Monday, February 21, 2011

The Art of Hospitality

When my friend Becky sent out a plea for thoughts, ideas, and appropriate recipes to use in an upcoming lesson on hospitality at our congregation, I immediately told her, "Yes, I'll do a blog post!" I didn't even have to think about it because I have run across so many instances of generous hospitality in my lifetime that I knew I'd have many experiences to draw from. Now that I sit down to actually write this blog post, though, I am realizing how difficult it's going to be to narrow down and focus on the topic instead of excitedly shouting out a vast number of memories and ideas, such as in an enormous brainstorming session. Frankly, this one post could be immense. Oh, dear. What a good problem to have, right? Amen.

But I'm not going to do that to you, though sometimes I *am* longwinded. (ahem) So this may turn into a continuing series of posts, which is exciting! Let's get started.

To me, the idea of hospitality encompasses an enormous amount of both sweepingly large and seemingly small gestures. The spectrum can range from offering a cold drink to someone working on your A/C unit in the sweltering summer heat to offering your guest room to out-of-town visitors. One obviously takes a little more work, organization, and planning, but offering a ten-minute respite of ice water to a virtual stranger exercises just as much hospitality. Remember Matthew 25? The small things ARE the big things. 

On the Judgment Day, Jesus will say, "Come, you who are blessed 
by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you 
from the foundation of the world. 
For I was hungry and you gave me food, 
I was thirsty and you gave me drink, 
I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 
I was naked and you clothed me, 
I was sick and you visited me. 
I was in prison and you came to me."

And when the righteous ask, "Lord, when did we see you hungry
or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison?"
Jesus will answer, "Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of
the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."

(Matthew 25: 31-40 - partly ESV and partly paraphrased by me)

Conversely, those who Jesus refers to as the "goats," did NOT do any of these good deeds: giving food or drinks or clothes or welcomes or visits. And as verse 46 says, "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." So why do we do any of it? Only to avoid Hell's fire? It's a compelling reason...but is that good enough?

Obviously God thinks that being kind and hospitable is an important lesson for us. Why? To simply be a nice person? To show off what a great hostess we are? I hope not. I pray that we're showing love, in a tangible way, to someone who needs it. To share God's love and God's comfort and God's peace.

The idea of hospitality implies that we have something to give from the comfort of our own comfort zone. To make it their comfort zone, too. To explain further, being nice to a sales clerk is something I place importance on, but it's not exactly hospitality. However, if said clerk makes me feel welcomed at their shop, though, that's hospitality because I'm on their turf.

What's your turf? It's not just your home, although that's an obviously wonderful place to extend hospitality. I recommend that you grab a notebook (or a piece of paper) and scribble down all of your comfort zones. Places where you're either the person in charge or somewhere that you have access to items (both material and intangible) available for others' comfort. Places where you can make newcomers (or even frequent guests) feel at home. Remember that you can even be hospitable online!

Below each item, jot down something you have done to be hospitable in that area in the past. Leave a few more spaces between each item to add to your list afterwards.

For instance, my list would be:

1. My house - entertaining small (hot tea, scones, and a Jane Austen movie) or large (overnight guests)

2. My Sunday morning young professionals Bible class - encouraging visitors to attend

3. My Wednesday night kindergarten Bible class (during the parts of the year that I'm teaching) - calling each student by name and making sure they know I'm glad they came

4. Any interaction with newcomers at church services - answering questions about location of classes

5. Any FHU Associates' function - especially the tea party! Thanking other Associates for volunteering and thanking other individuals for their attendance

6. Any conversation or correspondence with customers/clients of Hester Publications - keeping customers up-to-date with their orders, especially if there happens to be a delay

7. My blogs - interaction to express appreciation for visitors (and comments!)

8. My Facebook page - thank friends for nice comments or send them a link to something in particular they might enjoy

9. My geographical area - help visitors out with directions or information (restaurant suggestions maybe)

10. My family - get to know "new" members of the family by spending time with them and having one-on-one conversations

And I'm sure there's more! Now look over your list and add some ways you could be even more hospitable. It doesn't have to be expensive or complicated or over-the-top. The point is to recognize something that might be pinpoint it so that it will rise to your consciousness easily the next time a situation presents itself.

