"Show hospitality to one another without grumbling." 1 Peter 4:9 (ESV)
On November 6, 2010, I tweeted the most regrettable tweet of my mediocre social media career.
In anticipation of the holiday season, I decided to weigh in on hospitality. The tweet was a flawless blend of selective memory and self-righteousness, designed to heap condemnation on the heads of my followers under the guise of offering wise counsel. It was a verbal "selfie" snapped from my best angle, positioned to make me look very, very good. Let’s have a look at it, shall we?
"Moms: keeping an orderly house frees you to exercise hospitality at will. Both the order and the hospitality are examples to your children."
Note the double-whammy: If your house isn’t orderly on a daily basis, you will withhold hospitality from others and set a bad example for your children. Moms everywhere, be encouraged!
Five years later, I still cringe remembering that tweet, mainly because I have failed to live up to it repeatedly ever since.
I presume my house was clean on November 6, 2010, but it has rarely been so in recent months. Even as I type, I am looking out across a disordered landscape of scattered laundry, schoolbooks, dusty baseboards and chipped paint. That tweet neglected to mention what my house looked like when my children were small, how I would hide clutter in the dryer when guests came, how hard I found it just to get dinner on the table for my own family, much less for someone else’s. I regret I proposed a standard I could not uphold.
But more importantly, I regret that tweet because I now recognize the standard it proposed is flawed. It revealed my own lack of understanding about the nature and purpose of hospitality. In my self-righteous desire to offer advice, I confused hospitality with its evil twin, entertaining. The two ideas could not be more different.
Entertaining versus hospitality: What’s the difference?
Entertaining involves setting the perfect tablescape after an exhaustive search on Pinterest. It chooses a menu that will impress, then frets its way through each stage of preparation. It requires every throw pillow be in place, every cobweb eradicated, every child 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 onself.
Hospitality, on the other hand, involves setting a table that makes everyone feel comfortable. It chooses a menu that allows face-to-face time with guests instead of being chained to the kitchen. It picks up the house, but doesn’t feel the need to conceal evidence of everyday life. It sometimes sits down to dinner with 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 the guests. It asks questions and listens intently to answers. Hospitality focuses attention on others.
Entertaining is always thinking about the next course. Hospitality burns the rolls while 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 of the two would invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind to pull up a chair and sip from the stemware. Our motives are revealed not just in how we set our tables, but in whom we invite to join us at the feast. Entertaining invites those whom it will enjoy. Hospitality takes in all.
Why be hospitable?
Hospitality is about many things, but it’s not about keeping a perpetually orderly home. So, forgive me, Twitterverse (and beyond), for my deplorable tweet. I could not have been more wrong. And may I have a do-over?
"Moms: exercise hospitality freely, clean house or not, to any and all. Willingness and generosity are the hallmarks of a hospitable home."
Orderly house or not, hospitality throws wide the doors. It offers itself, expecting nothing in return. It keeps no record of its service, counts no cost, craves no thanks. It is nothing less than the joyous, habitual offering of those who recall a gracious table set before them in the presence of their enemies, of those who look forward to a glorious table yet to come (Psalm 23:5).
It is a means by which we imitate our infinitely hospitable God.
So, five years later, here is my advice to myself: Forgo the empty pleasure of entertaining. Serve instead the high-heaped feast of hospitality, even as it has been served to you.
Dear God, forgive me for confusing true hospitality and loving others with the world’s version of entertainment. Help me serve others freely and follow Your example. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY:
1 Peter 4:10, "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms." (NIV)
REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Pray and ask God to help show you someone who could benefit from your hospitality in the next few weeks.
Has someone shown you genuine hospitality in the past? If so, send a text, make a call or drop a note to say thanks.