The Disappearing Art of Hospitality

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The Disappearing Art of Hospitality

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In much of the Western world, hospitality is becoming a lost art. The pressure of so many demands on time and finances often leads us to view hospitality as a luxury rather than a necessity.

Hospitality is not entertaining, not a planned-for event or performance. True hospitality is an attitude of service, the desire to confer care and concern on others.

Yet throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, hospitality is a frequent underlying theme.

Abraham rushed to make preparations to feed God's messengers (Genesis 18:1-8). In Leviticus 19 God gave specific instructions regarding foreigners and how to make them welcome. Paul and Peter, in the New Testament, also gave instructions on hospitality. Paul wrote to the church at Rome and encouraged the disciples there to practice hospitality as part of their Christian way of life. He instructed Titus to consider whether a man was hospitable or not before ordaining him. Peter went so far as to say that we should offer hospitality to each other without grumbling. To top that, Paul wrote that we should even feed our enemies!

Christ Himself set us a beautiful example of hospitality. On two occasions He looked out for other than just people's spiritual needs, concerning Himself with their physical necessities as well. He fed the multitudes with the loaves and fishes. Besides being their teacher, he was their host.

Jesus further emphasized this principle when He washed His disciples' feet. He was teaching them, by His own example, to serve. Hospitality is an act of service.

Confused understanding of hospitality

Yet how can we, in the reality of the hectic, stressful pace of the modern world, fulfill the biblical injunction to be hospitable? Where do we find the time or money?

Perhaps part of the problem, and its solution, lies in not confusing hospitality with entertaining. The word hospitality comes from the same Latin root as words such as hospital or hospice. These words imply care, sustenance, shelter. Entertaining, on the other hand, for most of us has an entirely different connotation. When we think of entertaining guests in our home, we tend to think of beautiful table settings, flower arrangements, gourmet dishes-everything just so.

Hospitality is not entertaining, not a planned-for event or performance. True hospitality is an attitude of service, the desire to confer care and concern on others. For some, hospitality comes naturally. Others must learn it. To be Christian, we must practice it.

When I was a child my father was in the U.S. Air Force. For most of my childhood I lived in a 35-foot mobile home that relocated every 18 months. Yet, in spite of the constant moving, we had an abundance of friends. My mother didn't necessarily know a great deal about entertaining, but she knew how to be hospitable. The moment friends came to visit us, she put on the coffee pot and brought out something to eat. If it was close to dinner time, she added another potato to the pot and insisted they stay for dinner.

On Saturday nights our trailer home was often filled with people playing cards, laughing and enjoying one another's company. Like us, most of these people were far from home and families of their own. My folks couldn't offer them something fancy, but it was heartfelt and genuine. I don't remember going to others' homes all that often, but I do know my folks didn't wait to be invited before they reached out to others.

Relearning hospitality

I have had to relearn some of the lessons I'm recounting here. Several years ago I realized I had slipped into the entertaining mode, rather than the hospitality mode, and would put off having people over until I had time to do a nice dinner and made certain the house looked perfect.

But now I've come to realize that it isn't my home, food or things that people need. It's my love. Inviting someone over says: I appreciate you and want to spend time with you.

What I serve friends in my home is incidental. Instead of thinking that I have to wait until I have time to "do it right," I am learning to invite friends and acquaintances over for simple things: Sunday-afternoon tea, Saturday-night dessert and coffee, a pot of soup, a bowl of popcorn and sliced apples, a pan of piping-hot biscuits. It is the time we share and the strength we lend one another that are much more important than what we eat.

A card, letter or telephone call of encouragement can be an extension of your hospitality. It says, "I'm thinking of you. I care about you." Whoever we are and whatever our circumstances, we can all find ways to express love and show concern. It doesn't take great sums of money, fancy homes or dishes. It does take the sacrifice of our time.

We need not look far to find people who are hungry, thirsty and lonely. Sometimes they are right in our own families, in our congregations, in our cities, in our neighborhoods.

Hospitality is much more than just a social grace. It is the heart and core, the essence, of true Christianity.