I settled into my chair at the local beauty college and looked up at the young woman preparing to pamper me. Not long after introducing ourselves, I dove in deep with the following question:
“So, Nicole, how’s your love-life?”
“Well, my boyfriend of three years broke up with me last night!” she answered without missing a beat.
“Oh, my dear, I’m so sorry!” I exclaimed. “Would you like some company tonight? We would love to have you come for dinner!”
Much to my surprise, she checked her calendar.
“Sure, I can come.” And she did.
A simple invitation. A simple answer. And the beginning of a journey that would one day change Nicole’s life forever.
I know what you’re thinking. “Wait a minute here. Did she invite someone she just met to have dinner that same night? Did she even ask her family? I could never do that. It seems crazy!” At first glance, you just might be right. Is hosting always easy? No. Is it sometimes uncomfortable? Yes. Do we have valid reasons not to invite people into our lives for a bit of hospitality? Sometimes. But let’s not remain content to look only at the surface of our excuses. Let’s dig a bit deeper into why we so often take a pass on being hospitable. I asked my friends, “What are some of the reasons you say ‘no’ to hospitality?” Here’s the list I compiled. You could probably come up with even more to add!
17 REASONS HOSPITALITY IS A TERRIBLE IDEA
1. I wasn’t raised in a hospitable home.
2. I can’t cook.
3. I don’t like to cook.
4. I’m too tired.
5. It’s too expensive.
6. It’s too hard.
7. I feel insecure.
8. My dining room is also the office, the study, and the playroom.
9. I don’t have enough chairs.
10. My couch is shabby.
11. I don’t have the time to make fancy food.
12. My husband talks too much.
13. My husband doesn’t talk.
14. My kids are rowdy, they go to bed too early (we all go to bed early).
15. I don’t know what to say once people come to the house (I’m an introvert).
16. The yard is a disaster.
17. The house is a disaster.
When I looked over this list, I placed a “P” next to any reason that might have to do with pride. I placed a lot of ‘P’s. But I know pride often lives alongside fear. I’m afraid people will see the real me and that’s not something I want to reveal, especially to strangers. I’m afraid to look a fool. I’m afraid I’ll fail. I’m afraid I won’t measure up. All those ‘I’m afraids’ combined with ‘I’m too proud’ can immobilize even the most dedicated believer. If I had to face all 17 reasons in one day, I may never have anyone over to my home!
But here’s the good news: God is gracious to forgive me of my pride and strong enough to help me do His bidding, even when I’m afraid. Here’s the other good news: God doesn’t care how good we are at hosting. He simply wants us to live hospitable lives. To keep our hospitality antennae in play whenever we walk out the door. To invite as a manner of course. To add an extra chair for the sake of a soul needing attention. To teach our kids to pass the gravy and extra mashed potatoes to someone who hasn’t yet met the Bread of Life. To extend our table, while extending our hearts and resources, in the ongoing battle against loneliness and isolation. We are better together, but we won’t know that until we let go of the reasons why we can’t, and host anyway.
I love Rosaria Butterfield’s take from her excellent book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key. “Radically ordinary hospitality serves ravioli with redemption life. It is fearless; it is faithful.”
Yes, it is. It’s also alert. Alert to the needs of a stranger or even a friend hiding her loneliness behind a closed door or a fixed smile. People are good at covering true feelings of isolation, rejection, and insecurity. But God knows those people who are feeling disconnected, so we must tune into Him and ask on a regular basis, “Lord, who can use an invitation?”
Other times, we invite because we’re the one feeling disconnected and lacking community.
Single until 35, and in a new town and job more than once, I found myself desperate for friends. I began hosting dessert nights and Saturday brunches because they weren’t too elaborate nor did they require a lot of planning. I made great friends who loved me and prayed for me in that season.
Another time, a friend texted me, “I’m homeschooling—it’s going well, but I’m lonely.”
I replied, “Get a pen and paper. Write down all the people you want to know better. Start inviting them—for tea, for a kids’ play date, for a girls night out, for brunch on Saturday, for chili on Sunday night—and see what happens. They may need your invitation more than you do, and it’s okay to be the one to reach out first.”
She wrote me back, “I have all three invites booked this weekend!” A great start and so encouraging.
THE ONE REASON TO DO IT ANYWAY
You see, not everyone is called to do missions in Outer Mongolia or even in downtown Chicago. We aren’t all led to go to seminary, teach a Bible Study, or write a devotional book. But we are all called to be hospitable—for our sake, for the sake of the body of Christ, and for the sake of the stranger.
The reason we practice hospitality even when it feels scary or unnatural or hard is that Scripture tells us to do it. And it also explains how and why.
INVITE AND HOST WITH JOY
“Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1 Peter 4:9, NASB). Peter must have known it was hard work because he added, ‘without complaining.’ I forget that part when I’m tired and strung out like Martha in that famous hot-and-bothered-cook-in-the-kitchen scene.
INVITE AND HOST WITH GUESTS IN MIND
“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13, NIV). Before your guests arrive, ask the Lord, How can I honor these new friends? What do they really need? A hearty meal or just a listening ear? The more we practice, the more at ease we become, and that makes it easier to concentrate on others.
INVITE AND HOST WITH ANTICIPATION
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2, NIV). Wow! An angel would be amazing! What great motivation to do the work God has called us to. I might need to start asking deeper questions next time a stranger comes to dinner: “So tell me—where are you really from?”
HOST AND INVITE WITH NO EXPECTATION OF RECIPROCATION
“But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:13, NASB). I walk our dog by a homeless fellow who likes to read. I’ve left him books and we have had interesting conversations about science fiction (his favorite). I’m approaching the day when I will be making a formal introduction. “I’m Sue and we live just a few blocks from your favorite reading spot. Would you like to come to dinner?”
You see, I used to think hospitality meant having your friends over. While that’s definitely part of it, God invites us to take it to a deeper level. He calls us to love strangers and care for their needs. He knows that stepping over the threshold into someone’s home deepens intimacy and begins a process of relationship transformation. It turns a stranger into an acquaintance and an acquaintance into a friend. Which eventually can lead to an introduction to Jesus, who invites us all in the most welcoming of ways, “Come to Me…and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NIV).
YOU CAN NEVER PREDICT THE PAY-OFF
Remember Nicole? The invite you thought was so crazy and spontaneous? Well, Nicole came to my home more than once. A few years after that first invitation, as we sat side-by-side on the front room sofa, I offered her a second invitation.
“Nicole, would you like to give your life to Jesus? He can take care of all your needs.” And once again, she accepted.
There is a multitude of reasons not to engage in hospitality. But I can think of one reason to do it anyway. When we invite someone to our table, we get to show them God’s welcoming heart. Someone you invite may encounter Jesus at your table over a cup of coffee and a store-bought muffin. I can always think of many reasons not to invite—but then I remember Nicole and the significance of a simple invitation.
God has been all about hospitality from the beginning. He invited you and me, but the invitation didn’t stop there. No. This is how He set it up. God welcomes, we respond, and then we pass on the invitation to others. And when the doorbell rings and our guests arrive, we forget all about the 17+ reasons why we’re out of our comfort zone and we quote Philippians 4:13 out loud all the way to the door.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV).
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