The Heart of Hospitality

 I remember childhood frustration because she was at our house again, the obnoxious lady with the nerve to scold my mom for feeding her muffins instead of the cookies in the cupboard. Later, we were reprimanded for ridiculing the woman’s behavior, told that our mocking was just as rude as her lack of etiquette.

There was the year a young teenage girl would show up early morning, in the hour we just rolled out of bed, dropped off by her single mom who had to get to work. She would eat breakfast with us and walk to school with my older sister.

When we lived in the old white farmhouse on the hill, there was a needy, unstable woman going down and going up the road, each just a mile or so away. They called for prayer, frozen yogurt picked up at the grocer, to ask what it meant to be a Pharisee, or just to talk.

I am not sure how old I was, but I vaguely still remember the moms-in-touch prayer groups my mom hosted in our home. I was too young to remember what the women said, but I do know they talked and prayed about their children going to public school.

I wonder if my mom knew all the minutes of time she’d invest in tenants when my dad bought an apartment building. The women tenants would come to pay their rent and they’d end up sitting in a chair at the kitchen table while my mom nursed an infant or stirred boiling spaghetti sauce. Sometimes they’d talk about their children and laugh, and I remember the times they cried and mom said we should play in the living room.

We took another lady to church and I’m ashamed to say that we groaned and whined about it. She talked so much. We were convinced that we’d never met anyone who had that much to say. When we got back to her house to drop her off, there was more than one time we idled on the side of the road for close to an hour, mom patiently listening.

I think I must have been seven or eight, when a struggling mother frequently brought her brood of five to our townhouse on the dead end street. Her husband was in jail and she lived poorly in a cold, unfinished trailer sitting on cement blocks.

– Max Beerbohm said, “When hospitality becomes an art, it loses its very soul.” –

When I consider my mother’s acts of service, her selfless giving, as she gave birth to and raised thirteen children and spent half of her motherhood home schooling, I keenly feel the emasculation of hospitality.

Our home was never immaculate and spotless, we, the baker’s dozen brood, made sure of that. My mother did not have time to offer guests five star, five course meals, and toys were usually strewn across the floor and sometimes there was six full baskets of laundry parked in the family room. She never had a catalogue cover home to offer and guests sometimes ate leftovers on paper plates at our house, but my mom listened. My dad laughed. And people came back for more.

Hospitality wasn’t an art to master or a duty to fulfill, it was a way of life. People coming uninvited, sometimes barging into the living room unannounced at eight o’clock in the evening. Neighborhood children filling the yard with noise, clutter, and chaos.

So with this kind of legacy, how is it that the biggest factor of stress in my life is hosting people in my home? Why do I mostly cringe when the hamster wheel rolls back around to me hosting visitors at church? Shouldn’t I have enough experience not to wrangle with the anxiety of hosting? How is it that my mind finds itself wailing, What will we talk about it? What if it’s an awkward afternoon, me anxiously stammering and stuttering mixed-up words and phrases in a failing effort to entertain?

Is that it? Is that why? Because having people in my home has gone from sharing life and laughter and leftovers, to entertaining? How have I wandered away from the heart of hospitality that was so beautifully illustrated to me my whole life? How have I come to see hosting guests as a New Testament obligation, rather than an extension of my day-to-day life?

I don’t feel confident in relating to people. I stumble through interactions, and fumble my way through caring about hearts, and I always feel like I talk about myself too much. I don’t know what questions should be asked and what questions shouldn’t be asked, until I analyze my conversational efforts later and groan that I said that of all things.

I talked to my mom this week. They have a family of five living with them right now. It was supposed to be for two days and then it turned into a week, and now it’s been a month. They have done this before, and last time it was ten weeks and a family of seven. Routine is twice-as-hard to maintain with two women doing laundry, home schooling children, and cooking meals…their way. How do you maintain home base rules? How do you direct your household when it holds two families with different ways?

She said that the day the men stood underfoot in the kitchen talking about how the two days was turning into weeks, and the children cloistered around while she was trying to put the finishing touches on a meal for twelve, she felt panicked and anxious. “But,” she said, “I’m doing fine. I just pray a lot.”

My beautiful mother is not a superwoman. She is not perfect. She was not born with a special gifting of patience or hospitality. I am her daughter. I can tell you she is bona fide human, flesh and blood. I know that it hasn’t always been easy or natural for her to care about people and I am pretty sure that there have been many times she’s been hostess and not felt like it.

I just pray a lot.” She said, and is this not the answer of what’s at the heart of hospitality, this giving, the sacrifice, this opening of your heart to receive all that God brings to your doorstep?

My mother’s legacy is a tapestry of relationships completely diverse, and I will probably never know all the ways God used her sacrifices of emotional energy and time to build His kingdom, but I am beginning to see and understand why my dad always called her an angel.

When I start feeling panicked and claustrophobic about relating to people, as I do more times than I don’t, I think twice. While gourmet meals and spotless houses and perfected beauty impress, they rarely stir your soul in its deepest places, as the offering up of everything you have to bless someone else.

With a baby on her hip, schoolbooks scattered across her table, children slamming doors running in and out, my mother said welcome – any time, any day. She couldn’t always offer you the finest meats and there wasn’t usually time for a table spread, so she offered her heart and her time and her ear.

And I am convinced, as I wrestle through my fears of hosting people and wrangle with my frustrating insecurities about relationships, that her giving made more than a little difference for eternity.

I love you mom. Thanks for leading the way.

Pratt Family Homestead, 2012

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13 thoughts on “The Heart of Hospitality

  1. Renee, I really liked reading this about your mom. To really care about people coming, and making them feel at home and welcome… thanks.

  2. Oh, Renee, this has left me crying. What a beautiful tribute to your mom! Her life flows with the grace of Jesus. HALLELUJAH!I pray that I can be a woman like her, in my own God designed Carla way.

    I can’t believe such a good-at-caring-for-people and fun conversationalist as Renee would worry about the conversation at her house. (Ok, so I can) I worry about that stuff too, and often have the caring question I should have asked come to my mind after the guests have left. God knows the good intentions of you hear. I love you, dear worman!

  3. I love you, too, Renee. More than you know. I have very often struggled and still do with the very same fears and struggles you express. Just keep on praying. It does get easier. Your writing has blessed me and encouraged me. Thank-you.
    Love,
    Mom

  4. I meant to say “the good intentions of your heart.” I hope you understand that my first sentence was a bit sarcastic. It is easy to wrongly assume someone who does well at something does it without any worry or effort.

  5. Ok, how many replies must I leave?! This is getting embarrassing. I meant my first sentence of the second paragraph not the first sentence of my comment J

  6. Oh Renee, your mother is such an encouragement to me in so many ways, but her hospitality is a great blessing to all of us who know her! I love this post! I hope that if I ever come to your house you will relax and we could have a great time! (: Keep up the praying…. it helps a lot and I agree with Melanie, hospitality gets easier!

  7. Thanks so much for blogging this!! It helped me see my own heart… I know this is anothe piece in the puzzle of my life and you inspired me to dig a little deeper into my own heart so I could more closer to where I want to be… Thanks again Renee for being the unique person you are!!

  8. I am glad that my blog post blessed you, Rhoda. I read what you wrote on your blog! I think the angle we’re coming at with our hosting struggles, is different, with some different reasons…but I love how God can use different circumstances to speak into our own lives. Blessings of love on you, lady!

  9. I love you mom just because of the way you talk/write about her. 🙂 The neat thing is that I can learn to know her in a sense because I know 2 of her beautiful daughters!!! I really care a lot about this issue and feel like I still have so much to learn.

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