A Toast to Hospitality; The Lost Art of Having Guests in our Homes

Not long ago a college student and I were sitting at our dining room table eating brunch. She was contemplative as she took a bite of toast. “Why does it seem like people don’t host in their homes much anymore?” she asked. This began a conversation peppered with plausible explanations for why it seems like hospitality is dying in our culture.

I remember being in friends’ homes a lot as a kid, and often those visits included meals. Whether it was a last-minute dinner or an elaborate New Year’s Eve party with food and games, it was always fun to be with friends in their homes. Now as an adult, hospitality seems like a thing of the past. I know it is still commonplace in some homes, but in general I believe that hospitality is becoming a lost art.

When I think of good examples of hospitality my parents and my in-laws come to mind. Last year my parents hosted their church small group in their home weekly. Each meeting they would eat dinner together and my mom would make the main dish. The day before the meal she would clean the house and grocery shop, the day of she spent cooking, and the day after she cleaned it all up. And my parents work full-time jobs, waking up every morning at 3:30am for a long commute. They, of all people, are short on time and energy. Though my mom was often exhausted from the preparation required for these gatherings I know that she loved having people in their home each week. Their church acquaintances became friends, and lives were changed. My in-laws also frequently have people in their home and are fun, vivacious hosts. My father-in-law fills guests’ glasses with his homemade muscadine grape juice and tells stories throughout the meal. My mother-in-law is an unpredictable entertainer and might come to the table dressed as a pilgrim or singing a song. There are name cards for each person’s setting and a themed centerpiece for every occasion. Dessert and coffee appear before the meal is over, and the dishes are washed so quickly and quietly no one ever sees it happen. I do indeed have wonderful models in my life of what good hospitality looks like.

Some of us, however, may not have such examples and need encouragement in this area of our lives. We tend to make excuses for things that we are not good at, because we haven’t practiced them, so we stop attempting them. Here are some of the main excuses we often make (though I know there are many more) in rationalizing our avoidance of hosting:

1. We are scared. Too often the opinions of others govern the risks we are willing to take. We often mentally jump to the What Ifs: “What if they don’t have fun? What if the conversation lags? What if it’s awkward? What if it turns out like Jan and Michael’s dinner party in that one episode of the Office?” The solution to this excuse is simply to stop thinking about ourselves. It is about our guests, not us. If they said yes to the dinner invitation they must enjoy your company if even a little. Often it seems that instead of conversation lagging over a meal, the opposite happens. Something about sitting around a table with food at our fingertips makes us comfortable in conversation.

2. Our houses are a mess. Plain and simple, the law of entropy takes over in our homes. With small children, especially, the law of entropy seems to multiply in direction and magnitude…they are little vectors of destruction tearing through each room. The overwhelming thought of inviting people into these disastrous spaces might cause mild to moderate anxiety attacks. What is the solution, then? How do we eliminate this excuse? It is to clean up, of course. We tell our children often enough to clean their rooms, so let’s get at it ourselves. Even if throwing some of the clutter in the guest bedroom or a closet is the only option, do that. Of course we can always have guests over without tidying up first, but the state of our house communicates a message to them. If it is neat we are telling them that we value their time and company. The messy house scenario can be reserved for play date lunches and last minute coffee conversations, but a little more effort should go into dinner parties.

3. We don’t know how to cook. My brunch-eating college buddy thought this was probably the number one deterrent people have to hosting. She said she wasn't taught even the basics of cooking growing up. Millenials today might know how to make a mean vegan or keto recipe but do they know much about the comfort food of Grandma’s kitchen? Or how to make a basic pot of chili or roast a chicken? What is the solution, then, for not knowing how to cook? Ask an older person in your life to teach you. Pinterest and YouTube are also good resources. If you can learn to rebuild a car transmission from watching YouTube videos, surely you can learn how to cook chicken alfredo.

4. We’re too busy. Most of us truly are overwhelmed with daily life. It’s hard enough to even find family time after dividing the rest of our week among work, church, school and extracurricular activities. But even though our schedules are packed, I would wager that most of us still eat 2-3 meals a day. Why not eat one of those meals with friends? If we’re too busy for people, we’re too busy.

There are numerous accounts of people sharing meals together in the Bible. Jesus was often in someone’s home eating a meal with them. When Jesus’ feet were anointed with expensive perfume he was “reclining at the table” in Simon the Leper’s house (Matt 26:7). Jesus invited himself over to Zaccheus’ house after meeting him. It says in Luke 19:6-7 that Zacchaeus “welcomed him gladly” and that “All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’” Jesus also ate at the home of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus. Luke 10:38 says, “Martha opened her home to him.” Jesus even ate with Pharisees. “When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table” (Luke 11:37). And of course there is The Lord’s Supper, the most iconic meal in history (Matt 26:26). But one of the most stunning pictures of hospitality is found in Acts 2 when the Fellowship of the Believers were living in community. “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47). DAILY people were coming to faith because of their witness. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if we were known for our hospitality and our community?

If you are overwhelmed with the thought of hosting, start small. Make a goal to have someone over once a month. Look for a nutrition-deprived college student and invite him over for a home cooked meal. Make a crockpot meal—it doesn’t have to be elaborate. Identify your most worn-out excuse for avoiding hosting and find a solution to it. Make a plan, put a date on the calendar, and do the work.

So here’s a toast to hospitality—May your guests become your friends and your friends become your family.