Holiday music is soon blasting over department store loudspeakers, signaling the official start of Thanksgiving and Christmas. The joyous season of hospitality is here, bringing with it feelings of excitement, nostalgia, exhaustion, panic, weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
Evaluating the “to do” list during November and December is daunting. People in my house? Buying gifts for family? Planning the staff holiday party? Decorating our home so my kids have wonderful memories? Getting the Christmas cards mailed on time? Taking a decent family photo? I can’t be the only one who’s considered going out for milk on November 20 and returning after the first of the year.
I’m less a scrooge and more a hostage. The term “hospitality” has been hijacked by Pinterest, Rachel Ray, and Good Housekeeping. Facebook video recipes only feed the delusion that I can whip up those delicious dishes; pictures of friends and their smiling families make me wonder why my brood can’t get it together. These days, the only one I’m interested in hearing from is Netflix, who tells me to give it all up and binge a new show.
These pressures turn up the heat incrementally for me each year. Before I know it, I’ve worked myself into a tizzy, forgetting that the world’s definition of hospitality during this busy time of year is never what God intended for us.
Hospitality isn’t about the state of our homes; it’s about the state of our hearts.
I Peter 4:8-10 lays out the nitty gritty of true hospitality. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
There isn’t one right way to offer hospitality since people bring a variety of gifts, talents, and skills to the table. Christ-like hospitality is the willingness to invite others into the messiness of our hearts, and eventually our homes, while showing genuine interest in their lives.
What does God require of us during the hospitality holidays?
- Love each other. This command does not say, “Invite your friend over after your laundry pile is under control” nor does it suggest, “Make individualized placeholders before inviting friends over for dinner.” Loving people as Christ does is all that’s required. It’s about tackling our daily tasks while being mindful of others. Long lines while Christmas shopping? Show grace. That person who stole your parking space? Smile and wave. Off-the-wall comments from relatives around the dinner table? Take a breath and hold your tongue. Loving each other means recognizing the private, personal battles people fight that are often heightened around the holiday season, then extending grace.
- Stop grumbling. Hospitality is not optional, but stop comparing your version to someone else’s. Extroverts, who derive their energy from others, typically worry about their imperfect home, not the people in it; introverts, who recharge their batteries with alone time, worry about people invading their space. What do both have in common? Sincere hearts. Find out where you fit on the continuum, then ask God ways to show your version of hospitality.
- Use your gifts. Identify three things you do well. Do you send encouraging notes by mail? Do you love to cook? Has God blessed you with extra money this month? Are you an empty nester with extra space? Do you possess more free time than a friend? Are you a good listener? Those are all gifts fitting with the Biblical definition of hospitality. While we can’t be everything to everyone, God will give us the wisdom to determine how our gifts should be doled out.
- Keep staples on hand. Peter never mentioned this in the above verse, but I’d wager much of the stress of opening our homes is tied to what may or may not be in our fridge. Years ago, a mentor told me about the group of friends they entertained every Sunday night. They were all newlyweds with small budgets, so they simply plopped a toaster in the center of their table along with a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and good conversation.
It’s the people, not the menu, which brings us together. These standbys keep me from freaking out when last minute guests arrive: Keep a pizza in the freezer, along with a Pepperidge Farm cake, Sara Lee pie, or carton of ice cream. For a quick appetizer, layer canned refried beans, sour cream, taco seasoning, and shredded cheese in a pan. Serve with tortilla chips. These are easy ingredients to keep on hand, cost less than $5, and can be whipped up in minutes. People may compliment your food initially, but they’ll remember how you fed their soul years later.
It’s been said that Jesus is the reason for the season, and I doubt the reason he came was for us to shut our doors because we’re stressed about our messy house or empty fridge. After all, Jesus was born in a dirty manger. His version of hospitality doesn’t rely on our abilities. All Jesus requires is an open heart, and eventually, an open door.