There's hosting out of obligation, and then there's true hospitality. The more I live and welcome people into my home and visit the homes of others, the more I learn this.
No lesson sticks out in my memory like the time we visited childhood friends of David's one year. Debbie had cooked a delicious meal and we all sat around the dining table enjoying it-- baby Gigi in her high chair at the corner of the table. When we had all finished eating, and were prepared to start taking dishes to the kitchen, when we were suddenly interrupted.
"Just leave everything on the table," Debbie encouraged us. "Let's all go to the living room and hang out. I'll get the dishes later."
And that was it. She left everything right there, as we all retired to the cozy living room with the big the fireplace and the high ceilings.
Conversation continued seamlessly from the dinner table, old friends caught up, and don't remember for sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if Jack had read little Gigi a story.
It was a simple decision really, and simple choice to prioritize people and hearts over the temptation to do, to be efficient and productive.
It was choosing rest, friendship, and conversation.
And isn't that what's at the heart of hospitality?
Sure, service is definitely part of it, too. But it starts in the heart, in our own hearts, and in how we are reaching across the great heart-to-heart divide to another's.
The dictionary defines it like this: "the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers, the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way."
And of course, Jesus modeled this kind of hospitality, too. Even when he wasn't the one opening the doors of the home, He was offering a hospitable heart to those around him.
I think I heard the most succinct and beautiful explanation of this heart shift on a recent podcast. Kat Lee was interviewing author Jennifer Dukes Lee who quoted Sally Clarkson. According to Sally, the difference is whether we walk into a room (or welcome others in) essentially saying, "Here I am!" or, whether our heart is saying, "There you are."
That's a simple, yet profound shift than I think we can take with us into the holiday festivities, or whatever gatherings we are a part of.
Honest hospitality doesn't put on a show, or make things look all perfectly neat and tidy. Honest hospitality takes a good, long look at those walking into our home and wonders how we can bring rest and comfort to those people. How can we let them know we care deeply about them as we converse with them, feed them, and maybe even offer them a bed to sleep on.
When we say There you are instead of Here I am, we aren't just entertaining we are truly being hospitable.
We listen intently without interjecting our own stories and experiences at any tiny pause.
We leave dirty dishes on the table (even if it makes us twitch a little) so as not to interrupt the catching up and conversation.
We make a cup of coffee before our guests have to drive home, even if it means dirtying more dishes.
We give a tour of our home, even if it means our hidden stacks of papers and unmade beds or jammies and toys on the floor might be exposed.
Honest hospitality is a balance of putting our best efforts forward to bless our guests, all the while, being authentic, and as simple and difficult as it sounds, putting others before ourselves.