The reason I chose the word “hospitable” for April’s focus, and not “hospitality,” is that I wanted to focus on being, not doing. We are hospitable; we practice or do hospitality. Hospitable is the intention and attitude, whereas hospitality is the action that springs from the intention. However, we frequently start with good intentions, but as we carry out the multitude of actions, we often end exasperated and empty. As with many things, we become good at the executions and tasks required and lose the heart and intention of it.
Are you excellent, or strive to be excellent, at all the little things to welcome someone into your space? Is it easy, even fun, to make sure all the fresh freesias are displayed beautifully in the mason jar, or every book and shoe is in its rightful place? Wonderful! These are welcoming touches.
But when you are done, are you so tired you have a hard time paying attention to the guests? Or do you find that, even as they tell their travel stories, you are thinking about the smudge on the window you missed? If so, your hospitable heart has swept out of the room with all your cleaning. I confess, sometimes this is so for me!
So, how do we recover a hospitable heart?
This is what I do:
- Practice hospitality to Jesus first. This is foremost because no other guest to my heart can make it bigger and more welcoming. Jesus always fills and fuels. As I let go of my ‘stuff’, He makes that heart-space in me spacious and able to welcome. I consciously spend five to fifteen minutes with open hands, focused on Jesus’ presence right in the moment – not asking questions, not thinking about what needs to be done, just welcoming Him and worshipping. Music can help, as can a short piece of Scripture beforehand if concentration is challenged! When I do this, I am remembering that Jesus is hospitable to me, and I walk into his welcome. I am so much better at welcoming others after I have been welcomed by the great Host himself!
- Before I get started on the actions of hospitality (cleaning, arranging, cooking, etc.), I think about my intentions in my hospitality. I want these lovely people in my home because I want to spend time with them. Do I need energy for visiting when they arrive to pay attention? Then I must set a schedule beforehand for how much I can realistically accomplish so I’m not worn out. Which is more important — making sure every smudge is off every window, or having the energy to see my guest’s needs? Is my intention in this action to make myself feel more comfortable (presentable), or make my guests feel more welcome to be themselves?
- I focus on listening to my guests. This is the biggest difference between being hospitable and practicing hospitality. In the hospitality industry, the best companies are the ones which have employees that really pay attention to the guests, even to the point of preemptively meeting a need. But in most hotels and restaurants, hospitality is relegated to good service, not good conversation. Need a bed? Check. Need toothpaste? Check. Need a napkin? Here it is. That’s hospitality. But hospitable goes so much deeper because it’s an investment in a relationship. When I have guests at home, I make space in my activities to listen to them, and when I am doing that, I try to do nothing else (not even in my head!) I try to invite them into sharing their lives, and not always be talking about my life. Listening is the best way to show your hospitable heart.
- Recognize that I have a limit to my listening abilities, and be okay with that. Generally speaking, I do not have the capacity to listen and converse for a long time. I shoot for quality over quantity because of this. Some of you are different, so find what works for you. I like to invest in a deep conversation, then retreat to do something else quietly. If I don’t I find that my attention to my guest is about as good as if I weren’t there anyway! This way, we can re-enter conversation later, after I’ve rebooted. I used to think I had to drop everything and always be present, but this only drained me, making me a grudging, zoned out host, and I’m sure my guests felt caged and forced to engage. Take breaks!
- Recognize that your guest has limits, too, and be okay with that. I choose not to take offense if a guest goes off by herself, or chooses to help with the dishes (believe it or not, I did take that as a criticism of my hosting abilities at one point!!), or wants to watch TV instead of talk. I want them to feel welcomed, but not feel forced to engage.
Recovering a hospitable heart can only happen when we are first welcomed into Jesus’ presence because He takes all the things that are burdening us: tasks, problems at work, illness, deadlines looming, etc. The more we can find peace in knowing His care for all these things, the more we will have space within ourselves to pay attention to someone else. So start by entering the presence of the hospitable one, Jesus, then proceed to stick with your intentions rather than your “to do” list, recognize your limits, and recognize your guest’s limits. It takes practice and intention to keep a hospitable heart. I do not do this perfectly by any measure, but I am learning how to regain a hospitable heart when I lose it.
When your heart is weary and over-burdened, cluttered and overwhelmed, unable to welcome another,
May you find grace’s space, the gentle unpacking and strong uplifting, of the One who welcomes you as you are.
And in His space, may your heart regain its shape and capacity
To love and to welcome another.