Want to stress me out? Tell me I must open my home and host a dinner party. Want to plunge me into an anxiety attack? Tell me I have to do it frequently.
Consequently, I’ve always cringed when such hospitality is pushed as a key skill all women should have. Using Holy Scripture to support this position only compounded my stress with guilt. That is, until I read a devotional published by my church.
Even before reading the commentary of this devotional entitled “The Land of Hospitality” (Day 5 in the 21-day fasting devotional, Try It Again), I was captivated by the interplay of key words and phrases found in the key verses, 1 Peter 4:9-10 NIV. The commentary simply confirmed the conclusion I came to after meditating on these verses.
Previously, I—along with many others, I’m sure—limited “hospitality” to mean the act of inviting others into one’s personal home and fulfilling the role of host/-ess by providing a meal and entertainment. This definition makes uncomfortable those of us who are not socially-oriented and/or not equipped with skills and/or a home setting conducive to such. It also causes all of us to miss out on seeing how verse 9 applies to us all, regardless of personality, cooking skills, and home setting.
What really is hospitality? Is it not simply the offering of whatever you have to someone else? And doing so in a pleasant and joyous way? Now, is that not what Peter says in the next sentence (v. 10)—to use whatever you have been given to bless someone else?
The key is to not limit this to the domestic only, as good and even necessary as it may be. Not everyone has been given a home suitable for hosting any kind of gathering with any measure of comfort. Not everyone has the personality and/or the skills to do all that work and follow through to the end without becoming frustrated or resentful in the process. But, such people have received other gifts that can be used to minister to others, and they would gladly do so and end up being energized to do more of it instead of being drained. The point here, then, is to not be pressured into trying to be hospitable in ways you are not gifted. You can’t give what you don’t have!
Another key aspect here is the purpose: we are using whatever we have to help others (v.10). This is not a waiting on someone “hand and foot,” complying with their every whim. This is a taking care of the real/true need of that person. Why do I feel confident this is not a slavery to someone’s indulgences? Because our service is actually the serving up of God’s grace to the recipient. Whatever “gift” (talent, skill, etc.) we have to offer another is literally a grace from God to us. So, when we use that gift for the benefit of others, we are simply passing on God’s grace to them, and God’s grace is never to be abused.
The church devotional writer used Disney World as an example of great hospitality, focusing on how generously helpful and cheerful all Disney employees are. Even the custodians are known to have fun and entertain park guests while they do their work of cleaning. (Don’t believe me? Watch this video and read the comments/replies from Paige Perfect!)
This truth about Disney custodians made me realize that even though their assigned job is not directly people oriented, the over-arching objective of their employer creates a freedom from (and within) their regular duties to fulfill the park’s goal of being the happiest place on earth for the guests. Does that mean the janitor stops cleaning to operate a ride or perform in the parade? No, that’s not their specific job; someone else has those skills and that duty. At Disney parks, every employee doing their assigned tasks while working on that larger objective is what achieves the park’s goal and makes all of them hospitable.
The Disney employees, with their unique and well-matched skills and jobs, are comparable to us and our unique personalities, skills, and material resources. When we operate within—and only within—the limits of what God has given to us, then we too can cheerfully and generously serve others out of what we have when that meets their need. If what we have doesn’t meet their need, then we can—without guilt or angst—help connect them with a resource we know of that can help.
So, what does “hospitality” mean to me? I say it means a status of being willing and gladly ready to share whatever we have or are when such will truly be of help to someone, without forcing ourselves into some stereotype. What does it mean to you? (Leave a comment with your answer!)
Thanks for reading!
*Paragraphs 3-5 were my original journaling on January 15, 2016.