Hospitality is not for Suckers

Have you ever been on the receiving end of truly gracious hospitality? How about on the giving end? For Andi Ashworth, the art of caregiving is something that came alive in her. She said, “I discovered that, with design, intent and hard work, I could contribute to a story laced with the true, the good, and the beautiful in the lives of my family and friends.” In her book Real Love for Real Life, Andi contends that caregiving is more than a second-tier Christian duty. It is a “grand invitation to serve others with beauty, imagination, and love to which God calls us.”

And according to the Bible, she is so right.

The Apostle Peter wrote, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:8-11

A story. When my brother and I were in college, my parents signed up to provide a foster home for kids who had been removed from the worst of situations. Their first call was for a 13-year-old girl who had suffered much at the hands of those who were supposed to care for her.

Here’s how she came to live in our home. One day she woke up, got a bowl of cereal, heard a knock on the door, answered it, and there before her stood a social worker and a couple of police officers, come to remove her from her situation.

By 3:00PM that same afternoon, she sat in our living room as the social worker tried to explain that she was safe now and this would be her new home until they got everything worked out.

I remember how mom and dad called my brother and me to make sure we’d be okay with this. We went to a church which loved to remind us that whatever we do “for the least of these, that we do unto Christ.” (Mt 25:40) So of course, we offered no objections. But neither of us knew what this would mean for our lives. Up until then, we were our parents only two kids—boys 14 months apart, now both in college. But here, all at once we had a 13-year-old sister. For the summers we lived at home, we learned quickly that we were in over our heads.

My parents were remarkable people. Still are. One thing they modeled with unflinching conviction and unflappable grace was that hospitality was not a second tier responsibility for the Christian. In fact, my parents regularly put my brother and me in the presence of people who were hurting, alone and in trouble.

So it is fascinating to me that all the things Peter could have put in his mini-list of Christian duties in the text above, we find glad-hearted hospitality.

Hospitality can seem to be a sucker’s game. We go into it thinking, for example, “How hard could it be to open my home to someone in trouble?” But then they chain smoke menthol cigarette’s with the filters broke off in our garage because they know the rule about smoking in the house, but there’s three feet of snow on the ground outside.

Or we say, “We’ll host a get together for the young families in the neighborhood,” only to watch the neighborhood kids destroy our clean home. Somewhere along the way, we begin to think we’re getting wise this sucker’s game. But not wanting to appear inhospitable, we develop some rules—fail-safes to keep people in our homes, but not disrupting our homes.

Hospitality is not for suckers. It’s for Christians. But apparently according to Peter, it makes the heart want to grumble enough that the call to show hospitality without grumbling made it into the canon of Scripture.

It seems as if Peter is saying, “Expect hospitality will put you out a bit. It will cost you. Don’t grumble.”  Grumble about what? Is Peter talking about grumbling about the work involved in cleaning the house or cooking a meal or making a bed, or is he talking about people and their neediness?

Probably all of the above.

But when you consider that the aim of the Christian life is to glorify God through His Son Jesus Christ, of course hospitality would be central. Jesus played host to the most needy, desperate, ill-equipped collection of have-nots ever. We are all and have been sick, in prison (real or imagined), hungry, thirsty and displaced.

Jesus came to where His people were and are and took us in, gave us what we needed and did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He took us from our various forms of vagrancy and gave us a home with Him. The call to hospitality is a call to mirror what He had modeled.

Andi’s wonderful little book on the art and work of caring for people is a book that does not grumble.  She takes time to explore the idea of caring as a calling from God that is at the same time fruitful and inefficient, part spontaneous, part ceremony, without season, across generations and always done within our personal limitations of time, resources and abilities. But it is a rich life because it is a life that mirrors the true Caregiver.

My wife and I have personally been on the receiving end of Andi’s care (and her husband’s), and we say without hesitation that their investment in our lives has had more to do with the rich lives we live now than either of them could know. Her book reads like a conversation across the kitchen table, and you will learn about loving people well as you learn about how God has loved you well. That means time with this book will be time well spent.