Take Time for Hospitality!

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Take Time for Hospitality!

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Hospitality: \häs-pə-ˈ:ta-lə-tē\ (noun) the act, practice or quality of receiving and entertaining strangers or guests in a friendly and generous way (Webster’s Dictionary).

That’s the basic definition. Most of us would wholeheartedly agree that hospitality is a wonderful thing—especially when we’re on the receiving end of it. After all, who doesn’t enjoy being invited over for a home-cooked dinner? But being the one bestowing the hospitality—well, oftentimes that’s easier said than done.

Preparing a nice meal and getting your home “company ready” can take a lot of time—something that is a scarce commodity these days. Maybe you think your house is too small or not nice enough to have guests over. You may be looking at your household budget and think you can barely afford to feed your immediate family, let alone host a dinner party. Or it could just be that the thought of hosting a get-together in your home completely stresses you out.

Those are all common reasons why people don’t have others over to their homes. Still, the Bible exhorts us to be hospitable. In Romans 12:13, Paul tells us to “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (English Standard Version throughout). Hebrews 13:2 admonishes, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” We’re told in 1 Peter 4:9 that we should “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”

When we practice hospitality, we are modeling godly love, care and concern towards others. Many scriptures come to mind here, in particular Matthew 22:39, which instructs us to “love your neighbor as yourself,” and Romans 12:10, which says we are to “Love one another with brotherly affection.” Inviting others to our homes and sharing what we have with them is an ideal way to express this love.

Now if you’re not naturally the “hostess with the mostest,” this can seem like a very tall order. Really, though, it’s quite doable when you think beyond formal dinner parties and focus more on the actual meaning of the word “hospitality.”

To expand on the Webster’s Dictionary definition stated above, hospitality, in its broadest sense, is a love of other people. It means giving your time, energy, talents and resources to encourage, support and strengthen others. This is done in an attitude and demeanor that makes those around you feel welcome, comfortable and appreciated.

True, most people show their hospitality by hosting dinners in their homes. What typically comes to mind is the multiple-course meal served with the family’s best china, crystal and silver. However, it doesn’t have to be limited to that situation. The fact is, you can convey hospitality anywhere, anytime. It doesn’t have to be in your home and it doesn’t have to be for dinner. It also doesn’t have to be an extravagant, formal event, nor do you need a perfectly spotless “showcase home” to have people over.

Keeping this broad definition in mind, here are some ways to incorporate a little more hospitality into your life.

Take advantage of low-cost and timesaving entertaining options

Don’t let a tight household budget, a lack of time or culinary expertise deter you from having people over. To save on time and costs, consider hosting a potluck-style meal in your home. Have each of your guests bring either a main dish or a dessert and a beverage. You could plan a potluck around a theme where everyone brings an Italian or Mexican dish. Taco salad parties are also fun. Each of your guests could bring an ingredient such as grated cheese, salsa or guacamole. Or do a cookout where you supply the hamburgers and hot dogs, and your guests all bring side dishes (potato salads, fruit salads, chips and dip, coleslaw, potato salad, desserts, etc.). Assemble all the food and paper plates buffet style on your kitchen countertop, and let your guests sit where they like.

Convenience foods can also make entertaining easier. Pre-washed salad mixes, ready-to-grill marinated kabobs, ready-to-serve vegetable and dip trays, cooked rotisserie chickens, pasta salads from the deli, and brown ‘n serve dinner rolls are all great time savers. You could also pick up some freshly baked rolls, pies or cakes from your local bakery. Your guests won’t mind that you didn’t do all the food preparation yourself. What matters most is that you make them feel welcome, not that you’ve invited them over for a gourmet dining experience.

Become an advance planner

While not all the get-togethers you host will be big, formal sit-down meals, probably some will. And those are really also quite doable—if you plan ahead. It helps to create a preparation schedule (for what you need to do and when) for the weeks and days before, and the day of, a big event. This helps you organize your time and cuts down on stress.

A lot of tasks can be done in advance. Oftentimes I’ll make place cards and candle centerpieces, fold cloth napkins, polish silverware, etc. several weeks before a formal dinner. Many appetizers and entrées can be prepared ahead of time and frozen. For instance, you can make mini quiches, egg rolls, meatballs, spaghetti sauce, scones, cupcakes, muffins, etc. several weeks in advance of serving them. Just bake or cook them, freeze them and then reheat them right before serving and they’ll taste like they’re freshly made. You can also make up menu items like cheesecakes, pies, casseroles and pasta salads two or three days in advance and keep them in the refrigerator until serving. Do whatever food prep you can ahead of time, and save the last minute cooking for the things that can only be done last minute.

Develop reliable menus

Much of the stress of entertaining is wondering if the food is going to turn out or go over well. Once you’ve discovered some entrées that are easy to prepare and your guests really like them, stick with them. Don’t think you have to find new recipes every time you have guests over. It’s okay to serve the same menus again and again (especially if you are having different groups of people over, or if many months have passed since you served a particular entrée to certain guests). Your guests won’t mind repeat menus, especially if the food is tasty.

Don’t try to do it all yourself

Make entertaining a family activity. Women will oftentimes try to handle all the entertaining details themselves, but they shouldn’t. Hospitality is something both women and men should be involved with. Remember, it is listed as a character attribute required for church leadership in Titus 1:7-8 and 1 Timothy 3:1-2. Wives should encourage their husbands to be actively involved in any get-togethers that are planned—not only because it helps ease the workload, but because it is a vital aspect of our Christian calling.

I know husbands who host regular sushi parties, and they know how to make some incredible dishes. Certainly there are a lot of men who are masters at grilling. This works great for the wives, who can get side dishes ready while their husbands prepare the main entrée. But even if your husband isn’t into cooking, he can still be involved in other aspects of being a good host—planning guest lists, inviting people over, greeting guests when they arrive, serving beverages and appetizers to guests before the meal, etc.