One thing we should always remember though is that true hospitality hinges on being gracious and pleasant. Don't send mixed messages by being gruff and short along with your "helpful" answer to a question. Take a moment longer and be pleasant. Night and day difference, folks. Night and day.

And God didn't put us on this earth to say, "That's not my job." I have been guilty of that, yes - and don't even kid have, too. It's easy to complain and huff and roll your eyes (even figuratively) when someone asks waaay too much of you. But the second you start doing that, your attitude shifts and all hospitality goes out the window! I've seen it happen. You've seen it happen. It's not pretty. This is where diplomacy comes in, though. Don't just shut the person down. If you truly don't have time or the resources, offer what you can do and then make a pleasant suggestion to take care of the rest. Please don't be a person that people have to "walk on eggshells" around. What a sad description for a Christian! It will earn you the word "scary" in others' explanations of you. =)

To end on a positive note, though, I want to tell you that hospitality is one of the most rewarding aspects of Christianity. And it's a continual process. If it doesn't come easily to you, it could be that those traits weren't modeled for you during your growing up years. But it's not too late! Start paying attention. Mimic hospitable individuals. Glean ideas from others. Do what you're comfortable with and go from there. It's not all-or-nothing. Sometimes it's the little things that mean the most.

Like a glass of ice water on a hot day.

P.S. Remember what I said at the beginning about being long-winded? Yeah, forget I said that. ;)

P.P.S. I'll soon post a new recipe on the other blog. Because Becky wanted recipes and who am I to deny her??

Happy Monday!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

For where your treasure is...

Last night Jeremy and I were in the kitchen making coffee (decaf or neither of us would have gotten to sleep). I was happily pulling the Coffeemate Italian Sweet Creme creamer out of the fridge door and extracting some spoons from the drawer when I looked up and noticed that Jeremy, unwittingly, was pouring water partly into the coffeemaker...and then a smaller stream partly onto the counter.

"Oh no oh no oh no!" I think I said - and reached over to grab things out of the way. In the process, I knocked the sweet little lid off of our sugar bowl, which crashed to the ground and broke into 17 pieces. I was immediately frustrated and started talking to another, less important, item on the counter. "Why couldn't you have broken instead?" (I've got problems.)

We stood, staring at the ground. I remember Jeremy offering to glue it back together. Though he is excellent at repairing things, I knew it was a lost cause.

"No, it's in too many pieces," I said, sadly. "We'll have to buy another one. It matches our china."

While we commenced to the clean-up session, I tried to cheer myself up as I always do. "They're just things. It's O.K. It doesn't really matter."

And Jeremy spoke up just then. "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven..."

"Where sugar bowls don't fall and break," I finished.

"That is definitely not what the verse says," he teased me.

But the sentiment is the same. Isn't that some kind of a relief?? There will be nothing that you will have to replace because it smashes into a million pieces. There will be no dying A/C units, no accidentally defrosted refrigerators, no hardwood gashes or computer crashes in our heavenly mansions.

All will be perfect and our hearts will be happy, because while on earth, we laid up for ourselves treasures in heaven...where moths and rust won't destroy and where thieves won't break in and steal. We've got to pay close attention to where we keep our treasures, because Jesus said that's where our heart will be found. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Where's your heart today? It's not difficult to track it down. How do you spend your time? How proud are you of the things you own? What do you mostly think about?

I'm stepping on my own toes here, so you're not alone. These are some ideas to remember...and keep remembering...I find that I have to remind myself all the stinkin' time!

P.S. Sorry I've been MIA on this blog lately. Life got super busy there last week! But I'm planning to make it up to you with a special giveaway soon. Yes, it's a "thing" and things do break, but this thing will help remind you of other things. Heavenly things. Stay tuned!