It's important to remember that we all experience seasons of life, which change as we age and our responsibilities shift. There will be times in our lives, like before children or after our children are grown and out on there own, when we will have more time to devote to entertaining our friends, family, and strangers. A busy mom with young children is often overwhelmed by the thought of having visitors into her home frequently because she often sees it as being more work and preparation, which it is.
And God knows all of this. He wouldn't want us to sacrifice our family at the expense of being hospitable to others. That would be hypocrisy, wouldn't it? And it would no longer be Biblical.
So we should really start by showing hospitality to our immediate family - our husband and our children. If it ever comes to the point where we are putting others ahead of our family, we are setting ourselves up for a bitter husband and bitter children who view hospitality as a burden rather than a blessing.
So we must approach this with discernment and balance. Depending on what season of our life we are in will determine how often and in what ways we practice hospitality in our home. Since practicing hospitality is a command, not an option, it must be done.
As previously discussed, hospitality doesn't only take place in our homes, however, our homes are our most useful and easily accessible tool to use in showing hospitality to others. It is our domain, where we are real and most comfortable. We have control over the environment of our home to make it a peaceful haven for our guests. And we should be prepared and willing to use it as such. But never at the expense of our family.
Why is it that I can find it so much easier to show hospitality and kindness to friends, extended family, and even strangers than I can my own husband and children? Why save the special things for entertaining times rather than everyday moments? What is this saying to our family if we only serve the best or act the best when we have guests?
We must put our family first or our practice of hospitality to extend God's love to others will be in vain. If we neglect our children or our spouse for the sake of having guests in frequently, then we are harming our family unit. The family unit needs time of peace and respite to come together again and rebond.
So we must wisely put boundaries up around our family. It's good for others to know that we have an "open door", but it's also good for them to know that sometimes it's shut and locked in order for the family unit to recuperate and strengthen. We cannot serve as a unit if the unit is distant, weak, and exhausted. The unit needs time to refocus and regroup.
So what are some ways we can practice hospitality with our immediate family, our spouses and children?
Here are some ideas...
1. Let your children request their favorite meal ocassionally. I try to do this on my kids' and husband's birthdays. I'll ask them what main dish and dessert they would like, and then that's what I make for dinner that night.
2. Set the table. Buffet style is okay every now and then, but there's nothing quite as comforting as coming to a freshly set table with steaming platters of yummy food. I always light candles during the cooler months. When it darkens early, it's nice to have the warmth of candlelight warming our little space at the dinner table, and the kids have really come to love this little practice!
3. Every now and then, go all out and set a fancy table with linen napkins, your good dishes, and nice glasses. These niceties do not have to be saved for holidays or special occasions. I posted a while back about how I moved all of my white dishes (that were originally only used for Christmas) up to my pantry so I would have easier access to them and, therefore, use them more often.
Cloth napkins add a special touch as well. I try not to buy paper napkins, both for the financial aspect as well as the paper-waste aspect. I have collected fabric napkins over the last several years through clearance sales at department stores, estate sales, and second-hand shops. You can also easily make your own by cutting up a large sheet and hemming the edges. It doesn't have to be fancy or expensive. Special does not always have to translate into costly.
4. We should make our home warm and cozy for our family. A haven from the blows and difficulties they face out in the world. What can you do to make your home feel welcoming to your husband and children? Light candles, play nice relaxing musical (I like to play classical or instrumental hymns), use low light in the evenings to make it cozy, keep comfy pillows and warm, cuddly blankets for your loved ones to cuddle up under.
5. Listen to your spouse and children. This is hard for me, especially with my kids. I have the tendency to half-listen when my kids are talking to me, especially if I'm in the middle of a task. I definitely need the Lord's strength to give my full attention when they talk to me. Just as I would want a guest to know that I was interested in what they had to say, I should also want for my spouse and children to feel the same.
6. Plan fun activities every now and then. This doesn't have to be anything spectacular. We often enjoy family game night during the cooler months and picnics and bike rides during the warmer months. The important thing is that everyone is together and having a good time.
7. Establish some fun family traditions. Traditions are important in a family. Much could be written about this topic and its importance in a healthy Christian family. However, I will say that traditions are a great way to establish unity and a sense of belonging in a family. Our family has established and practiced several different traditions in the eleven years we have been married. I have a friend whose family celebrates the start of the weekend each Friday evening with pizza and a movie. Sometimes they make homemade pizza, but on days when she's been particularly busy, they'll order takeout. No stress, just a constant that their children look forward to each week. Traditions bond families together.
8. What is one of our main priorities when having company? Okay, besides figuring out what we're going to serve them, we all think about when we're going to clean before they get there. We should also strive to keep our home in order and uncluttered (as much as we can) not only for our guests, but also for our family who lives there every day. I'm not talking perfect. I'm talking comfortable, lived-in, and neat. It is hard to have peace in an overly cluttered or dirty home. How can one really rest in that kind of environment?
9. When you are having guests to your home, include your spouse and children in the preparations. Even the littlest children can help prepare by setting the table or mixing ingredients together. Not only does this make them feel special to be included in the prepartions, but it's also teaching and preparing them to be hospitable when they get older.
10. Have an impromptu afternoon tea, serving hot tea (or icy cold), scones (or Nilla wafers, if you want to keep it quick and simple) and maybe some finger sandwiches. Girls would especially love this! Serve everything on a nice white platter. Buy some sugar cubes to make it extra special (sometimes the little details make the difference). You could even set the table with a tablecloth and some fresh wildflowers from the field.
So I hope that you can see why it is most important to be hospitable to our family first and then to our friends and strangers. We cannot effectively serve God effectively in our homes if we are setting up bitterness in our family members' hearts because they feel second-rate and neglected. This is definitely something that I need to work on. It's so much easier and exciting to show kindness and special attention to my guests than it is to my children. I pray that I would do better at that. The last thing I want to do is to lead my children unto bitterness.
Lord, help us to serve You, then our families, then others. That is what You desire. Help us to be gracious for our current seasons of life. I pray that we (myself included) would not see my young children as hindrances to practicing hospitality, but I pray, rather, that You would help me to enjoy showering them with Your love and kindness just as I do my houseguests. Help me to be attentive to them and their needs. I pray for Your strength to model Biblical hospitality to my spouse and children. Lord, it would be horrible to know that they look upon me as being a hypocrite. Give me discernment to keep balance in our home so that it may be a place of rest and peace to my family as well as those You send our way, so that we can then serve You in unity and love. In Your Son's name I pray, Amen.