Are you hospitable or do you like to entertain? At first glance it seems like the same thing but it really isn’t at all. There is a difference between showing hospitality and entertaining.
Setting out to impress others, to have everything perfectly presented, to give a favourable impression – that is entertaining. Showing hospitality is bringing others into your home, making them feel welcome, comfortable and relaxed. Hospitality is sharing what you have willingly and joyfully. It doesn’t necessarily mean fancy or spectacular, but it does mean loving.
I have read several life stories from people who grew up with a crowd of visitors around the table for Sunday lunch. Their parents made it a habit to invite friends, family, missionaries or travelling speakers, the new family at church, someone living away from family or an elderly person without transport into their home each week. I love the idea of my children being exposed to many different people and experiences within the safe environment of our home and having the opportunity to serve and show hospitality themselves to the extent that they are able. To hear the stories and experiences of a missionary at home on leave, to listen to a pastor talk about his experiences, or show friendliness to children from another family – what valuable and inspiring life experiences they would gain.
With a new baby and 5 other young children, I have to face the fact that having a mob of people around every weekend is difficult right now. Getting the house tidy and preparing a nice meal is not always easy to do. Especially if I am trying to entertain. But I can show hospitality. We can invite a family to stay for dinner after bumping into them while we are out, call someone for an afternoon drop-in and simply sharing what we already have prepared or have friends come back after church for a slap together lunch or even take-away pizzas to share at the park together. We can all show hospitality regardless of our situation and it is biblical that we do so – God tells us to do it!
When I really get down to it, most of the reasons why I do not show hospitality is because I am actually aiming to entertain. I feel the need to make sure the house is perfectly spotless, the dinner is fancier than usual (and complete with entrée and dessert) and the table-ware is coordinated. The children must look and act perfectly and for that matter, eat with wonderful manners. If I can take a step back and get past my pride, most of the reasons why I don’t go ahead and ask someone around can be quickly overcome when I simply seek to share life with others, rather than impress them.
Here are a couple of practical tips to help make hospitality more doable.
- Plan ahead I try to have meals, desserts and fancy bread cooked and frozen that can be reheated when I want them. With the quick addition of a fresh salad, dinner is on the table.
- Train the children to set up All the children can play a part in helping to set up. If they regularly do the same job for visitors you can train them to do it well and then simply ask them to do it with out supervision once they know how. Many hands make light work.
- Have a house cleaning system Whether it’s a little bit each day or all at once on Saturday morning, everyone pitches in to get the house looking clean and tidy so that an overwhelming job is not ahead of you when you decide to ask people around.
- “Visitors Coming” Scramble. Assign quick tidy-up the house jobs and practice doing them regularly so that when someone calls to tell you they are in the neighbourhood and want to drop around you can muster the troops and tell them it’s scramble time! Everyone dashes off to do the most important surface tidy jobs that make the house look vaguely presentable in the 10 minutes it takes for the visitors to arrive. That might be checking the condition of the toilet, cleaning off the kitchen table and bench, floor tidy-up or whatever else is likely to most need attention in your house. Even if the visitors are in the driveway before you know about them, you can have an emergency scramble. It’s amazing what can be done in the one minute it takes for people to get from the driveway to entering the front door if the children know what they are trying to achieve.
- Train children to be hospitable. Teach them to ask visitors what they would like to drink, to carry a tray of nibblies and offer it around, write down tea and coffee orders, offer to take coats and bags etc.
- Feed young children ahead. While we usually try to have everyone eating together, if the meal is going to be much later than usual it often works better to feed the younger children at their usual time. When the adults sit down to eat they can then choose a couple of extra fingerfood items or perhaps eat their dessert. Hungry, demanding toddlers do not make showing hospitality easy. If the meal I am serving to the guests is likely to be unpopular with the little ones, I simply have something else in reserve for them, even if it’s just toast. I try to make sure that the whole meal is child-friendly so that we can all enjoy it, but there are times we want to serve those spicy curries that I know the kids will not eat happily. I am not going to have a battle over food in front of company if I can help it.
- Ask your visitors to help. In almost all occasions visitors are more than happy to help while you are getting the meal sorted out. Holding a baby, chopping up the carrots or any other small task is easily done and for someone who may be feeling a little bit unsure of themselves, it gives them something to do, takes off the pressure and makes them feel at home.
- Accept visitors’ offer to contribute to the meal. When we have a slap together occasion and people ask what they can bring, we usually say bread or softdrink or something similar, knowing that they can easily swing past the bakery or corner shop on the way over. With more advance warning, I might ask them to bring a salad, knowing that it’s the last minute preparation that can be difficult for me to do.
- Visitor menu. Make a list of quick and easy meals (complete with sides and desserts) that you can throw together quickly and easily from ingredients you usually have on hand. That self-saucing pudding that takes 5 minutes to throw together goes on the visitor menu list and can be prepared without fuss at the last minute.
- Have a visitor rotation. Perhaps designate one weekend a fortnight for family, the following weekend for friends, new people from church etc. We find family very easy because they are extremely relaxed, will help out when here and are happy to share whatever we would normally have. I still try to make it a little special, but when we’ve organised nothing ahead, I can still have family stay at the last minute with no idea what we are going to have and not find it a big deal. We’ve all made it clear that eggs on toast will do if that’s all there is! Asking people over every weekend (other than family) is too big a load for us right now.
- Don’t forget date nights. Your husband should be your priority so don’t forget to plan special nights with him (See stay at home date night ideas here.)
- Picnics. In fine weather, meeting other families at a park takes off the pressure of needing to get the house respectable. Picking up a couple of hot chickens on the way and making salad and rolls or many other very simple picnic ideas makes this an easy option.
- Pot luck dinners. Having everyone bring a part of the meal is an easy way to have large groups around without the expense or hassle of cooking huge meals. Everyone contributes and all you have to do is provide the meeting place and accessories.
- BBQ’s. An Aussie cliché but so easy. Everyone brings their own meat and we provide the salads. If many large families are coming, we ask them to bring a salad or dessert to share as well. I can prepare the nibblies, salads or whatever we need ahead and the men are happy to stand around chatting while they cook it on the day, leaving me free to feed a baby or look after the guests.
- Small children timing. We find it easier right now to get together for breakfasts, morning & afternoon teas, or in the afternoon followed by an early dinner. Avoiding nap times and getting the children to bed at a reasonable time stops us having to suffer through over-tired children who are unable to get their responsibilities and school work done for the next 3 days.
- Theme meals are easy to put together. A bring a pie night is fun (sweet or savoury), soup and rolls lunch (I do soup, everyone else brings fancy bread and stir-ins for the soups), fondue (I do the sauce – including dessert fondue - and everyone brings a plate of food to dip), salad and rolls, make-your-own pizza, hamburgers, gourmet hot-dogs, or whatever else suits your fancy and is easy to prepare.