It has been three months now of living back in Minnesota. Three months of my husband pastoring his first church. Three months of me being a stay-at-home mom (and three months to remind myself that I’m not very good at that!). Three months of being an outsider, watching, learning, soaking in this new place, this new environment.
And in those three months, both my husband and I have realized how important the act and the gift of hospitality is, both in the church environment and in our everyday lives.
The very word conjures up multiple images….the hospitality industry (hotels, restaurants, and the like), Martha Stewart, Pinterest posts on perfectly hosting a dinner party, and Donna Reed.
It involves a home that is decorated to the nines, gourmet meals for all guests, a Pinterest-perfect abode (and perfectly behaved children to match), and a bustling host/hostess ready to meet your every need. It is your guest towels (ironed, of course), folded into animals just waiting for a guest to arrive and use your extra bedroom. It is the wreath on your front door (crafted just this morning in all your free time) that matches the tablecloth on your formal dining room table, which matches the napkins (again, ironed of course!), which matches the sweet little napkins rings (which you also crafted this morning from Tinkerbell dust and kitten fluff and feathers from an angel’s wings).
Dictionary.com defines hospitality as:
So what is hospitality, really?
It is all about the attitude of those with the gift for hospitality. It is about the person (people) extending warmth, kindness, and love to another. It is laying aside your own preferences, wants, desires and making an effort to meet the needs of another. It is having a servant heart.
It is not about the beauty of the environment, but how that environment welcomes the other. It is about creating a space, a place, an atmosphere, where another person feels at home. Somewhere that they are comfortable. It is about thinking about the needs of the other, even before they’ve even expressed them, and meeting those needs in the best way you can.
And it might not be perfect. It might not come with swan-shaped guest towels, or glitter-covered pumpkins and pine cones. It might be a bit messy.
Martha Stewart might not approve.
But when it comes from a place of authenticity, out of a desire to serve the other (without ulterior motives or a need for reciprocation), to give out of your heart and love for another person, what it will be is beautiful.
As we’ve been in this new place, trying to understand its unique culture, along with the personalities of all of the people we’ve met, we’ve seen different understandings of hospitality, and what it looks like. It is different that what we’ve grown accustomed to over the last few years, which was different from what we knew before. And, I’m sure, the next place we go will be different again.
In just a few days, I will begin working again in massage therapy, a service job, part of the hospitality industry. I’ve spent a lot of time recently trying to plan on how to be hospitable, to be intentional in offering a warm, welcoming presence within the context of a healthcare facility. I’ve come to the realization that EVERYTHING I do to make the other person feel welcome, from the moment they walk through the door until the moment they leave, is important and carries weight. Even what I do before they arrive, they way in which I advertise, create space for them within my schedule, think through what their needs may be before they arrive, it all leads to how they feel once they are within my space.
It is the same within the church context.
Those of us within the church need to be aware of how “outsiders” see us. How are we welcoming them when they walk in our doors? How are we making them feel safe, and cared for, and loved? Are we passing (spoken or unspoken) judgement upon them or their children? Are we creating barriers to them feeling welcome by the way we interact (or choose not to interact) with them? Do we have opportunities to connect with them, and with one another, to develop relationships and foster growth, or does everything have a “members only” feel?
It is challenging, to be sure, to look at your own church with unbiased eyes. When one has been a part of a culture or environment for a long time, we become blinded to our flaws, unable to see how outsiders may see us. We become so used to the status quo that the status becomes stagnant, and no longer life-giving or fulfilling.
Perhaps, however, it is what we need to do, to look at our environment with an outsiders eye. To ask those who come into your space– whether it be your church, your work, your home–for honest feedback, for their feelings, thoughts, and emotions. It can be a hard thing to hear truth, but truth, spoken in love, can bring about beautiful change. In order to grow, we must be willing to be cultivated and pruned.
Within our own family, my hope is that we offer genuine hospitality, whether in our own home, or when we are out in our church, or in our jobs. My hope is that we are always open to learn, to grow, to seek the path of love and to welcome the stranger.
My hope is that we will create a warm and beautiful space within our hearts and within our home. My hope is to have a servant heart, filled with love for the other.