Can I be honest? Sometimes, when I hear the word “hospitality,” I don’t feel grace-full or giddy.
I feel guilty.
The last few years have been filled with all sorts of challenges—unwanted job changes, unrelenting health issues, unexpected financial burdens—for our family of four. We’ve moved several times, and with two busy boys (ages 11 and 17), part-time teaching and editing jobs, and a husband in church staff ministry, I often don’t have the energy or time to plan gatherings. Each of us has periodically struggled with either anxiety or depression as we’ve navigated these rough waters, and—frankly–I’ve questioned how hospitality and emotional turbulence can mix.
However, I know that God doesn’t want me to wallow in guilt. He also doesn’t want me to hold tightly to a narrow definition of this particular spiritual gift. The question is, how can I practice hospitality when life’s daily demands take all the energy I can muster? Or should I even try?
Here are two things I’ve felt God impressing on me during this season. Maybe they will encourage you, too:
1) Be gentle with yourself
First, some seasons of life are more taxing than others. If you can’t host big gatherings in your home, or the thought of a party depresses you, don’t worry about it. Instead, focus on other aspects of hospitality, such as warmth, encouragement, and beauty. If you need to invest in a relationship, meet your friend or family member for lunch at a local park. Do you have a friend recently home from the hospital? Instead of trying to cook a complete meal, buy them a restaurant gift card and mail it to them.
Second, don’t forget to practice hospitality within the four walls of your home. It’s okay to need extra pampering, rest, or space after traumatic life seasons. Ask God for wisdom and discernment about what you and your loved ones need…and trust Him to provide in beautiful, miraculous ways.
2) Be spontaneous
When you (and/or your family members) are doing well, seize the moment. Call friends to come over for a game night; simply order take-out, turn the lights down low, and light a candle. Enjoy people’s presence without worrying how the house looks or whether your home is the right size. If your husband invites you on a spur-of-the-minute date, say YES.
Similarly, celebrate small victories in creative ways. Maybe your first grader passed a tough test at school. Why not take her out for ice cream? After your teenager gets his first job, make a big deal of opening a bank account for him and then host a potluck with special people in his life. Ask them to bring letters of blessing as a special memento.
In his book Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen writes, “Hospitality . . . means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.”
Jesus offers us this kind of hospitality. He became an enemy with the world so He could befriend us and take our infirmities on Himself at the cross. He is the balm of Gilead, enabling us to heal when we’ve been hurt and experience lasting life-change.
I’m not a big fan of trials, but I have learned that God never wastes them. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:4, God comforts us in our troubles so that we can bestow that same comfort to others.
Trust me on this: your wounded places will one day become ministry spaces.
And when that happens, hospitality won’t be a burden; it will be—once again–a gift.