Hospitality in the Midst of Mess
A new friend came over a few weeks ago. The morning she came over, I was extremely low-energy and really had no motivation to put into doing a deep-clean the house before she arrived. I warned her of it ahead of time, and her response was, “oh please, don’t worry about it!”
So I tried not to stress so much before her arrival.
However, when she was there with me, I found myself uncomfortable and distracted, looking at the toys on the floor around me and cringing at the cheerios I’d missed with my quick sweep of the floor. I wondered if she was judging me, and I felt embarrassed, inadequate and ill-equipped to have company over.
After she left, I sent her a moderately insecure text, thanking her for “embracing the chaos.” Her response startled me, in the best way possible:
“I’ve been considering mentioning to you, that if there hadn’t been a healthy dose of chaos at your house, I may have despaired a little… it’s so hard not to feel inferior and incapable… so thank you for your chaos, and I truly mean that.”
Since that exchange, my mind has been reeling with the thought:
Can my mess really be an encouragement to someone else?
Can I practice hospitality with an imperfect, sometimes messy home?
The Bible teaches us to “practice hospitality,” (Romans 12:13). We are exhorted to “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling,” (1 Peter 4:9). And we are encouraged to “show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it,” (Hebrews 13:2).
For much of my life, I’ve felt completely inadequate in this pursuit. In any spiritual gifts inventory I take, hospitality falls at the bottom of my giftings, right down there with administration. I am horrible at interior decorating, and while I can make a pretty tasty meal, the presentation is never very beautiful. Cleaning my house with four small children underfoot is much like brushing your teeth while eating oreos… it is an uphill battle to say the very least.
So how can a mom like myself, to whom “hospitality” does not come naturally in the first place, seek to practice hospitality as the Bible suggests?
I did a little digging into the exact meaning of the word “hospitality” in the original Biblical language.
The greek word for hospitality is philoxenos. Philo = friend. Xenos = stranger. Interestingly, nothing in this word means “clean your house, set your table perfectly, put on your best Martha Stewart and Julia Child, and light a few candles.” In the simplest form, when we are instructed to “practice hospitality,” we are commanded to show love to strangers.
Somewhere along the way, we’ve confused hospitality with entertaining.
Based on the biblical definition of hospitality, we can see that entertaining is a facet of hospitality, but it is not the only part, and certainly not the most essential aspect.
I’m an actress (or at least, I like to participate in theater). As an actress, I’m an entertainer. To get ready for a show, I dress up like someone else. I put on a costume, makeup, and recite lines. I am not an authentic version of myself. In the same light, I think entertaining people in our homes, scrubbing the house from top to bottom, lighting a candle, and putting on some relaxing music and a five course dinner has it’s time and place, but it’s not where authentic community (and thus, true hospitality) happens.
The story of Mary and Martha comes to mind. Jesus was a guest in Mary and Martha’s home, and Martha was busy in the kitchen, cleaning and cooking and making everything just right. When she complains to Jesus that Mary isn’t helping her with the tasks of entertaining, but rather just sitting at Jesus’ feet, Jesus responds, Mary is choosing what is essential. He is referring to her spending time with the Lord and listening to His word, a very tangible way of showing love to her Lord. Both Mary and Martha showed hospitality. Martha shows hospitality beautifully through entertaining. Mary shows it deeply through her love for her guest.
I’m encouraged as I see this theme repeated in my life, and I’m challenged to walk in obedience to “practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13). And I’m actually really excited.
This morning, I was privileged to welcome ten beautiful ladies (as well as their children) into my 1,100 square foot home. While my house was clean, it certainly was NOT neat and tidy, I forgot to get the coffee cups out ahead of time, and I didn’t even have time to put on makeup before everyone showed up. But you know what? The community that transpired due to just being willing to have those ladies in my home and sitting with them and enjoying their company was lovely.