitality is a command from our Maker (I Peter 4:9; Hebrews 13:2). Therefore, we are all capable of being hospitable. The benefits are priceless…even when the house isn’t spotless, the kids misbehave, and the conversation has awkward moments.
So, what have I learned about hospitality?
1 – Just do it. Invite someone over.
But wait…when I walk to my neighbor’s door to invite them to dinner, my stomach is tied in knots, my knees are wobbly, my heart is beating rapidly, and my mouth is going dry. I just can’t do it!!! Help!!! I’m scared!!! (This is a true story from one of my first hospitality experiences after moving to a new city relatively early in our marriage. It took me about three attempts to make it to the actual door. I’ve come a long way, but I still at times experience butterflies in my stomach when I invite someone over for the first time. I’m typically much more relaxed with repeat visits.)
Yes, you are scared. Do it anyway.
2 – Expect differences.
One time I was so upset that my husband decided to start vacuuming right at the time the guests were scheduled to arrive. Later we had gone to an older couple for some marriage advice and that situation came up during the conversation. The man told me that I was the first wife he knew of that got upset when the husband vacuumed. When he said it that way, I felt a bit foolish. I could be thankful that my husband wanted a clean home (even if he didn’t make it clean during my preferred time frame). Communicate. Be a team. Strive to work it out just like you do other areas of your relationship. But accept that differences will exist. It is ok for things not to go your way (might not feel that way in the moment!).
3 – Anxiety will exist.
I am still amazed at how anxious I can be prior to a guest’s arrival. Despite having 15+ years of experience with many people in my home, I get anxious. It happened just yesterday. I don’t know if everyone experiences this when they open their home, but for me, anxiety is a very real struggle. I rarely feel 100% confident that the meal will turn out. I normally feel about 100% confident that my four kids will be wild and crazy at some point. And, typically I end up being wrong on both those points. Well, at least the first point. My temptation is to be very irritable during prep time, constantly snapping at whichever child is slowing me down with their interruption or striking my husband with my words because he isn’t following my agenda. So, I pray. I pray the food will turn out. I pray I will get everything done. I pray that I will be loving with my words. I pray for patience. I pray the guests will have a nice time. Sometimes I pray the guests will arrive late (when husband is vacuuming at arrival time or I am still doing ten thousand things!). I pray, pray, pray. Hospitality is a perfect time to learn dependence on God. I don’t depend perfectly. I sometimes forget to pray and must ask forgiveness for an unkind word.
Don’t let anxiety stop you from inviting people into your home.
4 – Kids are kids. Expect it. Plan for it.
Soooo the kid factor. Wow. That’s a tough one. I look back to a hospitality moment I had prior to ever having kids (I also didn’t babysit much and only had one sibling. I did not know kids well.). We had a family over that had one small child about one year old if that. He started banging his hand on our glass coffee table. I remember feeling uptight inside wishing his parents would stop him. Now, having four kids, I’m mortified at my lack of understanding of that poor child who had zero toys and zero kids to play with in my kid-free home at the time. Looking back, his banging was quite calm (I just hadn’t been used to it). If you are at a kid-free stage and plan to host kids, consider having at least a small basket of toys, games, or books that would be good for a variety of ages. It doesn’t have to be a lot. But, I suggest you have something to amuse them.
Currently, my four kids are ages 5-11. Two boys. Two girls. And, we live in a small ranch home. It can get crazy in a hurry especially when a guest has kids also. Before the guests arrive, I talk to my kids about what I expect behavior-wise. Recently, I started moving the baskets of toy music instruments to our closet during the duration of the visit. Yes, it took me years to think of that simple solution that has greatly reduced the noise level when guests are over hence aiding in adult conversation being less interrupted by impromptu concerts. Since we don’t have a bonus room and sometimes outside is not an option, we’ve turned our garage into a temporary “bonus room” while we have guests. We pull out the vehicles, have a few toys available, and let the kids make many happy memories. Think outside the box.
5 – Small homes can be a place of hospitality.
