I thought I’d write a series of posts on hospitality, because it’s something that gets me really excited these days.
Hospitality is not a gift I was born with. I’m an introvert. [I joke with my friends that I have a two-hour social limit. I love, love being with people for two hours, and then about one minute afterward it becomes a chore. The bigger the group of people, the more mountainous the chore]. I can be a perfectionist and also insecure. I like to protect my space and my alone time. I like quiet evenings buried in a book. I hate playing games.
None of these are characteristics that make for a good host.
But I’m writing is to tell you that people can change!
Hospitality isn’t a gift I was given; it’s a skill I learned, something I grew into over a long period of time. I’m still growing. But I’m happy to tell you that learning to be generous with my home and my food and my time has literally changed my life. And even though I’m still an introvert, I now love having folks over regularly.
Are you ready for the great secret of how I learned this skill?
I did it.
We invited people into our home. Over and over and over. Way before we knew what we were doing. Way before I wanted to. And certainly way before I delved into the exhilarating worlds of cooking and home design. So that goes to show: you do not need fancy meals or a nice home or even a clean home to be a good host.
Did you hear me? If there’s one thing you take away from this series, let that be it.
Here’s how I started out:
When David and I got married in 2004 I had a year left of college, so we moved into a 1980’s single-wide trailer in the CIU Village painted the exact shade of periwinkle blue as my bridesmaid dresses.
It was an interesting experience, one which involved floors that developed sudden and inexplicable sinkholes, and a master bedroom wall randomly covered with black ants one night (and I mean covered). Every time we left the trailer and then returned, I spent the 10-mile-an-hour drive down Second Street praying that our home would still be standing when we reached it.
[Side note: We recently heard the CIU VIllage is going to be disbanded (dismembered?), so this summer we drove Judah and Amelie by to see our first home. I’m happy to report that 10 years later that trailer has not fallen over, and also that it’s still periwinkle blue. We parked so that David and I could pose for one last photo. While Judah was snapping a picture with the phone, he looked puzzled and asked, “Wait — are you guys taller than that house?”]
Anyway, what better place to start practicing hospitality than a single-wide?
I was feeling very insecure and aren’t-we-supposed-to-spend-our-first-year-focusing-on-marriage?-ish, but David was insistent that we start having people over and soon. So we dove right in.
Once we crammed a group of my brother’s college friends around card tables in our living room for spaghetti and games (yup, I played games), and that’s how I had my first conversation with my future sister-in-law, way before they started dating.
Soon after, David started meeting with John, a brand-new CIU transfer student who was a new Christian, and he began coming to our church and hanging out at our trailer. Today they’re pastors together at Columbia Pres.
We started a prayer group at our trailer with John and our friend Josh for the college students at our church, reading and praying through a D.A. Carson book on prayer, and unknowingly learning what it looks like to build community within a church.
And that first year, in our single-wide, is where we began to develop a love for mercy ministry. More about that soon.
After the trailer, we moved way up in the world to a 900-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in Lexington, and let me tell you: it was a palace. I loved my clean kitchen and walk-in bedroom closet. I loved the 9-foot ceilings and big sunny windows. I loved our tiny matchbox porch. It was a dream.
We moved there because David took a job as youth intern in our church, so of course we started having people over right away. And the rest you may say is history. I see now a way we were able to build genuine friendships and put down some roots even while moving throughout our marriage is because of hospitality — so many folks reaching out and inviting us into their homes and us disciplining ourselves to do the same. Even during seminary. Even during the infant years. Even when we were brand-new to a foreign country.
And it’s been very, very worth it. By pushing myself to do something I wouldn’t normally choose, I’ve come to enjoy it. Over the years, in every place we lived, David and I have identified people who do hospitality well and asked what we can learn from them. That part has been so fun.
I think one reason many American Christians feel isolated in their churches is because so many churches have traded in a priority of building relationships through hospitality for impersonal programs held in a building.
I’m not saying programs are bad, I just don’t think they reach down very deep. They can’t really get at the heart of who you are — which is how you act in your own home around your own family. An “outreach” is a good thing if it provides a hot meal to a hungry person. But how much more powerful would it be to invite that person over to your house for dinner?
I’m passionate about hospitality because I believe it’s a consistent theme throughout the whole Bible, and God knows how vital it is to our personal and spiritual growth — and how much it blesses a hurting, isolated world. I’m also passionate because of how it’s changed me and brought so much community, depth, and joy into my life.