Does the word hospitality strike fear in your heart?
Are you overwhelmed by even the thought of opening your home? Keep it simple!
Hospitality takes many forms. It can be a meal, a dessert, a backyard tea, or room for the night. It could be having that new family in your support group over for watermelon on a warm summer day, or a neighbor for hot cocoa after building a snowman. It could be opening your home for a night to a missionary passing through, or to a foreign exchange student for a semester.
I remember being a young mom of a toddler, with a husband away on military duty, when our pastor spoke about hospitality. He encouraged us to reach out to one another, and another woman whose husband was away on business invited us over after that very service. She said, “It’s not fancy, but I have a pot of vegetable soup and some bread if you want to come over.”
She didn’t have an opportunity to clean up any messes her two young children may have made before church—we walked in the door alongside her. I don’t remember anything about the condition of her home (except that she had dog food in a bowl—I remember because my toddler ate it).
I do recall sitting at the little table in her cozy kitchen where she gave me the recipe for her vegetable soup, and we had bread and tea and laughed and visited while our children played. Jan taught me that it wasn’t the condition of the house that mattered—it was the condition of the heart.
Your example will impact your children and mold their perception of relationships and hospitality. My mother was a gracious hostess on a modest budget, so to this day, my own gatherings are simple. Jan taught me to be quick to invite someone to share our home. Because my children saw us welcome strangers (obviously, one must use discernment and caution), they are quick to extend an invitation to others.
So you think you just aren’t “good” at this? Or your house isn’t “good enough”?
Maybe you don’t think you have “what it takes” to be hospitable. Just be you! What do you enjoy? A cup of tea? Baking? A plate of fruit? A glass of tea and a sandwich? Meeting at a local fast food place for a quick bite and a visit while the kids play in the play area? My friend Robin is a fabulous baker and finds immense joy in setting a lovely table. Another gal is thrilled if she gets the table wiped down from the preschoolers before I arrive, and we open a bag of Oreos. It’s the welcoming heart that matters.
Where does your gift fit in? When tragedy struck our support group and a young mother found herself suddenly widowed with three small children, a group of women stepped in to show love and hospitality to and for her in her home as she dealt with arrangements and visitors those first few days: One woman swept and kept the house tidy. Another fed all the visitors who walked in the door, and made sure this precious family had simple, quick snacks. A third woman rocked the baby, and yet another helped make the phone calls that had to be made. Teen daughters of one of these friends stepped in to take care of the children around the clock and during the funeral, so the grieving wife could concentrate on funeral arrangements.
Each woman felt that she had so little to give, yet her contribution was a gift of love and hospitality. What an example of 1 Peter 4:8-10: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (ESV)
Hospitality is an attitude of the heart
You don’t have to have a dedicated guest room to offer a bed for the night. As a guest, I have been grateful to sleep in a child’s bed, while he bunked with a sibling in the next room.
Hospitality can extend beyond the boundaries of the actual house, to include neighbors and others you may meet. One mom taught her young children to bring a cup of hot cocoa to the garbage collectors in the winter, and a cold drink in the summer.
Another family encouraged their middle and high schoolers to say hello to the new person at skating, or to go the extra mile for someone who was being less than kind to them, to make everyone feel important and included.
What can your children learn?
Practicing hospitality can teach your children what it means to prepare a pleasant place for others to visit. They can learn to share (or put away those special things that might be a temptation to other little visitors!). They can learn to defer to others by playing a board game of the guest’s choosing. Every time I visit my daughter’s home, I’m greeted by a sweet 4-year-old who asks, “Would you like a glass of water?”
My friend Linda encourages her children to each ask three questions of a guest at dinner, to learn to be interested in the lives of others. For example, they might ask about where the guest lives or works, or his childhood. (But Linda does admit that, well, kids are kids, and sometimes for the younger ones, the questions often digress to, “Do you have a dog?”)
Here are just a few things my children learned through opening our home to others:
- They learned that not everyone knows what to do with a bowl of cereal (missionaries from India) or how to turn off an alarm clock (same missionaries). Their imaginations were inspired by the adventures of friends from Malawi, and their faith was built through the stories of God’s faithfulness to missionary families.
- One Christmas, an elderly resident of a local nursing home spent the day with us and taught our kids a hymn on our old piano. An older relative shared stories from her childhood, connecting some of the dots of history for our family.
- Students from a local university often shared a meal at our house, so our children heard some lively discussions and were included in political and worldview conversations.
- Our children have heard hymns sung in other languages around the table, and they have learned to make puri and curry with the guidance of an Indian visitor who feeds hundreds a day at an orphanage in Visakhapatnam.
Other moms shared…
I asked a few other moms to share what their children had learned through hospitality. (Edited to add: I know this list is long, but I’ve already culled it somewhat, and I just couldn’t figure out what to leave out, so you can scroll if you must!)
