It’s upon us. The magazines are screaming. Roll up your sleeves and roll out the red carpet. It’s time to entertain!
May I offer an alternative? Instead of entertaining, offer hospitality. The differences are not subtle. When we entertain, we are often ruled by our pride. When we offer hospitality, we are inspired by charity. Entertaining seeks to impress. Hospitality seeks to minister.
In her excellent book, Open Heart, Open Home, Karen Mains writes:
Secular entertaining is a terrible bondage. Its source is human pride. Demanding perfection, fostering the urge to impress, it is a rigorous taskmaster that enslaves. In contrast, scriptural hospitality is a freedom that liberates.
Entertaining says, “I want to impress you with my beautiful home, my clever decorating, my gourmet cooking.” Hospitality, however, seeks to minister. It says, “This home is not mine. It is truly a gift from my Master. I am his servant, and I use it as he desires.” Hospitality does not try to impress but to serve . . . Entertaining always puts things before people . . . Hospitality, however, puts people before things.
Hospitality is a ministry. As such, it is not bound by time or space. To offer hospitality, you do not have to offer an invitation; you do not even have to be at home, and you certainly do not need to spend days beforehand cooking and cleaning and decorating. To offer hospitality, you have to open your heart to see and meet a need. Hospitality might be a home-cooked meal wrapped in a pretty towel and carried, still warm, to a neighbor who is going through a difficult time. The charity of an open home extended to a child while his mother has a moment to herself is hospitality extended to all. The comfort of a friend who offers a cup of tea at a well-worn kitchen table on a teary afternoon is hospitality that cannot be captured on the glossy pages of a magazine.
In order to truly extend hospitality we must put away our pride. We must be willing to open our doors, no matter the state of homes or our wardrobes, and to graciously seek to make our visitors feel welcome and at ease. When we do this, we allow people to see us as we are. We put away the pretense, and we offer ourselves with all our weaknesses. They can see that we are striving humbly towards holiness, and they can see that only God can perfect us. When we offer ourselves to other people and allow them to see our imperfections, we take a chance. We chance that they, too, will accept us in a spirit of charity. Hospitality works best when both the giver and the receiver assume the best about each other.
Entertaining often has a reward attached to it: social stature, a new job or a promotion, an accolade, a return invitation. Hospitality is freely given, with no thought to reciprocity or reward. The heart that is ordered towards charity offers hospitality to those who most need it, even if those are not the people whose company we most desire. This is charity—a virtue we can model for our children when we ensure that they are hospitable to their friends and even to the child who might otherwise be excluded.
When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:12-14) As we begin to practice the ministry of hospitality, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We open our doors and our hearts, and certainly some people will come through those doors who do not view our efforts through the same lens of charity. On occasion we will hear a critical comment; we will be judged according to the world’s standards. We will feel as if we have come up short. But we have not truly. Those are the times the hospitable hostess will offer to Christ, imperfect and heartfelt, knowing that He will redeem the time and the effort.
This holiday season, make hospitality your prayer. Seek to comfort and to minister. Look for ways to lighten someone else’s load. In every guest, no matter how cranky, no matter how demanding, see Christ. Open your heart wide; risk allowing people to see your weaknesses—for it is in those very weaknesses that his power is made perfect.