Practicing Parents

The Spiritual Discipline of Hospitality


I’ve noticed that around the holidays a lot of talk shows and magazines devote a lot of space and air time to the topic of guest rooms. Just exactly what a guest room should look like, what kind of toiletries we should place in the bathroom for our guests, even what newspapers we should be supplying to our guests. I find a lot of it a bit over-the-top and even, well, silly. All those throw pillows and “thoughtfully placed” notepads. I have also found myself wondering if a lot of these recommended “little touches” are more about showing off our decorating sense than demonstrating hospitality, if they stem more from a desire to impress than a desire to make our guests feel comfortable.

Some of my feelings may stem from the reality that our house is never going to be any real competition for a hotel. If you’re staying at my house, you’re staying in my office and you might be less concerned with whether you get a fresh Wall Street Journal under your door than the fact that the door in question is a French double door with glass panels and see-through curtains that opens to the family room. And that my boys will probably come right through that door around 5:30 a.m. in order to jump on you in your convertible sofabed.

It’s not that we don’t care about our guests; it’s more that you can only work with what you’ve got, right? After all, we do always provide clean sheets and towels.

And yet . . .I’m starting to wonder if I need to be more intentional about practicing hospitality.

We just returned home from a long stay at my husband’s parents’ home, and I found myself so grateful for the hospitality they showed us there. The older I get, the harder I find it to stay in a home that is not my own. I find myself missing both concrete things like my tea kettle and my shower, as well as struggling through that not-my-own-house feeling of not being able to choose what to watch on TV or rummage around in the fridge for a snack.

So when people go out of their way to make me feel at home in their home, it means a lot.

During our visit, my mother-in-law got up and cooked breakfast for anyone who wanted it every single morning we were there. She cooked most of the dinners too. Since I’m in charge of almost every meal at my house, this was quite a relaxing change. She and my father-in-law made it clear the See’s chocolate candy and the other Christmas baked goods that kept arriving for them were fair game for everyone. Without being asked, she provided a bunch of bowls and pitchers and even a turkey baster from the kitchen for the boys to use as bath toys. They had even purchased a special gift for each of our sons to play with before the Christmas morning toy onslaught.

When we are there, they care for us. My parents do the same for us when we are visiting them. They are truly hospitable, and I am greatly appreciative.

I’ve often heard it said that modern Western readers miss a lot of meaning in many Bible stories because we don’t truly understand the culture of hospitality of Biblical times. The hospitality of that area was radical, at least by our standards. Any visitor to your home, even a stranger, would have expected to be welcomed, fed, and offered a place to stay. The host literally served the guests, like Abraham in Genesis 18 rushing to provide bread for the three strangers who happened by his dwelling.

Hospitality was necessary at least in part because of the harshness of the desert conditions. And anyone providing hospitality knew that one day soon they might be the one on an arduous journey and in need of water and food and place to rest.

I don’t live in a desert culture, but I am struck by this idea of reciprocal caring for one another. It’s very Golden Rule, isn’t it?

We care for those in our homes, with the understanding that one day we may need such care from them or another. We welcome and serve them the way we ourselves would like to be welcomed and served.

Thinking about it like this makes those little touches I felt so dismissive of earlier feel a lot more relevant, more like the spiritual discipline I believe hospitality should be.

After all, I still remember years ago staying with my soon-to-be-husband at the home of one of his friends, a man I’d never met before but who’d known Ryan long before I had. When I first entered the room where I was to stay, I saw that our host had set out a little gift basket filled with candy on my dresser. That gesture didn’t feel small or silly to me. I felt welcomed by that little gift, even accepted, not just into his home but into shared life.

This year, I want to offer more of that kind of hospitality to others . . . at least in the ways that are possible when you have small children. One of my husband’s rules for entertaining is that the table should be set before the guests come over, and I’ve found myself in full agreement with him on this. There’s something very welcoming about walking in the door and seeing a table set with some care with a place for you at it. And, hey, the kids can even help.

Our overnight guests will still have to stay in my office, but we can certainly do more to serve them and make them feel welcome. Such a thing starts, of course, not with perfectly matched throw pillows or even an untouched Wall Street Journal, but with a welcoming heart.

Who knows? We might even be able to convince the kids to stay in their room until 6:30.

I’d love to hear from some of you about this topic. What has been a meaningful gesture of hospitality in your life?

Julia Roller


2 thoughts on “The Spiritual Discipline of Hospitality

  1. Ah, Julie, thanks so much for your kind comments. I couldn’t agree more with what you say is at the heart of true hospitality, “a welcoming heart.” And that is what you have, dear Julie. I am grateful. As usual, you write with such humor and spiritual wisdom – what a joy to read! Much love, Donna

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