A few months ago I was lying on the floor playing trains with my three-year old son Josiah and 18-month old Micah when someone knocked at the door. Combined with the sweltering South Carolina heat and being 37 weeks pregnant with our third son, I was feeling pretty drained physically and emotionally. If I had known it was not my brother-in-law but instead a college girl selling children’s books, I might have opted to pretend we weren’t home. However, since Josiah had already run to the door, I felt like I needed to at least say hello.
She introduced herself and as we started talking, she mentioned she could really use a place to sit and cool down. I first thought of the toys strewn all over the living room, but then I imagined myself in her place and said, “Sure. Come on in.”
The boys played while Kara [not her real name] told me her story, and an hour later as she left, she agreed to come back for ice cream that night while she waited for her ride. That night we prayed for her as a family, that she would know God’s love through us. She stopped by a few days later the last night of her internship and smiled as we scooped her bowl of ice cream. “I feel like you know me,” she said.
In a season of young children, I often feel limited in my ability to reach out to others. God has challenged me that hospitality is one of the simplest ways we can make a difference–without even leaving our homes. It is one avenue God has given us to fulfill the two greatest commandments Jesus gave: love God and love others.
“My home is nothing special,” I’ve thought before. “I’m not a great decorator and certainly not a gourmet cook.” However, as God regularly reminds me, hospitality is not a performance. It’s not a box to check to feel good about ourselves or make God love us more. Inviting others into our ordinary lives is one of the most extraordinary opportunities God has provided us to fulfill the Great Commission of discipleship both in our children’s lives and in the lives of those we invite.
We all desire to teach our children to love God and love others, so how does hospitality help us in that pursuit? When we invite others into our homes, we have the opportunity to illustrate these truths to our children:
1. Opening our home is an opportunity to love people, not to impress them.
One of the primary reasons we might not invite others into our homes is that we feel unprepared, either because our homes don’t meet our standard of “clean” or because we don’t feel like we can provide “good enough” food. Hospitality requires vulnerability. It says, “This is my real life. These are my kids in their habitat. This is our standard of living. This is my cooking and my decorating.” In essence: “This is the imperfect me.” It can be scary to invite people to see us in our most personal arena, especially when we have young children and our shortcomings feel even more exposed. However, when we choose to invite people into our homes anyway, we demonstrate to our children that loving people is the goal, not impressing them.
Does that mean that we don’t make any effort to give our guests our best? No. We tidy up our home to show love so that our friends do not trip over toys and can feel at rest. We do what we can to provide good (although usually simple) meals to show that we value our friends. But we give our best to show love, not to impress. And when we open the door even when we have had no time to pick up, our goal must still be to love, not to spend the whole time apologizing for our imperfections. (As a tip, we try to only bring out a limited number of toys in the living room so that even if it is a mess when someone knocks, at least it is a manageable mess. 🙂 )
Remember—our goal in hospitality is to love others well, including our children. When I notice myself becoming impatient with my children because the house or food is not ready for guests to arrive, it’s often a signal that I am seeking to impress my guests. Steamrolling over my children’s needs in an effort to clean up and cook for guests signals to them that presentation matters more than people, an attitude the Pharisees regularly expressed and that Jesus condemned.
2. What we have is meant to be shared with others.
One of the blessings of opening our home has been to teach our children that everything we have—food, toys, resources—is given by God as a gift to our family, but also as a means by which we can bless others. Our boys regularly have opportunities to share their toys with friends; we want them to learn to consider what their friends might like to play with and how they can help them to have an enjoyable time.
Here’s a practical tip that has always helped me be ready to share food for last-minute opportunities: I try to always have a stock of staple items for at least one dinner meal and one lunch meal. My freezer almost always has frozen hamburgers, buns, and ingredients for soup. I also keep several cans of chicken in my pantry to make chicken salad sandwiches for last-minute lunches.
3. There is joy in serving others.
With young children, it can be difficult to get dinner on the table for our own family, let alone guests. 1 Peter 4:9 encourages us to, “Show hospitality without grumbling.” Most of us wouldn’t grumble in front of our guests, but we need to remember that our children are watching how we serve in preparation before guests arrive and in cleaning up afterwards as well. By choosing gratitude instead of grumbling, we show our children that it is a joy to serve.
Even though asking your children to help prepare food can feel like unnecessary chaos, involving them in little tasks disciples them to see the importance of their role in loving others through service. Our boys love helping in little ways such as spinning the salad, dumping chips in a bowl, setting the table, stirring the soup, or making brownies. We sometimes put on music while we’re cleaning up and the boys find it fun to put everything away and then choose a few toys that our guests might enjoy playing with. Our desire is that our children would find it a joyful experience to use their gifts and abilities to serve others in our home, not a stressful time when they feel in the way.
4. God designed life to be lived in community.
Since we only spend a few hours a week at church with other believers, inviting people into our homes teaches our children that community is an important part of both daily life and personal life. Almost all of our sweetest friendships and many of our important life decisions have been influenced by conversations held within homes. We regularly have friends over who are in our same season of life, but we also try to be intentional about inviting people in all different stages. When we as parents show value for a diversity of people, we teach our children that all types of people have a role in our lives, regardless of their age, background, or ethnicity. Relationships have formed around our dinner table with older people, singles, and people from other countries. We have also welcomed those who don’t know Jesus into our home and had the privilege to communicate God’s love to them.
Since our children are much more comfortable in their natural habitat, having people in our home not only creates an atmosphere where they are much more willing to ask questions and make conversation with all types of people, but also helps them develop relationships with others who play a role in their discipleship, including family members, friends, and other believers.
As we seek to disciple our children, we always want to bring them back to the two greatest commandments Jesus gave: to love God and love others. Hospitality does not make us more godly, but is rather an opportunity to demonstrate God’s love in a personal, practical way. Instead of merely talking with our children about loving others, we can follow John’s admonition in 1 John 3:18: “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” Hospitality is a beautiful opportunity to teach our children love in action.