Our home is small. Well, depending on who you ask. Considering the many friends and connections where we currently live, our home is on the small side. Then add in some guests, and it can feel even smaller. I recently was feeling discouraged with the size of our home as I contemplated the upcoming “big” party we were going to host for New Year’s Day. As I was listening to a podcast though, the speaker mentioned that if you aren’t willing to host in a small home, then you aren’t going to be willing to host in a large home. The size of the home really doesn’t matter. Thinking back to my growing up years, I know that is true. I spent several holidays crammed into a relative’s small home (smaller than ours). She’d set up a table in the bedroom for some of us to eat. My many cousins and I would laugh and make amazing memories that I still treasure. I am so thankful my relative opened her home. I never considered it too small! Now that I am an adult, I realize it really was small. She could have easily excused herself from hosting large family gatherings. But she didn’t. And now I have many happy memories because she was willing to be hospitable.
Now it’s my turn. Am I willing? Are you?
6 – Be you.
Martha Stewart may do an amazing hosting job. But, guess what, you don’t have to be Martha Stewart!!! You get to be you! You want to do paper plates? Do it. You want to do fine china? Do it. You want to order Chinese takeout? Do it. You want to make one of the most complex meals of all times and challenge yourself? Do it. Figure out what works for you. Be creative. Have fun with it. But, most importantly, be you. And, let Martha be Martha.
7 – Accept help. Most of the time.
Often (but not always) people will offer to bring something. When someone volunteers, I will normally delegate the dessert to them. That helps me a lot. For big parties (such as New Year’s Day), I think through the menu and delegate a specific category (ex. fruit, salad, chips, drinks, dessert) to each person that offers to help, leaving me with the main course and whatever else happens to not be delegated. People seem to genuinely want to have a part especially for large gatherings. On the flip side, if someone doesn’t offer, don’t be offended or think less of them. During a period in our life when we were crazy busy with little ones, I didn’t volunteer to bring anything when we were occasionally invited to someone’s house. It was a hard stage; I felt bad not offering; but I felt I could not take on one more responsibility.
Having said that, I will not allow a pregnant mom or a lady with a baby to bring anything. Even if they repeatedly volunteer. I want that hard-working, world-changing mom to have the evening completely off, at least food-wise. It is my small gift to her.
8 – Tweak it.
Over time you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t work for you. Keep trying. Keep tweaking. The process will get smoother and better over time.
9 – Build confidence.
Early on in our marriage in an attempt both to make friends and to build confidence in hospitality, I started a supper club (twice actually as we moved a couple times). A small group of us newlyweds agreed to meet once a month, rotating homes, and each bringing a new dish. We got to practice cooking, practice having people in our home, see how other people hosted, and deepen friendships. Those were special times that I look back on fondly. We’re at a different stage of life, friends have moved, and we are not doing the supper club anymore. But, it served a wonderful purpose in building confidence and might be something you would like to initiate.
10 – The benefits will be exponentially greater than any fear, anxiety, or kid meltdowns that you experience.
Opening my home and getting to know people has been one of the best things I have done in my life. Yes, I experience anxiety. Yes, my kids are crazy sometimes. Yes, my home is small. But, once I sit down across from another human being and we start conversing, I am enthralled. God created us. We each have a unique story. We are designed to be in community. Hospitality lets you take a few moments to pause from the hectic craziness of life, making a living, raising kids and instead just stop and breathe and relish in being in relationship.
We make assumptions about people from a distance. But, when you sit down in the intimacy of your home, you can get to really know people. You hear how God is working in their lives. You hear different life stories that help you grow your compassion for and understanding of the world. You learn. You grow. You help your guests learn and grow.
Hospitality is a command for a reason. Most likely because we don’t naturally just do it. It goes against our pride to appear perfect. It requires us to serve someone besides our self. But, hospitality is such a blessing both to the receiver and the giver. Though I have experienced tremendous anxiety repeatedly prior to guests arriving, I have always felt such a peace and blessing during our time together. I have never regretted opening my home. Never. And, I’ve made some pretty good friends in the process.
Want more information on the topic of hospitality? I highly recommend this journeywomen podcast episode: Gratitude and Hospitality with Mary Mohler.