Dangerous Hospitality

Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

(Matthew 5:14-16, emphasis added)

Hospitality. Whether it brings to mind a superwoman’s social expectations or an impersonal hotel concierge service, it’s gotten a bad rap for far too long. I have joined the ranks of souls who have become exhausted trying to live up to a Pinterest-inspired reality, throwing my hands up in the air and saying, “Forget this! Who has time to cook the perfect meal or to clean and decorate the perfect home or to plan the perfect party?!” Not only once (as if that wouldn’t be a feat by itself), but on a consistent basis—and with enough energy left over to keep one’s brains from leaking out of one’s ears! Echoing Sweet Brown, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Sing it, sister. God has recently shown me that I have been nursing (and resenting) a skewed concept of hospitality. A better, more Christ-centered, more attainable definition is the gift of being real with others and offering them a safe place to be real in return.

Here are some things I’ve learned lately about hospitality:

This gift isn’t only for a few—or even only for ladies. While it is a spiritual gift given especially to some people, Romans 12:13 commands all Christians to “practice hospitality.” A bonus is that God never says we have to perfect it; He just expects us to practice it. Need a little more incentive? Challenge mode comes in 1 Peter 4:9, in which we are told to do it “without grumbling.”

Practice hospitality with yourself first. Give yourself permission to be real and flawed, remembering that while Christ is working in you, you aren’t finished yet. Once you can allow yourself room to grow and breathe, others will feel more relaxed to do the same.

Don’t worry if your house is less than fabulous for having guests over. Jesus is the greatest example of a hospitable nature, and He was homeless. (Sharing a simple breakfast on the beach with friends was not something He apologized for—instead, He offered it, and those who accepted it had their lives changed as a result.) It takes courage to recognize your imperfect surroundings but to give them anyway. That’s where the God things happen.

Sometimes hospitality is less about offering and more about receiving. It takes just as much grace, strength, and what Southerners call gumption to not be in control over our environment or conversation as it does to invite someone over for coffee. There is a hospitable way to accept being served, just as there is a hospitable way to serve. Christ gave plenty of pictures of both.

Hospitality has many enemies: perfectionism, comparison, appearance, judgment, pride, a critical spirit, selfishness, and drama. Most of these can be boiled down to self-protectionism driven by fear. The thing is, hospitality is dangerous because it exposes you, but self-protectionism is dangerous because it isolates you from others and God. Living authentically through hospitality is one of the quickest ways to disturb any harmful comfort zones that have made themselves at home in your heart.

To be real with others, you first need to know yourself with all of your strengths and weaknesses. This isn’t the time for going easy on yourself (or being unreasonably harsh, either). Take an inventory of how you’re doing in life emotionally, intellectually, relationally, and spiritually. After you know who you are, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. There is a strength that can only come when you remove all of your protective masks, but it requires complete truth, first with yourself, and then with others.

As you grow in what Matthew 5 calls “keeping open house” and “being generous with your life,” your hospitality should be wise. God has placed people around you; who is appropriate to open yourself up to and to what extent? Who would it be unwise to be completely vulnerable with? Your hospitality should also be intentional—aim for a smorgasbord of individuals in your life, not just those closest to being carbon copies of yourself. Practice with people of different ages, races, personality types, life stages, religions, and mindsets. Within the faith, hospitality turns into fellowship. Outside of the faith, hospitality turns into evangelism. The two are equally important.

A good balance when sharing life with others is relating an appropriate amount of information both about what you’re struggling with and what God is teaching you. This lets others see what a changing heart looks like in the midst of the process but doesn’t exaggerate either the positive or the negative beyond reality.

The Bible has made way too big a deal about hospitality for us to boil it down to the Martha Stewart channel and move on. This is not just a housewife thing, nor is it for the faint of heart. God has called us to this glorious habit of practicing, sometimes with the result of actually hosting angels without even knowing it (Hebrews 13:2). So take off the apron, put your feet up with a friend, and get to practicing! For those of you who process by thinking practically, I’ll end with some questions:

  • How has Christ practiced hospitality with you?
  • What does it look like to “keep open house” and “be generous with your life” in general?
  • What is a people group/type you might have a hard time showing hospitality to? Why? What does Jesus’ example of eating with tax collectors and sinners (i.e., all of us) say about it?
  • What are some excuses you cling to for not practicing hospitality?
  • Think for a minute about two people in the faith and two people outside of the faith God has put into your life to whom you could show hospitality. What’s your plan?

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