5 Ways Hospitality Helps Us Practice Holiness

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Hospitality is holiness lived out in practicality. It is the pillow, the food and drink, and the hot shower of our practical love. The spiritual is practical. The practical is spiritual.

The Holy Trinity is a mystery to me, with its three in oneness and its oneness in three, and I can just barely grasp the deep relational nature of how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit touch and spin and dance off each other and with each other. Hospitality—that generous making room for others and giving and receiving to and from each other from our plenty and sometimes from our scarcity but we do it anyway—seems to flow out of that communal and relational and so generous nature of God. Being holy as God is holy, if we can believe it, catapults us into relationship with others and the practice of hospitality. Holiness is relational, and that is why hospitality fits holiness like a soft leather glove.

Hospitality involves the holy practice of gratitude.

All of this is made easier alongside the holy practice of gratitude. I have this place, this food, this book; please take it and enjoy it as well. We try to believe that everything we have comes from God, and so it is ours not to own but to share. So hospitality is almost always best when it is gratitude adjacent. However, the discipline of hospitality can happen also while you are still a grouchy, miserly mess. Disciplines take discipline. Not everything is easy or feels good right away, but that might mean it’s even more worth doing, and not less.

Hospitality invites humility.

In Luke 14:12-14, Jesus tells us how to throw a dinner party. Dinner parties are, after all, what most of us think of first when we think about hospitality: “‘When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,’ he said, ‘don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.’” In 14:8-10, he even discusses seating plans: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. . . . Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table.”

Jesus knows me so well. He predicts my thirst for status. When we practice hospitality as part of our holiness, we will come face-to-face with our desire to invite first our friends, the people we especially like or those whom we want to especially like us, along with the relatives we are most comfortable with, and, of course, our rich neighbors. We might strut around like a peacock in our own dining room and not even realize we are doing it. Again, our intentional moves toward holiness will show us how far we have yet to travel. Our efforts to do good on the outside will show us how far we are from good on the inside, and in that gap, we learn again of our need for the forgiving, restoring love of God in our own lives and hearts, and how much we need him, even when we are serving macaroni to friends.

We learn something about ourselves—and therefore move deeper into our holiness journeys—when we pay attention to whom we want to welcome in and how we want to welcome them to our homes, our tables, and our lives.

Hospitality helps us to examine our hidden motivations.

As we consider ourselves, we can confess ourselves to God and ask for help. Why am I making this so fancy? we can ask our inner hostess, in an examination of motivation that is a daily part of pushing into our holiness. What is my motivation? Also, Why am I talking about myself so much? And why can’t I stop?

Our honest answers do not bring the dinner party, the coffee date, or the open house to a screeching halt, but instead provide us another opportunity to be honest with ourselves and with God— who is the ultimate and gracious host of heaven and earth now and the new earth that is to come. Make me holy in my hospitality, we might pray. Kill off my show-off-ness, we might ask. Help me listen more than I speak, as my blunt spouse has said I need to work on.

Help me not to be so needy, I can pray as I juice blood oranges for udon noodles with fried tofu and orange nam jim from my expensive hardcover Ottolenghi Flavour cookbook propped open on the counter. Perhaps for a little while, as part of our own healing, we will make a simple spaghetti Bolognese, accept the offer of our guest to bring store-bought garlic bread and let Maureen help with the cleanup, like she always wants to do. We will resist the temptation to offer our guests a tour of our new barbeque and satisfy our thirst for thanks by turning it outward to gratitude to God. What if whenever we yearn for someone to say, “Thank you, you are marvelous for all you have done,” we accept that as a prompt to whisper, “Thank You. You are marvelous for all You have done.”

Hospitality exercises a variety of spiritual disciplines.

Food is just one expression of hospitality. Conversation is another. When we practice holiness through hospitality, we create a space in which other pursuits of holiness can be practiced, such as listening well and not interrupting, putting others first, and offering encouragement and companionship to the person God has placed and we have invited in front of us. From the way Jesus tells us to invite, and the humility presumed in his recommended seating plan, we can assume that we don’t invite people to our table so we can imprison them to hear all and only about us. We don’t tie them to their chairs with our story and our glory.

We can stretch our ability to put others first, and to forgive.

We can practice patience, a fruit of the Spirit we get to work with, toward friends who arrive late (or even worse, early) and those who stay too long. We practice not biting off the heads of those with whom we disagree. If we do bite their heads off at dinner, we can practice the art of unequivocal apology. Apologizing is a holy act. I’m sorry are holy, healing words. Through hospitality’s gift of space opened up and time slowed down, we can “be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep,” which Paul told us to do only two verses after he reminded us to “always be eager to practice hospitality” in Romans 12:13-15.

Read the first chapter here.

Karen Stiller

Karen Stiller is author of Holiness Here: Searching for God in the Ordinary Events of Everyday Life. She is senior editor of Faith Today magazine and writes frequently for magazines like Reader’s DigestEkstasisIn Trust, and other publications across North America. Stiller is a three-time winner of the prestigious A.C. Forrest Memorial Award from the Canadian Church Press for excellence in socially conscious religious journalism. Other books by Karen include The Minister’s Wife; Craft, Cost & Call (co-author); Shifting Stats Shaking the Church; and Going Missional; The Lord’s Prayer(editor) and Evangelicals Around the World (coeditor). She lives in Ottawa and has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Non-Fiction from University of King’s College, Dalhousie.

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