Nearing the end of a two-hour party in the park, my son came running up to ask whether his friend, James could come home to play. Jumping up and down, James eagerly asked, “Aunty Chris, can I come, can I come?”. What went through my mind was, ‘What state is the house in’, ‘Do we have any snacks to feed the boys?’, ‘Will they be too tired and grumpy to enjoy more hours of playing together?’, ‘Am I too tired and grumpy for more hours of play?’.*
Do you ever feel that opening up your home - be it for a simple playdate, or for bible study or inviting the neighbour over for morning tea - can all get that bit overwhelming and too hard? You may be hesitant to allow people into your ‘private domain’, fearing the expectation to provide some “Masterchef” plate-up or having a “House & Garden” pristine living space.
For us, hospitality has been a gradual opening up of our home in a very ordinary, everyday way according to the season of life in which we have been. As newlyweds, we loved hosting our friends using all our sparkling, shiny wedding gift crockery, poring over cookbooks for the most impressive-looking dishes. Then when the kids came along it turned into having people bring food to us and handing over the baby whilst I put the toddler down for a nap, trying to hold a conversation of half-finished sentences. And now, with primary-aged boys and involvement in church ministry, it’s all about the slow cooker, paper cups and jelly for dessert.
I come from a family where hospitality was quite a natural part our daily lives. There were many things I learnt just by being in a home where visitors and guests were welcomed. My parents didn’t explicitly sit down to teach me how to be ‘the hostess with the mostest’! It was more a matter of observing, learning how my mum and dad took on different roles as hosts, discovering what was stressful for them and taking on board what I wanted in my own home.
By opening up our door not only have we welcomed an array of different people, but more importantly, our hearts and characters have been shaped through these visits. Here are four things I hope my boys will absorb as they experience hospitality in our home:
1. Welcoming generosity
Generosity is something caught, not just taught. I want my kids to be generous in all areas of their life, at all ages and seasons. For them to see what it looks like to share a meal, to share their parents’ attention, to share their toys and space is very practical, and they will definitely experience how to be generous. Hosting people is a great way to teach them how to look beyond themselves and to learn to share whatever we have been given. We try to remember to thank our boys after people leave for sharing all their toys and rooms. We don’t want to make them feel used and we want to appreciate how they have sacrificed things in order for children to be comfortable in our home.
2. Welcoming curiosity
We’ve been blessed to have a home big enough to host guests overnight/longer and the kids have met some interesting people e.g. overseas missionaries from very diverse countries, an African refugee and an old gentleman with dementia who loved repeatedly playing and singing “Jesus Loves Me” on the piano. We want to expand our boys’ worldview and what better way to do this than by inviting people from all different backgrounds, having a world map on the wall so they can see which countries people live in and hear interesting stories of lives so vastly removed from their own Sydney upbringing. Look around to see who you can invite - that new family from overseas in your kid’s class, the neighbour who has just moved in, someone who has recently joined your church.
Whilst we don’t force the kids to stay at the table and ask lots of questions, or to show interest if they are bored, I’ve noticed that over the years as they have been exposed to new friends who are very different from our own family, they are more attuned to knowing about other countries/cultures. Just by being around the home and hearing their parents express interest in our guests, I think my boys have absorbed the stories and been influenced by our attitude of interest towards those whom we host. And hopefully, they too will one day be interested in others too.
3. Welcoming flexibility
Hosting people can be very inconvenient for family routines. Not all kids (or spouses) will like having people over. My husband and I have both loved opening our home since we were married and even when we had our first child we continued hosting lunches after church and weekly bible studies. However, when our second son was born I was just barely surviving raising two little boys. So we held off hosting for a year. And that was good.
Hospitality comes in ebbs and flows according to the seasons of life. Sometimes it will look like having one friend come in for a quick cuppa. Others times we’ve hosted 20 people fortnightly over several years. It may be having a playdate with a school friend. I’m learning the importance of being flexible and remembering to check in on how each member of my family is going in terms of giving them enough ‘down time’ and ensuring they don’t feel neglected. Both my children so far like having people over and are the first to run to the door as soon as they hear the doorbell. However, this may change as they get older and I am aware of the need to adjust and adapt accordingly.
4. Welcoming grace
Opening up one’s home in this culture may be regarded with suspicion. I’ve sometimes heard remarks that reflect an attitude of seeing people as ‘free loaders’ when it comes to hospitality. I know some who are wary of those who just ‘use them’ for a free night’s accommodation. Having my own home and family makes me pause to reflect on those to whom have we opened up our home. It brings to mind this verse:
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)
Firstly, we must be wise and respect that our children need us to put in healthy, safe boundaries for their wellbeing. I also realise that not everyone will have the means or space to host people. However having a ‘stranger’ or an ‘inconvenient person’ in for a simple meal may just open the door to angels.
Be gracious and expect that the Lord will lead people into your home to bless you as much as you bless them. We once had a little boy over who took delight in pulling out our guinea pig’s fur. My boys were very cross. I was too. However, we used this as a chance to help them offer grace. The young guest had not been told otherwise - or never had this behaviour ‘reigned’ in. I acknowledged and appreciated that my kids had shown self-control towards the boy. And afterwards, we talked through the need to demonstrate grace and forgiveness.
*In the end, James didn’t come over for that play date. His mum decided all of us were too tired for more play. The kids were disappointed, and in a way I was too. I’m beginning to appreciate what a gift it is to open our door to far more than just playing and mess. Hosting has been God’s gift to grow me in generosity, curiosity, flexibility and grace … and I hope that will rub off on my boys too.