Breaking down in a strange city and being cared for by a local church. Being invited on Sunday morning to come share a meal with a family we have just met. Being hosted by a couple for a long weekend, complete with meals and beds for our large family. Being allowed to stay at an apartment or unoccupied house for a matter of weeks or months by friends or even strangers. Hospitality. This is something as missionaries that we are honored to both give and receive. And as we are on the brink of leaving for the field and I look back on our 8 months on the road visiting churches in the US, I can say that the one of the biggest (maybe the biggest?) spiritual blessing is the blessing of seeing God’s people practice hospitality towards us.
Hospitality ranks as a very high value in the Bible. There is no doubt, Biblically speaking, that showing hospitality is an important part of loving one another. The theme of hospitality is woven throughout the Bible. When we serve each other, we are pleasing our Lord.
So in light of this, I wanted to share some observations I have made in being on the giving, but especially the receiving end, of hospitality.
1. Families and churches who take the forth commandment seriously (“Honor the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”) have a leg up on hospitality. When we visited churches, it became clear that churches who talked up front about honoring the Lord’s day were much more likely to have members who would invite the visiting missionaries over for lunch. We live in a very busy culture, that desires to make every moment meaningful, whether for work, for sports, for our children’s extracurricular activities, whatever. When the church as a group are all spending their Sunday resting, worshipping, fellowshipping with other believers and doing acts of mercy, it just makes sense that someone among them has some time/energy to host the visiting missionaries. Sure, any given Sabbath honoring family may be tired, busy with ministry, ill, etc. But when a community is committed to honoring Sundays, there is quite a bit of time capital that is available for a variety of the tasks of hospitality and Christian service that are needing to get done. Hosting missionaries, hosting new families or the lonely widow; visiting a Nursing Home; sharing the Gospel at the beach; you get the idea, there is time for the Christian service that is often crowded out by the din of important tasks crying for our attention. And really it isn’t just about Sundays. Hospitality takes time and money, and demands that we leave some extra margin in our budget and our time to allow for the unpredictable needs of the people around us.
2. Hospitality involves learning to bear with one another’s weaknesses, and it involves dealing with our own weaknesses. Especially hospitality to strangers. The reality is that there are awkward moments. Food allergens that you’ve assured your guests that have been removed, weren’t. Different expectations on the presence of children, what children should eat, or how they should behave. Different expectations on household neatness. Hints that don’t get taken, or statements should have been taken at face value but were thought to contain a hidden message. I think one of my main subconscious values in my life has been not to ever cause anyone any grief, hurt feelings, or extra work. This value slams headlong against the value of being on both the receiving and the giving end of hospitality. On the giving end I am apt to make mistakes. And I’ve made quite a few–forgetting to ask about allergies, forgetting to add sugar in the dessert or salt in the main dish, asking an uncomfortable question, not taking time to notice my guests needs. I can maintain the fiction that I am perfect if I make sure to only offer hospitality when I have plenty of time and energy to make everything perfect, or in other words, hardly ever. But sadly, the worst mistakes in hospitality were made when I was too afraid of making mistakes to even offer hospitality at all.
3. Being on the receiving end of hospitality is an act of learning humility as well. My desire is to not add any extra work or burden to the hostess. I want to help her clean up. I want to bring a good hostess gift. But the reality of keeping my young children in tow, keeping up conversation, and the fatigue of travel, means I am often in the position of being needy rather than the position of being a blessing. This is humbling. I get to be the one allowing someone else to practice the Christian virtue of hospitality. But hospitality can only work if there are people not just willing to give hospitality, but also those humble enough to receive hospitality. People willing to overlook when the hospitality offered isn’t perfect. Or willing to not be intimidated or jealous when it does seem perfect.
Sometimes we tend to look at hospitality as something other people practice, that is far beyond us. But in reality, hospitality is just about taking baby steps toward giving up our time, money, and our pride to allow others into our homes and into our hearts, and having the humility to accept it from others as well. This is nothing less than the Christian virtue, love. Our family has truly been humbled these months to be on the receiving end of much simple yet deep Christian hospitality. All of it has been offered by imperfect people, which makes it all the more amazing that they would care enough to let us into their world, with all of its messiness. It is my desire that all of the beauty I have experienced in hospitality would overflow into my life, helping me to be renewed in my efforts at showing love through hospitality to others.