Sunday, September 1, 2013

I'm Still Learning: Hospitality

I grew up in a large Greek-Italian family. Among many other distinguishing factors, such as being loud and passionate, this involved a lot of eating. Our table was always full of food, and it seemed that our door was always open to whoever happened to stop by. Amidst the plethora of extracurricular activities for us 5 kids, our family ate dinner together most nights every week.

I treasure the family meal and am so grateful that, for the better part of the last 13 years, my in-laws have hosted dinner every Sunday evening. Our ministry schedule has often made our own family dinners a little difficult to navigate, but I am constantly searching for ways to make our mealtimes meaningful and fun.

Somehow, though, this joy of eating together as a family has not translated well into my church community. When we lived in an apartment, I said, "when we have a house, we'll have people over more." And then we bought a house. And I said, "when we're done with house projects (HA HA), we'll have people over more." And then we had kids, and I said, "when our kids are older, we'll have people over more."

You noticed the trend?

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit has convicted me in this area (more than once). Over the last five years, I've taken mental notes when I visit with people who are gifted with hospitality. I asked a few of them to give me their notes on how to do this well. And then, I just started doing it more. Most of my life learning has been trial-by-fire, so why approach hospitality any differently, right?

Here are a few lessons I've gratefully learned:   
Offer What I Have. Skilled hostesses seem to have many food options on hand at all times, but novices like me are learning to become comfortable just offering whatever is in my house. This relates to considering everything I have as belonging to everyone else, so if leftover mac'n'cheese is what's in the fridge, then our guests will be invited to it.

An unexpected blessing to this, though, has been that I think more about our communal family when I go grocery shopping. I check our pantry for snack supplies and buy a little extra of sale items so that the kitchen isn't completely empty if we spontaneously enjoy company. If I want to develop daily community, then I would like to be prepared to serve them well!

Involve My Kids. Hosting is a family affair! Young children can learn to greet guests warmly and thank them for coming to our home. My older daughter finds joy in setting the table for friends and offering available drinks. I often meet with women throughout the week for discipleship or prayer, and my girls are usually part of that time in some way.

I love seeing how my children are affected by regular community. Their definition of family expands beyond those in our immediate household. They experience the Holy Spirit's presence in people other than their parents. And they learn generosity, as they, too, share their space and possessions.

Love Covers a Multitude of Messes.
I used to believe that my home needed to look like a Martha Stewart magazine before I could successfully have people over. Obviously, a clean house provides a good welcome, but if I want my church to be my family, then I have to be comfortable hosting in my flawed everyday mess.

I've realized that the state of my heart sets the tone of our home far more than the condition of our floors or the mismatched placemats on the table. I am working to have a sense of orderliness from day to day, but, more importantly, I try to say a prayer before anyone comes to our door, so that they are welcomed in the Spirit, rather than my flesh. 

My small faith has been stretched as I step out in these little ways to cultivate community and learn hospitality. But I'm still learning! What tips or encouragement can you share with me?

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