On a small table in our upstairs hallway sits a decorative bowl filled with various snacks. The snacks themselves change periodically, but the message is the same: if you are a hungry guest, grab a snack. We try to ensure that this bowl is never empty because our upstairs is home to our three guest rooms, which are continually prepared for anyone in need.
Over the past few years our upstairs has been filled with teenagers squeezed into every square inch of floor (and sometimes closet) space available, while visiting on mission trips to assist our urban church plant. The beds have been used by our own parents, siblings, and an exploratory baby niece. Friends have stayed when they need time away or have stayed too late over food and laughter to feel like driving home. Moms have breastfed on the edges of the beds, and infants and toddlers have taken naps in makeshift nests in their centers. Colleagues we have never previously met have stayed to attend classes or conferences and left as dear friends filling us with memories, laughter, and joyful hearts. Teenagers have stayed to experience Chicago. Needless to say, the bowl is frequently refilled.
In a world of fast-paced, rugged individualism, hospitality has become radical.
I once read that hospitality is anticipating the needs of your guests—to meet a need before they even know they have it so they feel less like guests and more like they are being welcomed home. Our snack bowl in the upstairs hallway is one of the ways we try to anticipate the needs of our guests. We are trying to prevent the need for the awkward descent to an unfamiliar kitchen in the middle of the night or early in the morning, to explore unknown cupboards. We know that, in reality, most people will not make such a descent, choosing hunger over awkward intrusion. Additionally, we keep our bathroom cabinets stocked with extra toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, and deodorant. We always have clean towels and sheets and extra blankets at the foot of each guest bed. The tea box my brother gave me for Christmas one year is always stocked next to the kettle, close by our French-press coffeemaker, depending on whether a situation calls for calming or waking.
Our home is not perfect by any means; dishes often line our counters, and dog fur gathers in the corners, but we strive to maintain a constant state of anticipating the needs of those who enter our home because we have this belief that, in a world of fast-paced, rugged individualism, hospitality has become radical. This welcoming act of loving others by anticipating needs is a corrective behavior in a culture that continually bombards us with messages about how the world revolves around ourselves, how we must be wary of guests, cautious with people who are different from us, jealous of our own space, and fearful of opening our homes to others. The act of hospitality casts aside the world of Pinterest-perfect pictures and invites people to participate in the very messy reality that is our lives. Hospitality is an act of service and discipleship that reflects the kingdom of God to those we love—a kingdom of welcome, of care, of abiding love for all who enter. Hospitality offers the incarnational presence of God to those we are welcoming, through our own hands and feet.
There was no magic in my teapot to soothe a broken heart that night, but there was a movement of transcendent grace embodied by the Holy Spirit in a moment of hospitality.
Several years ago a friend of mine called me relatively late in the evening, in tears. I was unsure what to do, so I told her to come over. I put the teakettle on the stove, grabbed some tissues, and prepared for her arrival—anticipating her needs in whatever small ways I could. We sat at my kitchen table clutching hot mugs between our palms as she poured her broken heart out before me. In reality, I did not know what to do for my hurting friend. Mending broken hearts is out of my skill set, and knowing how to carry her to a place of wholeness seemed impossible. But despite my insecurities and inadequacies, I knew in that moment that I knew the one who is indeed the mender of hearts. Through souls laid bare I shared a bit of her burden and a bit of the love of God, carrying her in a small way to the heart of Jesus.
There was no magic in my teapot to soothe a broken heart that night, but there was a movement of transcendent grace embodied by the Holy Spirit in a moment of hospitality. There was a poured and spilled-out brokenness present in the spilled-out imperfection of inviting someone into my life. Hospitality enabled me to see in my friend a beauty of humanity I may not have seen otherwise, and it enabled her, even if just for a moment, to look beyond her brokenness and hurt to see herself as loved.
Hospitality is not a three-step magic formula for bestowing a perfect life upon others, and it’s illustrated more in the image of Jesus bathing the feet of his disciples than in the grandeur of the parting of the Red Sea. It’s messy, it’s sometimes difficult, it can be inconvenient, it means we have to know and be known by people, and it means living into a love that transcends boundary and fear. But when we extend our lives in these hospitable ways, through baked goods and coffee, through spare bedrooms, through a bowl of snacks sitting on a hallway table, we empower others to view themselves as beloved, in a world that is trying so hard to tell them otherwise. And that belief that they are loved, in spite of everything, truly can change the world.