On a summer Sunday afternoon, I carefully ironed my white table cloth then draped it over my kitchen table and placed a small bouquet of flowers in the center. I washed my floral bone-china tea cups, carefully drying them then setting the table. From my corner shelf, I retrieved my prized silver teapot and placed it on the table along with some plated scones, butter and jam. I rushed to the door at the sound of the first knock eager to meet my first guest.
Opening the door, I was greeted by a six-year old girl, dressed in a pink frock and a matching hat, carrying a fan she brought for our tea party. Two of her friends arrived shortly after her, and for the next hour and a half, the four of us prepared a pot of tea and enjoyed it together while completing a craft and reading the classic book “Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour Tea.”
How did I, a woman without children of my own, end up hosting a tea party for six year olds? When I followed my husband to a new city a year earlier, making friends was challenging as a young, work-at-home woman with no children. Fortunately, my life was made richer through young moms in my church inviting me into their homes for coffee with them while their children napped. And, unsurprisingly, my coffee dates with the moms often included children too. And I realized I had a choice. I could see these children as a hindrance to my adult relationships or as an opportunity to show hospitality.
“Hospitality is asking someone: Will you come into my life?” my mom explained to me in high school, quoting her college pastor. As I’ve spent the last year forging relationships with new friends who are also parents, I’ve unearthed the beauty of letting children into my life as a non-parent. Here are three ways my life has been made richer through showing hospitality to children.
I’ve gained perspective and humility
Like many childless millennials, I get caught up in building my life and forget about who I am and how I’m called to love others. Spending time with children reminds me to base my identity not on my work, resume or relationships, but on who I am in Jesus.
“These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self – the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things – and force me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of an accomplishments,” writes the Harvard professor turned pastor Henri Nouwen about his time at L’Arche, a community for mentally disabled adults.
Through letting children into my life, I have pressed deeper into my knowledge of who I am and what defines me. Children don’t care that I’m a published writer, I can cook a three-course meal without batting an eye or that I’ve been to more than 15 countries in my years of living. They force me to let go of my relevant self – the self that makes me desirable, interesting, compelling to my peers- and simply call me to be who I am in Jesus. As I embrace humility and turn from my accomplished self, I find that I am able to receive and give love as described by Nouwen.
Many of my adult relationships have gone deeper
Getting to know my friends’ children has helped me understand the lives of my friends and love them well. While showing hospitality to children is certainly an end in and of itself, it’s also been a means to deepening my relationships with many of my peer friends. Loving my friends’ children is also a way to serve my friends and fully enter their lives.
In my experience, parents are easily afraid of their children annoying others or being in the way. And while the concern is thoughtful, it is easy for it to get in the way of cultivating relationships. By demonstrating to my friends that I care about their children, they are usually more relaxed and at ease when we hang out and their children are present, which allows our friendships to flourish.
I’m reminded of the blessing of hospitality
Too often, I think of hospitality in terms of what I’ll receive out of a particular interaction. But the hospitality of the Bible calls us to something greater. The instructions Jesus gives the Pharisee in Luke 14 always strikes a chord with me:
“Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
When I show hospitality to children, they cannot repay me. They are relationally, financially and socially poor. And that is part of the reason it is beautiful. This is the type of hospitality Jesus has shown me, and I have the privilege to show children the Gospel through welcoming them into my life knowing that I cannot repaid. And through that, I am blessed.
Hospitality to children in real life
What does showing hospitality to children look like in real life for the childless couple? Here are four ideas.
Serve in the church nursery: It’s as unglamorous as it sounds, but it is worthwhile. Serving in the church nursery has given me opportunities to get to know children and their parents and share my life and time with them.
Have a conversation with a child: If I’m over at a friend’s home and her children are there, I always try to engage the children through saying hi to them and asking them a question or two about their day.
Make your home/apartment comfortable for children: My husband and I had the privilege of hosting a few dinners with folks from our church at our little apartment. Although we didn’t child-proof anything or have a toys for them to play with, we did have a place where they could safely play and their parents could still hang out with the whole group.
Host children for a special event: This is a special occasion and so far I’ve only embarked on the tea party I described above. The party was incredibly simple with scones from the grocery store and Celestial Seasonings Raspberry Zinger Tea. Hosting those girls for a fun afternoon was a delight and we had a darling time sipping tea and doing crafts together.
Showing hospitality to children has been a gift to me over the past year. Although my friendships with my peers are the heartbeat of my community, my life has been enriched through embracing the children God has brought into my life instead of seeing them as a hindrance. Don’t be afraid to reach out to children just because their lives look different than yours, you’re not the same age and you have different interests. Reach out, invite them into your life and you will be blessed.