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When I contemplate how different my discipleship looks now compared with before I had children, it’s easy to feel a little frustrated that some areas are not as substantial as they were. My prayer life as a parent is hard work, and finding time to read the Bible with kids around is about as easy as working out the plot of In the Night Garden.
But I’m also starting to see that in some areas God is teaching me more about His way of doing things now I have kids.
Hospitality is one of those areas.
We’ve always loved opening our home to others. We love people and we love food, so (most of the time) hospitality is not a trial.
I know that, for many people, hospitality is really hard, so I don’t write this post lightly. But wherever we’re coming from, I think having kids gives us an amazing opportunity to get back to Biblical hospitality.
Hospitality before we had kids
Our hospitality was very different before we had kids.
Now I’m not saying it was bad hospitality – I think people enjoyed coming round for meals, or coming to stay for a weekend – but it was more about me and my cooking and trying new recipes and making sure the house was in a fit state to show off.
I’d never dream of having anyone over for dinner without preparing a three-course meal – and usually there were nibbles beforehand and chocolates afterwards.
When friends came to stay, the guest room was always hoovered, dusted and properly tidied (i.e. not just shoving everything under the bed).
I’d make sure every meal was planned, down to remembering to get croissants or bacon for breakfast. We had the time to properly wait on our guests. And we didn’t expect them to chip in with meal preparation or clearing up.
Hospitality since having kids
These days, things are a little different. I rarely make starters (count yourself lucky if you’ve had one in our house this side of 2009). Puddings may be shop-bought. You get chocolates after a meal if you bring them yourself.
Before friends stay, I usually pick the fluff off the carpet by hand (hoovering approximately twice a year), and run my forearm along surfaces to get rid of the worst of the dust.
There are always Cheerios for breakfast.
And if you don’t help clear up after one meal, you may just find you don’t have a plate for the next.
It’s not that we’re not bothered about our guests – we simply don’t have the time or the energy to wait on them hand-and-foot. We have two new tiny, wonderful people in our family who kind of take most of our time and energy, leaving little for others.
Which one is best?
Nowadays, our hospitality may be rather dishevelled – but I think it revolves more around others than us.
It’s about opening up our untidy home and offering what we have. It’s about offering the leftovers from our midweek, thrown-together supper – not because I’m proud of serving up soggy pasta, but because someone shows up who needs a meal.
It’s about offering our spare room – not because I’m proud of the mess I just shoved under the bed, but because someone needs somewhere to stay.
In other words, it’s hospitality which provides for others’ needs, rather than that which fuels our own pride. It’s about our ‘guests’ mucking in, enjoying a piece of our family life, with all its noise and mess. It’s about building relationships, blessing others – and all of us, kids included, growing in understanding of true Biblical hospitality.
Hospitality blesses us parents too
You may not feel very proud of your home anymore. You may not have the time to cook an incredible meal. And you may feel like you just don’t have time or energy to deal with more people in your house.
But actually giving hospitality can create time and energy for yourself.
The more I’ve let people into our home, the more I’ve seen how great it is for our family. Mister and Missy just love playing with people who have time for them, leaving me time to get the meal together or whatever.
For a lot of people who come round, playing with our kids is fun because they don’t have all the other distractions we do when we’re trying to play with them.
On a Monday morning, for example, I can play with my children for a little bit, but then we need to go to the supermarket, or I need to make a doctor’s appointment, or get lunch ready, or hang up the laundry. But when someone else comes round, they can give Mister and Missy some wonderfully special attention!
One big family
And in case you were starting to wonder whether my main motive for hospitality was, in fact, free childcare, the hospitality of a family can be incredibly fun and enriching for those without children too.
Lots of people enjoy having children in their lives; is it right to deprive them of this joy just because we’re too ashamed of our stained carpet, or the supermarket pud we’re dishing up for dessert?
And when have you ever noticed, and been properly bothered by, these things when you were at someone else’s house? Weren’t you just really, really grateful that they were giving you a meal you hadn’t had to buy or cook?
A single Christian should never have to worry about growing old alone, or not having anyone to care for them when they need it.
And yet I need to recognise that if I’m not part of the solution to care for a Christian brother or sister, then I’m effectively part of the problem.
We all need the kind of close support which is outlined so many times in the New Testament. I need help raising my kids, and others need a family. Hospitality is a key way we connect our big family of God together.
How does hospitality impact our walk with God?
More importantly, closing our door to others has some major implications for our discipleship.
We are so affected by our individualistic culture that often we forget that we have a responsibility for our brothers and sisters in Christ (Hebrews 10:24-25, for example). We need each other. We need the regular challenge and support of our Christian brothers and sisters – and not just once a week at church.
And when we offer hospitality, we develop a God-centred view of the money, possessions and time He has given us. As we give to others, we ourselves are blessed and taught. We learn from those in our home, and they learn from us.
It sounds so idyllic…
Having got this far, you may think that hospitality is always easy for us – that our guests always play happily with our kids, that people always chip in and help, that I never feel insecure about the state of our home.
You may have imagined some bubbly, happy household which constantly has people coming in and out, and where no one is ever in the slightest bit grumpy. But that isn’t the reality.
Sometimes, hospitality is really difficult. Sometimes people don’t help. Sometimes the kids’ routine gets sacrificed. Sometimes meals go wrong or aren’t appreciated. Sometimes my priorities go askew, and I start to feel down about things which really don’t matter.
But I think this is OK. Not OK in a good sort of way, but OK in that we should be expecting this to be the case sometimes.
Why else would Peter write “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9) if it wasn’t supposed to be difficult some of the time? It can be difficult regardless of whether or not we have children, of course, but I’m writing specifically to encourage those of us with families not to abandon hospitality just because we now have fuller homes and fuller schedules.
When hospitality is hard
The main thing God’s teaching me about hospitality is that although it may be harder now that our lives are more stretched, it’s just as important as it ever was. It’s important for my kids to grow up with a Biblical attitude towards sharing our home – and it’s important that others who need a family can feel part of ours.
Do I then give up when it’s difficult?
I know the answer here is supposed to be a resounding ‘NO!’ but what if I feel like saying “Yes! I give up!”? How do I get over that, and return to a place where hospitality is part of discipleship?
The answer lies in the context of the verse quoted above:
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:8-10)
The answer is love. Love covers over a multitude of sins – including thoughtlessness, laziness, obliviousness, greed, selfishness, and anything else you may wish to grumble about when it comes to those to whom you’ve offered hospitality!
I wish I could learn this lesson quicker – but there are no shortcuts. I need to develop a ‘hospitality habit’ of praying for this love every time someone comes through my door.
Grace covers all
I also need to remember that I’m called to be a ‘faithful steward of God’s grace”.
How will we share God’s grace if we can’t accept it for ourselves? When we insist on beating ourselves up because we burnt the chicken, or ran out of time to dust the spare room?
Someone who understands and knows the value of grace will be able to extend it to others, but also to themselves – which we often find harder. Extending grace to ourselves means that we discover peace and joy in an imperfect situation, rather than becoming inward-looking and negative when something goes wrong.
So, grace-filled and hopeful, I plod on: opening our messy home and sharing our imperfect family with all God puts in our path.
Whether it’s for a quick chat, a meal or an overnight stay, my prayer is that those who visit our home would be greatly blessed, and that our family would grow up to witness God’s generosity to us.