by Judy Allen
My parents are the soul of hospitality, and their secret is not complicated. They love people.
My mom was one of six, and her siblings all had at least four children, so when families got together it was crazy fun. There were many family vacations in which we stopped at one house or another, depending on where we were going, and the visits were happily reciprocated. Hospitality was a given. It wasn’t a chore or a duty; it was a delight.
In the age of Pinterest, entertaining can seem a bit overwhelming. We think we must set a creative table, spend hours preparing a fussy appetizer and then produce a gourmet meal to be a successful host. I’ve tried it. It’s a lot of work, and if the host and hostess are exhausted by the time their guests arrive, hospitality will be the loser.
My parents taught me that hospitality is deeper and more relational than preparing a beautiful table brimming with inspired food choices. My mom’s table always looked nice and the food never failed to be delicious. There was still groundwork to be done, of course, for my mom was suddenly motivated to clean when a party was around the corner. We started to ask, when we noticed the whirlwind of preparation, “Who’s coming?”
Memories of conversations, laughter and love have superseded my recall of the casual ambiance and familiar cuisine of those days. Hospitality meant loving our guests and showing interest in them, and the table was the means to that greater end.
Hospitality in biblical times was more than entertaining family and friends. It was a necessity for travelers and there were strong cultural norms that demanded the taking in of strangers. Jesus and his disciples depended on the hospitality of others, and the Bible teaches us all to be hospitable.
In the New Testament, one of the Greek words used for hospitality is philoxenia, which literally means ‘love of strangers.’ This is the word that is used in the familiar verse that advises hospitality with the added incentive that some of us “have entertained angels unawares.” I wouldn’t be surprised to find that my parents have welcomed angels a time or two.
Love of strangers, hospitality, can be exhibited in many ways, and following are just a few of my parents’ expressions of hospitality:
- My parents were members of the Evergreen Club, which is a network of bed and breakfasts for those over fifty. They stayed in the homes of complete strangers while traveling, and many other strangers stayed with them. My dad was recently telling stories about some of the evergreen couples they met, and his eyes lit up as he spoke with energy about those interactions.
- Our pastor was a frequent guest for dinner on Sundays, for my parents had heard that pastors were some of the loneliest people around. They vowed that they would always have an open door for their pastor. They did, and our pastors were not strangers for long.
- We had an exchange student from Ecuador one year, and my cousin from Sweden was with us at the same time. I’m not sure we could have found two young women with more different backgrounds and personalities. That year was hospitality with a capital H, but it worked.
- Mom and Dad drove a young woman who was legally blind to church for years, and they became good friends with her and her family. Of course, we became friends with them as well, for they were often at my parents’ home for holidays.
- Now my dad takes his cheerful attitude and his accepting smile into the hospital once a week to visit, give communion, and talk with people. It is a skill that he has mastered.
My mom and dad recently had breakfast with a friend and her son, one of their godsons who is now in his fifties, and he asked my mom, “Are your daughters as gracious a hostess as you were?” She was amazed that he remembered her as a gracious hostess. I’m not. She told him that we are, but speaking for myself, I am motivated to be more hospitable and to show love with a broader brush.
Maybe as we are hospitable, we grow in love. Then as we love, we grow in hospitality. After a lifetime of hospitality and love my parents don’t have to try to be hospitable. It’s just who they are. They don’t entertain, they show hospitality.
They love people.
Judy Allen is an Area Director with Community Bible Study, and she also writes and speaks with the goal of making the transformative truth of Jesus Christ more impactful in our daily lives. She blogs at connectingdotstogod.com and lives in the Chicago area with her husband and best friend, Dan.