For my mom, having visitors at the house is no joke. Regardless of the occasion, she sets aside an entire day to vacuum the living room, dust the staircase, clean the bathroom, empty the dishwasher, wax the windows, the whole nine yards. She prepares assorted platters, casseroles and drinks so that no visitor leaves the home with an empty stomach. As a kid, I remember rolling my eyes at the laundry list of extra chores I was assigned whenever guests were coming, as I was naturally selected to be the sidekick in these clean sweep operations. After eighteen years of dwelling in the Land of Windex and Dirt Devils, I moved into my own place.
At first, I was relieved to be living under my own roof, where a friend coming over for the afternoon did not mean endless cooking and cleaning. Even so, I slowly found myself developing habits similar to my mom’s but on a much smaller scale. If I knew that a friend was coming over, I would rummage through my college-student-sized pantry and my community refrigerator shelf to gather some refreshments for my guests. Never anything fancy: just a little something to make them feel welcome. I would make sure that at least the room we were sitting in was clean and presentable. Practicing hospitality became an opportunity to serve loved ones.
When we’re young it’s easy for us to think it’s not yet our time to be hospitable or generous. We believe that we’ll begin practicing these virtues when we have more money, success, or direction and have the time and talent to cook nice meals without the help of a cookbook. “For now,” the recent grad thinks, “I just need to be a little selfish and make sure that rent is paid and my basic needs are met.” While self-preservation is a fair priority to have, we must be careful not to become enslaved to our resources, clinging to them so tightly that we let go of compassion and generosity towards others.
In learning how to practice hospitality, we also must remember that giving of ourselves and our resources is infinitely more meaningful when we don’t have much to offer. If your refrigerator is overflowing with holiday leftovers, you will likely offer a plate of food to your hungry guest without thinking twice; if you have nothing but canned goods and a loaf of bread, offering a simple piece of toast requires an admirable amount of selflessness. As in the parable of the poor widow, the offering of a generous giver will have great value beyond its monetary or practical worth.
Some of our reluctance to entertain may also come from a fear of embarrassment. We don’t want to offer anything less than the absolute best to our friends and family members, but our best doesn’t quite seem like it will make the cut. This flawed thinking makes the practice of hospitality more about showing off than about making a guest feel valued. Whether you’re serving reheated leftovers or a three-course meal to a visitor, you’re practicing hospitality with the resources you have been given and therefore blessing others. Comparing the amount or quality of what you are giving to that of others will simply discourage you from giving at all. By choosing to practice hospitality when you’re young, you serve and deeply bless loved ones more than you might think. You grow in the joyful discipline of generosity and are reminded to see beyond yourself.
Image via What Katie Ate