A Heart for Hospitality
by Ava Pennington
If I read one more magazine spread on how to host the perfect Christmas dinner party, I may scream.
The seasonal articles and accompanying photos are predictable. Decorated rooms that could easily be included on the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie. Tables topped with exquisite china and laden with juicy turkeys, vegetables for every palate and decadent desserts. Hostesses whose clothes, hair and make-up are straight out of a fashion magazine.
Such photos are intended to motivate me. Instead, I walk away discouraged. Because I know, try as I might, my decorations will never achieve that soft glow. My table will never be picture-perfect. And I will never ever appear as put-together as the models in the photos.
Preparing for Christmas has reached the level of a love-hate relationship for many of us. We love the dazzling decorations, luscious foods and tantalizing fragrances of the season, but we hate the work it entails. We strive for perfection and beat up ourselves when we fall short.
We feel inadequate because our place settings are mismatched, our furniture is worn and our finances limit us to serving spaghetti instead of steak.
We place unyielding pressure on ourselves to have the perfect Christmas celebration, causing us to miss the ordinary joys of the season.
Are we seeking to impress our guests with our interior decorating and culinary skills? Have we decided our home isn’t large enough or the lack of a formal dining room isn’t adequate to properly entertain?
For those of us with young children, the Christmas tree may be decorated with paper chains and ornaments cut out of construction paper. Glue stains may dot the kitchen table and glitter may be ground into the carpet. And we’ve convinced ourselves that all this makes our home unsuitable for entertaining.
If we can’t host a perfect dinner party, then we don’t host anything.
Part of the problem may be that we’re confusing entertainment with hospitality. Entertainment seeks praise for ourselves. Hospitality seeks to serve others.
Instead of becoming caught up in the demands of entertaining, what would happen this Christmas season if we focused on extending true hospitality? How would our ability to be hospitable change if we viewed our home as a tool by which we can minister to others instead of a platform for praise?
Consider these suggestions:
Priorities often become skewed between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Searching for ideal gifts, planning perfect meals and decorating homes can consume our time and attention. Before we know it, the season is over and we find ourselves singing that tired refrain, “I ran out of time!” If availability is not an intentional choice, especially during the Christmas season, then it won’t happen at all.
Extending hospitality doesn’t have to be limited to dinner parties scheduled weeks in advance. Often the most enjoyable times I’ve experienced are spontaneous or arranged with little notice. Push the glue sticks and rolls of wrapping paper aside and invite a neighbor in for a quick cup of coffee and a few store-bought cookies you happen to have on hand.
Make relationships a priority
It’s fun to have friends ooh and aah over our decorations or our gourmet meal. But we’ve missed the point if the goal of getting together is praise for food or our things instead of growing our relationships. Things don’t last forever—people do. Make this Christmas season memorable by investing time in developing deeper relationships that will last far beyond the holiday season.
Choose to simplify
Don’t have the time or energy to turn your entire home into a winter wonderland? Select a few special decorations for each room. Encourage family members to choose an item especially meaningful to them. Ask each person to share why they chose those particular decorations. The explanations may surprise you.
Forget the formal dinner and arrange a family-style buffet. Or skip the main meal and open your home for a simple evening of finger foods or dessert.
Show hospitality to those who cannot repay you
First Peter 4:9 (NIV) tells us, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” But the word for hospitality actually refers to being kind to strangers. Still, we cannot be truly kind to strangers if we don’t understand the kindness God extended to us when we were His enemies. God’s hospitality to us will last for eternity. Are we willing to seek opportunities to be hospitable to those who are not in a position to repay our kindness?
Extending hospitality to family and friends is nice, but what about those who are outside your circle of friends? Those who may not belong to any circle of friends? Consider showing hospitality to singles, the elderly, those who are grieving, families hurting financially, or those with no local family.
Rather than making it our goal to impress our guests, the focus of biblical hospitality is to bless our guests. As you do, don’t be surprised if you are blessed as well!
Who will you bless this Christmas season?
Ava Pennington is a speaker, Bible teacher and the author of Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional. She teaches a Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class, and is a member of the Christian Authors Network and the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. Learn more at www.AvaWrites.com.
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