After my siblings got on the school bus, all the mothers would gather in someone's kitchen for coffee and spend a few minutes "catching up" with one another. There was no set schedule that determined whose house it was. It was usually whichever house happened to have coffee cake or donuts on the counter on that particular day. If there had been a death in a family in the neighborhood, or someone had just had a baby, or someone was in the hospital or going through a hard time, they would line up a few meals or go door to door collecting money to buy flowers and a card.
There was never any need to put a GPS tracker on your kid if we had known about GPS back then. After school, as the kids came home and scattered throughout the neighborhood to play, all the mothers kept an eye on whoever happened to be in their yard and phone calls were made to let other mothers know where their children were. It was a happy, safe place as I remember. Often, at the last minute, a friend would stay for dinner. It was no inconvenience. We just ate a little less.
In my case, I would call home after a sports practice and ask my Mom if I could bring the whole basketball team or several members of the track team home for dinner. My Mom always said yes. These people were usually people my Mom did not know but they were destined to become her friends. Mom was an average cook. Our home was not fancy but she was never daunted by the extra, hungry mouths. She offered what she had and did the best she could to make it edible. I don't remember what she fed us, but what I do remember is her sitting around the table with my friends, chatting and laughing and singing silly songs. She had a song for literally EVERY situation and she brought many smiles with her animated renditions.
This brings me to the subject of hospitality. I've heard the word thrown around the Christian world for many years and heard the discussion of what it is and what it isn't and quite frankly it seems a little skewed to me. I've seen many attempts to show hospitality. Some were successful, others were not. Some events were pleasing to the eye, but I felt uncomfortable there. Others were held in messy kitchens with dirty dishes in the sink but I felt completely welcome. Many think that hospitality is everything from the decorations to the table setting to the menu to the appearance of the house, to the guests. Some events take months and a lot of money to plan. Others are elaborate but done on a shoestring budget. But what is hospitality, really? Is it a production of some sort, a planned event, or is it more just a way of living? More importantly, if we're going to drag it into the definition of Christian womanhood, what does scripture say hospitality really is?
Biblical hospitality is not the Pinterest perfect setting, quaint dishes, and a perfectly planned menu. It is not teacups and finger foods on a balmy afternoon. It isn't themed parties or oysters on the half shell. It is not putting on the dog. That is called entertaining. There is a huge difference between the two. Biblical hospitality is sharing your food with the hungry and providing shelter for the wanderer or traveler in Isaiah, opening your arms to the poor and extending your hands to the needy in Proverbs, it is a simple offering without any fuss or frills in 1 Peter, feeding the poor, crippled, lame, and blind in Luke, it's feeding, clothing and housing the poor in Matthew, and blessing your enemy in Romans.
According to what I'm seeing in scripture, hospitality is not a pretty little gathering on a Saturday afternoon. Hospitality, in its truest definition, is messy. It involves people in need, oftentimes people you are not familiar with. It's probably not something you would share on Pinterest. In Bible times, it was taking travelers, who were passing through, into your home for the night, seeing that they were fed and comfortable. Hospitality is based on need, not preference. The Bible does not condemn entertaining. There was the wedding banquet that Jesus attended in John. The guests were carefully chosen for an expected outcome. There was the parable of the great feast in Matthew. Again, the guests were carefully chosen according to the preference of the sponsor. That is entertaining. When the guests could not come, unclean strangers were invited. That's hospitality. Of course, the parable was not written about hospitality but is more about the heart of God wanting all to come and feast from His table. Yet, we see that God's heart is hospitable in that He invites ALL, regardless of state or stature into His home to receive a blessing without pre-thought or personal preference but as the need arises.
In her article, What's the Difference, Jen Wilkins gets to the heart of this issue when she says:
"Entertaining involves setting the perfect tablescape after an exhaustive search on Pinterest. It chooses a menu that will impress and then frets its way through each stage of preparation. It requires every throw pillow to be in place, every cobweb to be eradicated, every child to be neat and orderly. It plans extra time to don the perfect outfit before the first guest touches the doorbell on the seasonally decorated doorstep. And should any element of the plan fall short, entertaining perceives the entire evening to have been tainted. Entertaining focuses attention on self.
Hospitality involves setting a table that makes everyone feel comfortable. It chooses a menu that allows face time with guests instead of being chained to the stovetop. It picks up the house to make things pleasant but doesn't feel the need to conceal evidences of everyday life. It sometimes sits down to dinner with the flour in its hair. It allows the gathering to be shaped by the quality of the conversation rather than the cuisine. Hospitality shows interest in the thoughts, feelings, pursuits, and preferences of its guests. It is good at asking questions and listening intently to answers. Hospitality focuses attention on others.
Entertaining is always thinking about the next course. Hospitality burns the rolls because is was listening to a story.
Entertaining obsesses over what went wrong. Hospitality savors what was shared.
Entertaining exhausted, says 'It was nothing, really!' Hospitality thinks it was nothing. Really.
Entertaining seeks to impress. Hospitality seeks to bless.
But the two practices can look so similar. Two people can set the same beautiful tablescape and serve the same gourmet meal, one with a motive to impress, the other with a motive to bless. How can we know the difference? Only the second would invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind to pull up a chair and sip from the stemware. (Lk 14:12-14). Our motives are revealed not just in how we set our tables, but in who we invite to join us at the feast. Entertaining invites those whom it will enjoy. Hospitality takes all corners."
I've never been an entertainer. I don't have good decorating skills or a flair for what looks good. There will never be a Pinterest perfect party at my house. I am more like my mother and I pray like my God. I don't consider anyone a stranger, no matter their race, creed, social position or country. The downtrodden are always welcome at my table and to spend the night on my couch if they need to. Jesus said that when we show hospitality to others, we show it unto Him. Our reward on earth is often new friendships, gratefulness from others, and the joy of being a blessing. There is also a reward that is stored up in heaven and that is hearing our Savior say "well done, my good and faithful servant."
So to those who want to be a Proverbs 31 woman, "open your arms to the poor and extend your hands to the needy." Be prepared to be inconvenienced as you're exposed to the messiness of people's lives and seek to be a blessing to them by offering them a place of comfort and provision in your home and in your heart. This is the gospel. This is true hospitality.