Everything I ever needed to know about hospitality, I learned from my children.
When their grandparents, friends or birthday party guests are scheduled to come, my children are beside themselves with excitement. The front door is opened about as much times as I hear the question “When will they get here?” The neighborhood playmates, who drop by unannounced, are embraced with the warmest of welcomes. Sadly, to me, a visitor is only welcome… as soon as the floor is scrubbed, laundry folded, toys hidden, apple pie is in the oven, wine served, and table manners at the ready. When you’re an introverted adult hostess, a visit, as wonderful as it is, often comes with stress and sacrifice.
Over the years, my family and I have been treated to hospitality beyond compare. There were no colorful banners that awaited us at the airport, but our hosts cooked for us, after careful consideration of our preferences and allergies. We were chauffeured around in vans to places we helped pick out. Clean sheets and soft towels laid out and sleeping arrangements moved around to accommodate us. We were given the flexibility to dart around without worrying about stepping on the host’s toes or the family’s schedule.
I’m not a hotel connoisseur or anything but I know true hospitality when I see it. It is a hospitality that comes with genuine pleasure at a guest’s company. A host who asks and shares your journey’s up and downs and is eager to catch up with what’s happened to you since you last talked. A hostess who won’t grimace when your children spill juice or tuck the plate in the wrong cupboard. An easy-going family who can even laugh about how you accidentally took the wrong exit on the freeway because your teenage daughter mimicked the GPS voice all too well, causing you to show up 30 minutes late… because everyone’s just happy you showed up at all! Five-star hospitality is delighting in relationships.
Looking back through my “guest” lenses, what I’d categorize as the “most memorable/need to do it again” visits and parties are not the ones spent touring educational museums, or belching bottomless beer in picturesque campsites. It’s the ones where quality time was engaged in building rapport with other people, getting to know personalities and solidifying fraternal bonds. A time where laughter is free and love is unconditional.
Many of us “hostess with the moistest” take pride in crafting coordinating curtains and throw pillows, or theme-party buntings and trappings, and serving one-of-a-kind birthday cakes with elegant, polished silverware. Sure, all these things when added up, amount to an aesthetic welcome (because nobody wants to visit a place that looks like the jungle where Hansel and Gretel got lost.) But material accessories count for nothing when they’re done with the attitude of “Look at my interior design/event-planning skills but don’t touch the white couch” instead of turning the spotlight on our guests and warming them up with love, offering them the uncomplicated invitation: “Kick off your shoes and let’s talk over coffee”. All the external preparations are like blaring subwoofer party noise when all our guests want is quiet conversations, rest and the value of good company.
Though I’m familiar with the active/contemplative tension in Martha and Mary’s gospel scene, I can see where Jesus was extolling Mary over Martha in the realm of Christian hospitality. He was emphasizing the love that motivates one to make room for a beloved. Hospitality expects sacrifice but it is only stress-free when pride and self don’t get in the way. The better part is when we can embrace the household changes and overlook the inconveniences because our guest’s presence is as important as Christ’s presence himself. That’s what Christ was referring to when he said, “I was a stranger when you welcomed me… Whatsoever you do to the least of my brother, you do it to me.”