Ask most people in the church what hospitality is meant to look like, and they will probably describe a meal in someone’s home or an overnight stay with friends. We have been trained to think of it as food, tables, napkins, centerpieces, or more recently, opening the doors of imperfect homes to usher in friends and strangers alike. These examples of hospitality aren’t bad, but when we think of hospitality as an event, we lose a lot of the meaning behind its purpose. Hospitality is about showing kindness to others, whether we know them well or not, without grumbling or complaining. (1 Peter 4:9) It’s more than an event. Practicing hospitality is cultivating a spirit that is generous, welcoming, and warm, and its purpose is to show what the love of Jesus is like.
This may very well look like a meal in your home. But I would like to suggest a few areas of life that we don’t often link to the idea of hospitality which actually speak loudly about our openness to others. Please know that I’m not writing this as someone who perfectly exudes hospitality; in fact, it can sometimes be a struggle for me. I hope that thinking about these things will help both you and me to expand our ideas of what hospitality should look like in our lives.
Replying to Text Messages/Voicemails/Emails (Even When We’re Busy)
When we forget or ignore messages, we give people the impression that we have little interest in them. Most of the time our lack of response is simply a matter of forgetfulness, distraction, or procrastination, but we could very well be an instrument of discouragement when we’re meant to display warmth and care. Maybe we should consider our text messages and in boxes as extensions of our dinner tables. How can we shout the love of God to strangers, friends, and acquaintances? It might be something as simple as a prompt response to a text message.
Treating Customer Service Reps/Receptionists/Servers with Kindness (Even When We’re Frustrated)
When we’re on the phone with a customer service representative dealing with a problem, when we’re in a restaurant and the service leaves a lot to be desired, when we’re waiting way too long in a doctor’s office, how can we possibly consider these opportunities to show hospitality? I think it starts by remembering that each person we come into contact with is made in God’s image and has their own story. When I think of that receptionist as someone who got up this morning with her own worries and troubles, it helps me to be patient and kind to her, even if things are stressful or frustrating at the moment. When we leave a place of business, do we leave the people inside with a sweet sense of God’s love, or do we leave them with a bitter taste? Showing hospitality could be as simple as extending grace, smiling, and being understanding despite our frustrations.
Looking Up/Smiling/Speaking to Strangers (Even When We’re in a Rush)
It’s easy to forget that the most important created things that we encounter each day are human beings. We all constantly have things to do that can distract us from the more important mission of caring for people–and not just our immediate family. When we’re in the grocery store or on our way to a meeting, are we looking up at the people who pass us by? Are we smiling, showing that we’re open to conversation? Does our presence tend to encourage those around us? Smiling is the easiest form of hospitality there is. Compliments are equally easy and fun. We don’t ever know what God can do with chance encounters if we’re committed to being friendly, noticing the people around us.
It’s such a common thing for biblical concepts like hospitality to be skewed by the lesser things that we tend to default to: pretty houses, pretty tables, fancy food, and pride. It can be easy to start believing that hospitality is only possible if we can cook or if we have children who don’t make messes or if we have “entertaining space.” HGTV doesn’t define what God calls us to. We could easily host a beautiful meal for strangers and friends and then spend the next day ignoring text messages and making receptionists at the dentist’s office miserable. If hospitality isn’t an everyday, all day endeavor, then we’re confused as to what we’re meant to be as representatives of Christ. Once we move hospitality out of the kitchen and into the overall attitude of our hearts, then we may be amazed at what God can do in that fast food joint or doctor’s office or texted conversation.
Each day is an opportunity to do good, to show welcome and warmth to those around us. Hospitality isn’t really that difficult when we think of ourselves as ambassadors of Christ. What if all of our interactions with people left them with a better sense of who Jesus really is?