(Less Than) Extravagant Hospitality

I often find myself reading books on friendship and hospitality, wondering where and how to start drawing people into my life. I want to show myself friendly. I want to have a home with an open door policy where people know they are welcome at any time.

This long held desire in my heart led me to Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes with a House Key. I would love to have a conversation with Rosaria. I would love to show up on her doorstep and be invited in for some of that hospitality she so freely offers. I would love to hear more of her story than what she offers in these pages. I would love to pepper her with my “but how?” questions and have her tell me to quit being so focused on the big picture and just start small.

I think if I met Rosaria Butterfield she would laugh at me the way I laughed at myself upon finishing her book last night. I finished it with a dozen questions, my mind racing and wondering how to become the kind of home Rosaria writes of in those pages. How do I live in such a way that people can show up as they please and find that I am prepared for when they do?

The laugh came when I suddenly realized there had been eight extra people at my breakfast table that morning. My house had that recently been full of humans and I still questioned my hospitality. Do house guests count when the majority of them share DNA with your husband? Because apparently I’m not convinced they do.

So here I sit with this epiphany that all these years I have felt like I wasn’t doing enough are because I’m viewing hospitality as some extravagant gesture that encompasses the masses rather than the consistent fellowship of a few. In light of this revelation, I started combing through the archives of my mind for past attempts at hospitality.

I thought I failed at hospitality when my weekly game nights fizzled out after the first few months, as if it hardly counted that one of those guests continued to show up every Tuesday evening for the next two years.

I thought I failed at hospitality because I only talked to my neighbors in passing, never giving myself credit for learning the names of every resident in the seven apartments closest to mine.

I thought I failed at hospitality because I have yet to invite my neighbor into my home, despite having his birthday recorded on my calendar.

Names and birthdays. Two very small things. Hardly feels like hospitality. But what is hospitality?

Hospitality: the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers

Honestly, greeting someone with a smile seems like a pretty generous reception these days. It’s so rare to encounter another human who appears genuinely delighted to see you.

The hardest part of engaging in hospitality in modern day America is that the grand gestures of hospitality are counter-cultural. We are not taught to live in community. We are not conditioned to rely on our neighbors. In fact, we are conditioned not to. We don’t want to intrude. We don’t want to be a burden. Our neighbors have lives and they should be left alone to live them.

But I don’t want to be left alone. Not really.

Which begs the question: Is that really what your neighbors want from you? Perhaps some of them do, but perhaps some of them would readily step into that invitation. And perhaps some of them need to be invited more than once before they learn to accept it.

I may be an introvert, but it is still a rare day that I feel burdened by people stopping by. And on those days, it is rarely the fault of the company. Some days we exceed our limits. (Some days the baby has been excessively clingy and Mommy didn’t get her quiet time.) But I still love having an open door policy. I still love living a hospitable life.

We are not made to live in such small, isolated little circles. We need to grow those circles. We need to expand our hearts and let others into our homes.

Hospitality does not have to be a grand gesture. It is the mere welcoming of people into your daily life and ordinary routine. It’s saying, “I saw this and it reminded me of you.” Or, “We’re eating soon, and there’s enough if you’d like to join us.”

Hospitality can be less than extravagant. In fact, most people probably prefer it that way.

As Rosaria Butterfield writes: “Start anywhere. But do start.”

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