You should also involve your children. Children as young as five or six can sweep floors, wash vegetables for a salad, make place cards, set the table, or do other tasks to get ready for company. Not only does this help you out, but you also teach your kids that hospitality is a normal part of home life. The more they do it, the more hospitality becomes second nature to them. Many years ago I started asking my son, who is now 15, to help me get ready for our dinner parties. By now he’s done it so much that he’s a really confident chef and host—to the point that he’s the one suggesting we invite people over after church.

One other idea is to ask a friend or other couple to co-host a dinner with you. That way, you’re not the only one doing the cooking, and some of your stress may dissipate. I have routinely hosted ladies’ teas with another friend; we share all the baking, preparation and cleanup duties—choosing one of our homes as the venue to host the party. We each invite half of the guests, which serves as a way for me to get to know new people (and vice versa), because my co-host might invite people I don’t know well.

Prepare for spur-of-the-moment entertainment opportunities

Try to always have certain kinds of food items on hand—bottled beverages, chips, jar salsas and dips, etc.—so you can be ready for spur-of-the-moment entertaining opportunities. Hamburger patties, hot dogs and buns are good to keep in your freezer, to be ready for a last-minute cookout.

I keep my freezer stocked with homemade entrées that I can easily pull out, thaw in the microwave and bake if I need to. Often I’ll make double batches of lasagna, meatballs, chicken Kiev, tuna casserole, meatloaf, chicken pot pie, spaghetti sauce, etc. (it’s just as easy to make a double batch as it is a single batch!) so that I can have one batch for the current meal I’m cooking for my family and a second batch that I can freeze. I also usually have homemade piecrusts and cookie dough (in rolls that can be sliced up) frozen in my freezer, which can be pulled out and baked for last-minute desserts. This way, if we meet someone new or an out-of-town visitor at church, we are always ready to invite company over.

Don’t obsess about your home

Obviously you should try to tidy up your home before company arrives, but don’t think it has to be in “show home” condition before you have people over. If you do, you may never feel ready to have people over. Your guests won’t care if your furniture isn’t dusted, kids’ toys are scattered in the family room, or that you still haven’t gotten those spots off the carpet or painted the kitchen walls. Just try to get your home as neat and clean as time allows. If it’s far from perfect when guests arrive, don’t go on and on apologizing to your guests. If you do, you’ll only make them feel uncomfortable.

Invite people who are truly in need

True hospitality means not only extending ourselves to our friends and family, but also reaching out to people outside our social circle—to entertain “strangers” as we’re told in Hebrews 13:2. Luke 14:12-14 has a similar message—that we should not just invite our friends over to our homes, but also the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind. It is the same principle we read about in James 1:27, which states that “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (New King James Version).

Be on the lookout for people who are in need of a friend and have them over to your home. This could include new neighbors, new members of your church, recent widows or divorcees, or others who seem disconnected. When my husband and I plan a dinner party, we try to invite a few couples or individuals we know really well (people we know who are truly outgoing and interested in others) and then one or two couples or individuals we don’t know that well.

Giving to those who are lonely, disconnected, downtrodden or discouraged is certainly the heart and essence of true hospitality. You are not only providing them with physical sustenance, but even more importantly, connections with you and your family and your other guests.

Involve all your guests in conversation

As the host, you should try to include everyone at the table in conversation. Certainly all of your guests may not be familiar enough with every topic addressed to have something to add, but the bulk of the issues discussed should be of interest to most of the people present for the majority of the meal. Don’t leave anyone out.

If you’re bringing together a diverse group of friends, or people who don’t know each other that well, it might help to throw out a few conversation icebreakers. For instance, you could ask your guests what their plans are for the summer, how they got into their line of work, how they met their spouses, or if they have any travel stories they would like to share.

It’s a good idea to stay on top of current events (for many reasons, in addition to having good dinner conversation topics!), which everyone will probably be interested in talking about. Avoid discussing gossipy, negative or controversial topics; that would only lead to a negative interaction. You want the dinner conversation to be pleasant.

Think outside the dinner table

There’s a whole lot more entertaining possibilities than just planning full meals in your home. Be creative. You could have people over for dessert and coffee or an hors d’oeuvres party (where your guests bring appetizers to share) rather than host a full meal. Or plan a snacks and cards or group games night. These types of get-togethers are usually easier to pull off than a full dinner.

If your home truly isn’t in condition for company, you could plan a picnic in the park, or make “to go” meals that you can deliver to others. A coworker and I used to take meals we made ourselves to elderly shut-ins during our lunch hour. We’d figure out what foods we were going to make, put them all in a picnic basket (along with plastic eating utensils and paper plates) and head over to a different lady’s house once a week. We’d eat lunch with the lady have some good conversation and leave. It may have been a short visit, but it was usually just right for an elderly person who may not have been feeling the greatest.

Being hospitable could also include taking meals to new parents just home from the hospital, dropping off house-warming gourmet food gift baskets to new neighbors, or delivering portable food gifts like homemade jams, canned produce and fresh baked goods to anyone who needs a pick-me-up. I know people who make homemade soaps, dried flower arrangements and other crafts to give to others just because. For them, that’s easier than having people over to their home. And that’s fine. It’s still hospitality.

Now, if something you make flops—whether it’s delivered food or a meal in your home—realize it happens to the best cooks. Don’t let it dampen your good intentions. Remember, true hospitality isn’t about being a gourmet chef. What matters most is that you’re giving of yourself to others, showing a genuine interest in them and making them feel special. That’s what hospitality is all about.

Further reading:

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