I grew up in a home where Southern hospitality was a way of life. We had a sitting room where my mother served tea to friends while catching up over conversation. Dinners with neighbors, extended family, and in our teenage years, a rowdy group of girl friends, around the table happened on any given night. Our nanny, accustomed to feeding her “growing boys,” had no concept of quantity for her delicious meals. Bisquick pancake mix was purchased in bulk to feed the host of overnight guests on weekends, as our home was the closest to sporting events. In my childhood home, there was always food to share and hospitality to extend.
Naively, I assumed I would transition nicely into a similar role in my own home with my own children. As I begin year ten of my parenting journey and I reflect on my level of hospitality, doubt and guilt creep into my mind. I started out strong, when our oldest was young and I was pregnant with my second, but once babies three and four joined the mix, hospitality fell off the radar.
Podcasts abound, encouraging parents to overcome the Pinterest perfect, ideal dinner party or to throw plans to the wind when trying to wrangle unruly toddlers into some sort of entertaining game. In the spirit of being neighborly, it’s crucial to have a “come as you are” attitude, meeting your guests from all walks of life as you welcome them into your home. Despite this encouragement to keep it casual, I still failed to live up to the hospitality standards of my childhood.
Webster’s definition doesn’t do much to allay my concerns about my lack of hospitality fervor. “The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests” leaves me void of a recent example when I had completed any part of that definition. My hosting duties fall somewhere just above pitiful. There are just too many kids, too many work requirements, and too much laundry to tackle.
Unable to find solace in the words of the world, I recently discovered two familiar verses in Matthew, which give me permission to let go of the guilt and embrace my current season of life.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ – Matthew 25:35-36.
God does not want an unblemished version of loving our neighbor as ourselves. God is not concerned with the outward appearance. Neither the number of friends you welcome nor the awesome entertainment you provide. In these verses, God’s instruction to us is simple:
Show up when it matters.
Reflect God’s love back into the world.
Through this lens of hospitality, I am encouraged that, in spite of my current chaotic season, my actions still matter in the eyes of my Creator and to God’s kingdom here on Earth.
It’s highly unlikely that you will find a bounce house in my backyard, complete with matching favor bags and hired help to entertain our children. If you’re hoping to have a seated dinner, complete with delicious food and lively conversation, come find me in another ten years.
But if you stop by my front porch on a Wednesday evening in tears, I will listen. If you suffer unimaginable loss and I can’t find the words to bring comfort, I will show up with a platter of tacos and cookies as a substitute. If you are new to the area and looking to make friends, I will sit on the sidelines of a soccer field with you and cheer our children to victory.
Instead of trying to minimize unrealistic, and potentially damaging, standards of what hospitality looks like, it might benefit us all to simplify it down to the rudimentary level. Show up when it matters. Do something. And reflect God’s love back into the world.
It might not be worthy of social media, but if we could reach out with this simple mantra as our guide, God’s love just might show up where it’s least expected. In the trenches of everyday life, our ability to love and care for each other can stay in the forefronts of our minds, ready to extend God’s grace into the world.