Whenever I think of hospitality, the first person in my head besides Ina Garten (always) is my mom.
Pretty much every Sunday, Mom goes all out. She arranges flowers and sets out my great-grandmother’s china plates. Depending on the occasion, we may even break out the Waterford. There are linen placemats and cloth napkins. And while this sounds fussy, Mom says, “It shows people we care.”
So much so that my sister painted the scene above (You can buy it here. Proceeds will benefit a new rug she wants).
We feel cared for as we hear the okra sizzling away on the stove. We feel cared for as we spot Mom plotting out the tablescape on Saturday afternoon. We feel cared for as Dad asks us if we want ice in our glasses (always no). We feel especially cared for if we aren’t picked for dish duty afterward.
The chicken crescents, the potato casserole (you know, the kind with cereal on top), the cream corn, the fruit salad, and the sweet tea definitely make us feel cared for. But what most makes us feel cared for is the intentionality Mom puts into this meal to feed both our bodies and our souls. It really is more than a meal and more than a beautiful way to gain sustenance.
We sit around that table and we laugh. We roast each other more than we should. We catch up and reminisce. While sipping the tea and savoring each casserole, we are reminded of the love and care around us. And though our large family can fill every seat, sometimes we have extras. Other family members. Neighbors. Friends going through hard times. Friends going through good times. As we were taught, care is not only loving those who live or have lived under your roof, but also those who need to be reminded that someone cares. And isn't that all of us at some point?
In biblical times, this practice was especially important. There were no Holiday Inns to rest your head in after a long, dusty journey on foot or on animal. There were some inns, but these were pretty dangerous (and apparently could not even spare a room for the incoming Savior of the world?!?). So, hosting overnight visitors was a valued and biblical practice. Sometimes, that even meant hosting church at your home.
We now have hotels galore and AirBnBs everywhere, and this is not to say that Christianity requires you to have someone living with you at all times. Mercy. But I think we can learn something from this biblical instruction of hospitality that is repeated over and over in God's Word.
"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Hebrews 13:2
"Show hospitality to one another without grumbling." 1 Peter 4:9
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22:39
While my mom is a fine example of hospitality, we don't even have to go to these lengths. Also, hot take: I think I’m giving Mom a little too much credit. There were countless times when people would just suddenly come over. There were no table linens. There were definitely no floral arrangements. There might have been Doritos and Diet Dr. Pepper and laundry baskets just waiting on the grounded Dear child (always me) to fold them. But Mom never got flustered and never wavered. She considered it a joy to host and welcome. And that’s something we all should do.
You don't have to wait until your place setting collection is complete or your windows are washed or your dog has social skills (for King Curtis Thames, that day is not coming). You don't need to light taper candles or buy fresh flowers or channel Martha Stewart. Your life and your home and your things do not have to reach some level in order for you to practice hospitality. We focus too much on this. And by we, I mean me.
Hospitality is more simple than we make it out to be—just making others feel welcomed and cared for. I loved the details my mom put into making me feel that way, but Scripture doesn't say we need matching placemats and sweet tea brewed and a charcuterie board made. We are simply to welcome others into the places we call home.
Abraham did this in Genesis 18. Three strangers showed up at his house. Personally, my response would have been calling the cops, and I might recommend you doing the same. But those times and this scenario were different, and Abraham showed them gracious hospitality and a warm welcome. And you know who they were? God and some angels. Literally the One who invented life and earth and the very idea of hospitality and some of His posse. I would have felt a little punked, but Abraham passed the test of extending welcome to the One who always welcomes us in.
After all, God really is the most hospitable. He made us stewards of the earth and will one day welcome us into those pearly gates. He calls us His own and tenderly cares for our needs. And He does not need a china pattern to do this.
In Real Love for Real Life, Andi Ashworth says, "When we live in light of the gospel, we view time and people from the perspective of eternity. Even the small things we do to show people they matter can make a difference. We make our offerings, not knowing if our efforts will even be noticed, but knowing that each person matters supremely to God, and He notices. We live by faith, not by sight, entrusting the outcome to God and knowing that we're participating in his work of caring for people He loves." Clearly, caring for God's people matters.
So, I challenge you: be hospitable this weekend. You do not have to be like Amy Dear or Ina Garten or Martha Stewart in order to practice hospitality. You simply need to be attuned to the needs and cares of others, and then deliver on those needs and cares.
Who needs a specific reminder of God's tender care? Who needs to know that someone is listening, seeing, and aware of their needs? All of us, obviously. But is there someone specific? Someone who needs a meal or an afternoon at your home or some homemade cookies? Ask for some discernment, and bring that person in. I doubt they will be judging your lack of table linens or your incomplete house projects or your dog's issues. And I firmly believe that the love and care experienced on their end will have both present and eternal implications.