Last year, I hosted our church's women's Bible study winter social in my home. We live in a small, rented home in an older part of town. Our landscaping consists of two potted plants that have seen better days. The living room furniture is mostly second-hand (read: dated). But these days, give me a reason to fire up the chocolate fountain, brew some seasonal tea, and invite godly women over for a night of fellowship, and I'm on it. Halfway through a most enjoyable evening, a lovely woman pulled me aside.
"I love hosting, but I never thought of my house as nice enough. It's not one of those bigger, newer houses on the other side of town. Don't take this the wrong way, but I'm so glad you hosted, here."
I totally got what she was saying, mostly because I used to feel the same way.
When we open our homes to friends, neighbors, and our church congregation, we are simultaneously opening up to an open critique of our wallets, while revealing a precious side of our personalities. Who wouldn't feel vulnerable? Hebrews 10:23–25 notes fellowship is for encouragement, good works, and love. It does not insist that the location of fellowship needs to be a four bedroom, two-and-a-half bath colonial boasting a new roof and furnace; yet, so many of us assume hosting is better left to someone else—someone who has "room," is a "good cook," or "enjoys company." Sadly, I once was the person who had the big house, interesting recipes, and a desire for intimate relationships, but I never hosted. We were so busy keeping a house, we had no time to create a home.
Making our house a hospitable home
In order to pay our former mortgage, my husband and I both had to work, and the kids had to spend countless hours with babysitters. We hired cleaners, and paddled chaotically to keep our heads above water. Yes, the house was stunning and offered every upgrade imaginable, but it never really fit us. I know that's not everyone's experience, but it was ours.
Today, in our sweet and simple rental, we've been blessed to host holidays, game nights, book clubs, dinner parties, and more. In this kitchen, you have to jiggle the burners to get the stove to work, and we cook meals under the most unflattering fluorescent lighting you can imagine. But we've never been happier, and neither have our guests.
Because here's the thing: the difference between inviting people over to your house and inviting them into your home is determined by how the people who reside there are actually living. The most important feature of a home isn't whether your countertops are granite or your garage can shelter three cars or whether your central air is zoned. The most important feature of any home is the front door—and how, when, and for whom it opens. Our door now opens for single moms, elderly neighbors, dear friends, and even the eccentric kids down the street. Some people show up grinning ear to ear. Some can hardly put one foot in front of the other. Some are close friends, and some are strangers. All are welcome.
The heart of hospitality
The biggest difference in my hospitality now is how I seek to be of service. I invite people over so I can get to know them, and so they can get to know me. I am no longer preoccupied with giving a "house tour," or wanting everything to appear picture-perfect. Instead, I try to make each guest feel valued, encouraged, and important (because they are). Remember, when Jesus commanded us to love one another as he had loved us, he did not use monogrammed note cards to do so. While traveling through lands preaching the truth, Jesus did not insist his accommodations come with a turn-down service and 1,000-thread-count bed sheets. For his last earthly meal, his priority was his disciples, not catering. There is nothing wrong with wanting to roll out the red carpet for our guests, but we must not neglect to host just because we think the carpet isn't clean enough. Jesus was focused, always, on relationship. He set the standard in hospitality. Who are we to try and outdo him?
This holiday season, open your door. Don't worry about the dishes in the sink. Don't stress over the fingerprints on the wall. Don't freak out when the recipe flops. Simply offer to be the place where friends and family can commune over coffee and cake and conversation. Do so, and enjoy the miraculous pleasure of entertaining angels unaware.
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Helen Coronato is all about homeschooling her two boys, loving her husband, spending time with her girlfriends, and trying to become more like the person Jesus intended her to be. Check out her projects and connect at http://www.helencoronato.com.