Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Biblical Hospitality vs. Entertaining

Did you know that there is a difference between hospitality and entertaining?

I lived for years thinking that the two were the same exact thing. Fast forward several years, several books and Bible studies on hospitality, and I came to the conclusion that there is, in fact, a big difference between the two.

I looked the two words up in

Entertain: To hold the attention of with something amusing or diverting.

Hospitality: Cordial and generous reception of or disposition toward guests.

Looking at these two definitions, I feel stressed and overwhelmed at the thought of entertaining. I am naturally introverted (although time and age has brought me out of my shell, and one probably wouldn't even know that I am a natural introvert.)

The thought of having to hold the attention of something for an extended period of time is totally overwhelming to me. When I think about having to do that, I feel pressured and anxious. What if I can't think of something to say? What if I'm not amusing enough? What if my guests are bored with me? Etc., etc.

However, when I read the definition of hospitality, I do know that I am indeed able to show a cordial reception of guests. I am able to show an interest in my guests and their lives. I feel the pressure slide off.

Here's the big difference between the two: entertaining is very me-centered and hospitality is guest-centered.

Here is a portrait of entertaining: What can I do that will totally knock the socks off of my guests? How beautiful can I make the table settings? What delicious gourmet dishes can I serve that will totally "wow" my guests? What outfit am I going to wear that will make me look gorgeous and put-together?

When I entertain, I obsess over what my guests will think of me. I get cranky because a pillow is out of place or there are water droplets on the bathroom vanity. If something goes wrong, it sends me over the top.

Entertaining is about impressing. Entertaining gives the glory to the hostess. The hostess' intentions are to totally impress her guests with her amazing culinary abilities. She wants to put forth the notion that she is pretty close to perfect and so is her home. I've been there way too many times. Anyone else?

However, as you may be able to see by now, this is fake and superficial. How can you be real with your guests if you can't even let your guard down for them to see your imperfections or weaknesses? If you're so worried about what your guests are thinking about you and your abilities, how can you even begin to truly focus on them and their comfort? You might think that you are, but as long as your attention is focused on yourself, there is little mental energy left to really devote to your guests.

Now, Biblical hospitality:

I'm in the midst of a pretty typical day. The kids' toys are scattered throughout the house. The kitchen counter is cluttered and there are way too many dirty dishes littering the sink and countertop. Maybe I didn't even have a shower that morning. Then the doorbell rings.

It's a neighbor or a friend. Oh no. If I invite them in, they'll know that I don't always have it together like I want everyone to think. What to do? Is the bathroom clean? Oh, I hope that one of the boys didn't miss the toilet!

Well, if I practice Biblical hospitality, I invite them in, unshowered body, cluttered house, and all. And I serve them lunch even if it means turkey sandwiches on paper plates because I haven't had the chance to run the dishwasher yet. And I don't apologize for the toys or the dirty dishes (I know that's a hard one) because that puts my guests on the spot and probably makes them feel just a bit uncomfortable. But instead, I invite them into my real, imperfect life and treat them like a friend.

That looks a lot different, doesn't it? Hospitality is not at all about "me." It's completely about others. It's about opening myself up and being real with others. It's about taking the time to love others with my time and resources (even if they're limited) even if I haven't had hours or days to clean and prep.

Biblical hospitality is not about cooking out-of-this-world dishes, setting a beautiful tablescape, or having a perfectly in-place home. You don't even have to be a good cook to practice Biblical hospitality!

Biblical hospitality is about focusing totally on our guests and their needs. It's about being okay with leaving the dishes go until later so that we can linger longer at the dinner table and talk with our guests.

When I finally realized what God expected of me as far as having other people into my home, it was really rather freeing. I didn't have to make everything perfect. I just needed to make things nice and comfortable. And I just needed to stop being so uptight, let go of my obsession of what others thought of me, and show Christ's love to my guests by opening my imperfect home and family up to them.

If we live in the "entertaining" state of mind, we'll eventually become burnt-out. Entertaining puts a lot of pressure and high expectations on us since it's all about how we can impress our guests.

Living in the "hospitality" state of mind permits us to take it easy. Sure it's fun to set a nice table and it's certainly okay to pay attention to the details and make things special. But these things are not the most important things, and they should be done to make our guests feel special and cared for.

I've been the "have guests to impress" gal. And I'm glad I don't have to go there anymore. And, trust me, you're not going to offend your guests with your relaxed approach (and if you do, then they're in the wrong, not you), but, rather, I think you'll make them comfortable knowing that you're not perfect either.

Think of it this way: If you're always going over the top when you have guests over and everything is always as close to perfect as possible, don't you think your guests are going to feel intimidated with the thought of having you to their home, feeling that it would be pretty hard to live up to your performance? I've been there.

Now, for those of us who enjoy adding special touches and details to our meals and such, that's okay too. I'm one of those gals. But our intention in doing this should be in making our guests feel important and special, not making ourselves look good. I have a wonderful friend who is a natural at adding details to her meals that always make me feel special and at-home at her home. That's great. That's okay. And I actually plan on sharing some of the things I do to add a special touch. However, it's important to remember that these are not necessary to practice hospitality and should never come before simply welcoming our guests and showing love to them.

Blessings to you all! You're truly a blessing to me, and I pray that you always feel welcome here!


Anonymous said...

GREAT post - it really should be about the guests and not us. I tend to naturally be a neat freak every day but God forbid I should not invite someone into my home because it's not picked up when they arrive at my door unexpectantly. I'm still a work in progress! I'm looking forward to further posts!

Monica said...

I too feel much more at ease with hospitality over entertainment!

Mandy said...

I can't tell you how many times I have stressed over perfection when planning an event in our home. I end up exhausted and not able to enjoy our guests.

I'm trying hard to change those old habits!

Masumi said...

This really is a great post, and you were able to express the differences between entertaining and hospitality so well. This is a great reminder for me to just lighten up and have people to my house more often because it's the company of others that is the true blessing. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Lovely post! I'm an introverted gal myself...putting myself "out there" is difficult for me. I love to have company, but find myself apologizing for things that are out of my control (example~ paneling or wallpaper that I haven't had the money or time to update) even when my house is tidy!! So even thou I love company I find it exhausting. I never expect others to be perfect so why put so much pressure on myself. Thanks for the reminder!

Mom and Loving It! said...

Love this post. Early in my marriage I was scared to death to have anyone over bc we weren't the neatest of people. Now, even if we have to do a quick pick-up just so I'm not distracted by the mess, it's much easier for me to be comfortable enjoying the people rather than the place.

Mom and Loving It! said...

Love this post. Early in my marriage I was scared to death to have anyone over bc we weren't the neatest of people. Now, even if we have to do a quick pick-up just so I'm not distracted by the mess, it's much easier for me to be comfortable enjoying the people rather than the place.

Marilyn Friesen said...

We run a bed and breakfast so I am paid to have an immaculate house which is exhausting but even if I don't quite get there before my guests arrive I love to shed all the stress and get to know my new found friends. It is so worth it! P.S. we have such a great time I sometimes wonder if they ever notice that our home is kinda old and shabby.