- Our kids learned how to treat people well. They learned manners. The Miller boys taught them computer and other educational things when they stayed with us. They learned how to share games. They learned with others that stayed with us about how to have a relationship with others outside the family/friend circle. And they learned about cleaning before guests come and making things nice for company! (Pat O.)
- I quickly learned you don’t ask when a guest is going home; rather, if you must know, you ask how long the guest is staying. Also, if your guests don’t have the same table manners as you (e.g., smelling served food before taking it, you still serve them with grace. (Susan J.)
- Our kids learned hospitality from doing it. They have learned what it is to be a good host..from preparing the guest room top to bottom, to the importance of always deferring to the guest (being selfless), to entertaining the guest’s kids—letting them ride and pet a horse, letting them gather eggs or planning and executing a hayride—when we have a lot of guests. They also have learned that there is always room for more. We have had 19 overnight before (when we only had one bathroom!) and as many as 130 daytime/event guests at once. They are “Johnny-on-the-spot” with refilling water containers, getting more ice, setting up chairs, taking out trash and so on. They have also learned to be flexible as we have had many overnight guests on the spur of the moment. (Gayle B.)
- We always encouraged our girls to ask questions: Missionaries, about the work. Church people, their spiritual experiences. Friends, what is going on in their lives. We love it when the conversation turns to people’s personal salvation experience, background, how God worked in their lives, and such. (Minerva M.)
- Our 9-year-old son had the opportunity to talk to Ravi Zacharias over dinner and learned about African presidents, African religions, and the first ever “presidential” prayer breakfast to be held in Africa. Our son also learned to listen as others told stories from outside his experience. He learned that the world is bigger than his own little corner, and not everyone else’s life was as smooth as his. (Gwen C.)
- My mother-in-law was famous for inviting people to Thanksgiving dinner, so from that, I learned to think of others who might be alone on the holidays. My children learned that it’s okay to invite people on the spur-of-the-moment. Meals should be social occasions—we can always stretch with some extra bread! (Debra H.)
- We once hosted some members of the African Children’s Choir and their bus driver. The choir kids taught our children games they play in Africa with things they found in our yard. (Gayle B.)
- On Veterans Day a few years back, we had four extra kids staying with us, plus our four, and we invited my parents, as my dad is a veteran. We went around the table three or four times and each one asked my dad questions about his service, which was during the Bay of Pigs, so we all had a history lesson. (Linda C.)
- My kids learned about hosting and making sure that our guests didn’t have food allergies, and if they did, how to make sure we provided meals that they were able to safely eat. (Janet R.)
- My daughter learned to knit from one visitor, and both children learned to make a nature notebook with another.
- We have a friend who is always teaching us something when she visits—every time she comes over, we always say, “Wow! We would have never thought of that!” Or “that’s so much easier than how we do it!” (Heather E.)
- My daughter learned that we always prepare in advance. We work together to clean house, menu plan, lay fresh towels on the guest bed. She got to practice manners, and learned to entertain any children so the adults could have some time. (Candi M.)
- We have hosted many soccer coaches from the United Kingdom, students and young adults from France, a family from Taiwan, had another family live with us for nine months, and we host family often. My children have learned to be flexible and giving. They have learned to share their lives and home with others with grace. They have learned to make friends with people from around the world, understanding their cultures, and opening their hearts to new people. One of my favorite things I think they learn from this experience is to be interested in others, so when people come to our house everyone that is there is in on the fun, we are all hosting, we are all talking, and we are all sharing the experience. (Denise B.)
- We have friends who open their door anytime/all the time! They call their home the “Do Drop Inn” because they truly have the love of Christ and it’s reflected in their hospitality. I have related their hospitality to Titus 1:8 and 1 Peter 4:9 as life lessons for our children. When we go to their home, my family feels loved—as the Bible says, “…they will know we are Christians by our love.” (Shelley B.)
- I have a friend who comes to stay, and she teaches my kids about finding/using plants in the woods, tanning hides, starting a fire with natural materials, etc. Last year she taught my kids to make twine or rope with milkweed stem fibers. More than that, she’s just super positive and encouraging. In a previous home, we had a certain family over to dinner each week before their mid-week church service, so my kids learned to bake bread and set the table and enjoy making a hospitable dinner. (Ruth C.)
It doesn’t matter how you show hospitality—there’s no “one right way” to do it, no list to check off. But all forms of hospitality have two things in common: a kind heart and a helping hand.
So don’t be afraid to open up and practice hospitality. Who knows? Your children just might learn a lesson that lasts a lifetime.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2 ESV)
A Life that Says Welcome by Karen Ehman
The LifeGiving Home by Sally and Sarah Clarkson
Open Heart, Open Home by Karen Mains
(Adapted from the March 2017 Toddlers to Tweens newsletter, Home School Legal Defense Association, www.hslda.org; used with permission; some links in the resources list may be affiliate links)