3 Things to Keep in Mind When Hospitality Is Hard

Hospitality is a mark of a generous heart, but it can be very, very difficult.

Glossy magazine pages showcase what modern hospitality looks like: a stylish home, a curated tablescape, a charcuterie board expertly arranged, sparking glass, ironed linens, and of course, laughing hosts who sashay amongst their guests without concern for a dropped canapé or a peccant grape crushed into the carpet.

It’s no wonder so many of us find hospitality daunting or altogether impossible. We feel defeated before we’ve even begun! With a societal standard that screams unreachable, we choose to quietly close the door and turn off the lights.

 Hospitality is just too hard. 

There are plenty of reasons why we are called to open our homes to others, whether they are strangers or old friends, from the basis of a welcoming creation to New Testament imperatives such as Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Despite knowing that we must develop a heart of hospitality, for some, this directive of God’s heart seems like the most demanding thing He’s ever asked of us. 

What if we altered our thinking about hospitality as one of “entertaining” to that of “relationship”?

Author Holly Sprink puts it this way: “We don't practice hospitality to point other people to ourselves, our church, or even our beliefs. We practice hospitality to point people toward the ultimate welcome that God gives every person through Christ” (from Faith Postures: Cultivating Christian Mindfulness).

1. Hospitality is a simple welcome.

That’s it. Hospitality is not perfection or a showcase or even a sumptuous meal. Yes, you’ll want to clean the toilet and clear the toddler’s toys,so your guest doesn’t trip over them, but beyond that, hospitality is all about people. 

2. Hospitality is about the who, not the what.

When it comes to hospitality, we have one job: Love people well. What does that look like in your home or environment? 

Here, where for over a decade we had eight kids and their friends and grandparents and dogs bursting on the back porch, it often looked like “BYO"--bring your own dinner/meat to throw on the barbecue/snack to share with others/cold beverages.

It didn’t matter what was eaten or even how it was served. Hospitality to a group of many was about great conversation and small pockets of activity and kids splashing in the pool and laughter and a sense of togetherness.

Nothing was impressive. Nothing was perfect. There were wet footprints along the kitchen floor path to the bathroom and half-eaten hot dogs left behind. 

When hospitality is about the whoand not the what, it can look however it needs to look. If you have put off inviting people into your home because your apartment is tiny or your home lacks ample seating, suggest taking an evening walk together and ending at a cafe for a cold drink instead. 

When hospitality is about the who and not the what, it can serve the needs of the person to whom you are extending yourself. Sometimes hospitality means providing a simple meal, and not necessarily in your own home. 

Think about it: How excited are you when someone reaches out and asks you to get together? Doesn’t it feel like a loving gesture to be pursued that way?

When hospitality focuses on loving others, that’s exactly how we all feel. We feel as if the other person has seen us. We all want to be seen—to be known and loved. Know, love, and accept others by focusing on the who, not the what.

3. Hospitality is also about the why.

Why would God ask this of us? As much as we might try to resist, we were created for community.

God tells us that we need each other. Gathering together is as much about our own needs as it is about others, and when we reach out to offer hospitality to others, we are picking up a tool that contributes to our own healing.

Hospitality—friendship—is a balm. 

That universal truth about being known, loved, and accepted for who we are? This is where the need is met. In community, in relationship, in that proverbial long walk down the footpath that is life.

We can wait decades for someone to open the door and turn on the light for us, or we can choose to be the one who steps forward knowing that God has asked this of us because he tenderly loves us.

Even if we understand the who and the why of hospitality, our hearts can rebel against even our hardiest resolve. We have to appeal to the indicative of the gospel.

God loves us with such a whole and perfect love that he sought to save us from his wrath and instead shower us with the mercy of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We know from this one life-altering act that we are loved by him. What follows that knowledge is the call to live a life here of loving God and loving our fellow man.

When we grasp how deep and wide the love of God is for each of us, it becomes easier to put others above ourselves because we are so secure in the love of God for us. Suddenly the commands of God don’t feel like a burden.

We are less about our own preservation and more about the other person.

Hospitality allows us to move beyond the protestations that often accompany our self-preservation. “But I’m an introvert! I would die if I had all these people in my home!”

 I’m an introvert, too. You won’t die. I promise. No one said you needed to have “all these people” in your home anyway. We’re called to love people, and one-person-at-a-time is just fine. 

Hospitality also isn’t about the presentation. A bowl of microwave chili is a legitimate offering. I know not one teenager who would balk at the offer of a slice of frozen pizza or an adult who would dismiss a bowl of tortilla chips and store-bought salsa.

Looking back on my life, I can remember the best of times spent laughing over a giant bowl of popcorn and a can of soda. Remember what it feelslike to be on the receiving end of such a simple gesture and take the pressure of presentation off your shoulders. Hospitality isn’t about that.

And if you haven’t caught it already, hospitality is certainly not about perfection. Leave the magazine writers and stylists to their thing. Yours is simply to love God and others, no matter what that looks like.

Forget Instagram. Jen Schmidt, in her book on culture-changing hospitality, Just Open the Door: How One Invitation Can Change a Generation, writes, “Perfection is the enemy of done. Wait, forget that, sometimes perfection is the enemy of even starting.” 

The truth is, hospitality is hard for nearly all of us, but as with most things God asks of us that initially cause us to set our jaws and stamp our feet, it can be a path to beautiful freedom.

When we finally understand that it’s through his unending love for us that we are truly set free from ourselves, we are free indeed. Just open the door. Turn on the lights.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/AndrikLangfield


Kendra Fletcher is a mother of 8, speaker, author, and podcaster. She is the author of Lost and Found: Losing Religion, Finding Grace, and Leaving Legalism, and she regularly writes for Key Life Ministries. The Fletchers reside in California, where they play in the Pacific Ocean as often as possible. Find her here: www.kendrafletcher.com.

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