Pursue hospitality, the Bible tells us; and so we open our hearts and our homes to others. First we extend hospitality – gracious service and welcoming love – to those who live in our home and then we extend it out to others God brings into our lives.
But when we get our picture of what hospitality should look like from the magazine rack or HGTV, we stress out and shut down.
The kind of hospitality God wants us to offer, however, is not according to worldly standards. The world’s goal for hospitality is to impress. God’s goal for hospitality is to knit. Through opening our doors and our lives to one another, we grow as a community. When we gather as a church body and share a meal and our lives, our love and fellowship deepens. When we gather in those outside, we show them what it’s like inside – inside the bounds of God’s family, God’s body, God’s community.
Hospitality is not about showing off or impressing others. So we do not have to postpone it until the kitchen reno is complete, until the yard is gorgeous, or until we feel ready. We simply invite others into life, as is.
That said, there are 3 ways I simplify the process and make it less stressful, less burdensome, to regularly have people over.
Have 2-3 go-to hospitality dinners.
The quickest way to eliminate the decision fatigue common when having people over is to eliminate the question of what’s for dinner.
Choose 2 or 3 dinner plans and simply decide between those limited options when menu planning.
For a few years, I kept a running list (in Evernote, of course) of who we had over for dinner and what I served. At first, it was mostly journal-like. It’s fun to look back and see who we’ve had over. But also it was data-collection. When I wondered, “What do I make for dinner?” I could look back and see. I started repeating dinners that had been both easy and well-received.
Then I started using the list to look back at what I had served to whom. We’d have a family over again and I’d think, “What did we have last time? I don’t want a repeat!”
Why did I not want to repeat? Lest it be thought I was a one-trick pony, I guess. That’s not thinking correctly about hospitality; that concern puts myself and what others think of me first. What if instead I thought, “What did we have last time? Oh yes, they liked that. I’ll serve it again.” If a few months or even a year has gone by, who will mind a repeat dinner? Does my family mind when we repeat favorites even every week? No. Neither will guests.
Now I have 2 main dinners I rotate between when having families over for dinner:
- Boneless pork roast in the crockpot with onion and Montreal Steak Seasoning (no liquid); roasted potatoes; salad or roasted broccoli. As an added bonus, this meal is gluten & dairy free.
- Grilled marinated chicken; roasted potatoes or bread and butter; salad.
Of course, in the winter a soup + salad + bread dinner is always nice and easy to expand to feed a few (or a lot) more.
But what these dinners provide is not only a ready, simple menu, but also a plan that does not involve last-minute preparation. It can hold if people are late; it’s mostly done if people are early. I can spend the last half-hour cleaning the bathroom and sweeping the floor instead of cooking – there are not too many things to be done at the last minute, which always makes life stressful.
So it’s not just about having the decision made, it’s about eliminating last-minute steps to be done.
Have 2-3 preparation tasks, and let the rest go.
I am sure we have all been there, done that – at least I have. People are coming over within the next 30 minutes and I’m operating in panic mode. Unfortunately, mom’s panic mode affects everyone else in the house and not only herself. Panic-mode-mom snaps at the children to help out, bustles around frantically increasing the tension level, and makes everyone – herself included – dread having people over. Perhaps the kids are relieved when the guests pull in, because now mom has to put on her cheerful face and tone, which they haven’t seen all day. Eventually, that builds resentment, because, like it or not, it’s hypocrisy.
Hospitality has to start with our own family, not be a switch we turn on temporarily for guests.
Yet some extra steps do generally have to be done to be prepared for extra people. With a go-to basic checklist, we can prepare without feeling like everything must be done now.
Remember that the motivation must be to welcome & serve, not impress. The tone we take with guests must not be ginned up or fake, but the same tone we’ve been using with our family all day.
Here’s our basic preparation process:
1. Clear the bar & set glasses and beverages out on it.
One way to welcome people in, make them feel comfortable, and break the ice is to start off by offering beverages. So in the last 15 minutes or so before we expect company, we pull out glasses and beverages we plan to offer.
2. Clean the bathrooms.
With kids in the house, you never know the state the bathroom might be in. So as a kindness to others, I pop in and tidy up and quick-wipe it all. Three minutes, tops.
3. Make sure there are enough clear places to sit.
Often our house is strewn with books – not just the books I’ve strewn on purpose to spark interest, but books the children have left as a trail. It’s a good problem to have, but it makes it awkward if you’re about to invite someone to sit down and there is actually no place to sit. So we brush crumbs off chairs, put away books, and clear as many surfaces as quickly as possible in 5ish minutes – a quick EHAP goes a long way.
Remember the point is to connect, not impress.
I don’t worry about dusting. I rarely worry about mopping (unless there’s a horrible spot to address quickly). If I look around and feel tension mount because it’s not what I had hoped the house would look like, I breathe deeply and pray a prayer of repentance and gratitude. I need to repent if I’m worried about what people will think and I need to repent if I’ve been neglecting my housekeeping duties and only just realized it’s gotten embarrassing.
However, I can be grateful God is in control and has orchestrated the timing to bring it to my attention and to bring these people into my home at this time. For all I know, this is the hospitality – the real-life sharing – these people need now. Maybe they need to see I’m not all that. Maybe I need to pay more attention to them than myself. Maybe they are also struggling and will be more comfortable opening up when they see they are not alone. I don’t know.
All I know is that I’m called to hospitality, and I can trust God to orchestrate the details.
It’s not about me. It’s about sharing life openly and honestly with an intent to glorify God and serve others.