Hospitality: Let Another Serve


So, I have a confession to make when it comes to hospitality. Those of you close to me probably already knew this, and it probably irritated you a little. Or a lot, depending on the circumstances.

I’m a bit of a martyr.

A church pot luck? If you ask me to sign-up for two dishes, I sign up for three and end up bringing four--just in case… Dinner at my house? Expect meat, three sides, rolls, several drink options, and dessert(s). And that’s when I’m rushed. Dinner at your house? I’ll show up with something, even if you assured me it wasn’t necessary.

I’ve always rationalized it by saying that I’m preparing for the “just in case.” Just in case, there isn’t enough food, just in case of allergies, just in case something goes wrong. Just in case. And while there’s nothing wrong with expecting the unexpected, I think that what I've really been doing is setting myself up to be the hero. If there is a lack of food, I’ll come to the rescue with my extra casserole and look down at my shoes very humbly and demurely say, “Oh, I just like to cook.”

And in the end, my “hospitality” can have less to do with others’ needs and more to do with mine. It’s hard for me to let someone else take the reigns. It’s hard to trust that everyone will do their part. It’s hard not to be the messiah.

Maybe you don’t struggle exactly this way. But I’d venture that if you’re human, you still find it difficult to graciously accept hospitality. Like a friend said to me a couple of months ago: “You know, I really appreciate other people helping us out, but I just get tired of being on the receiving end.”

The difficulty for most of us stems from our residual need to prove our worth.  Whether we like it or not, we humans keep score—even in our good works—and when we fall behind, or perceive that we’re falling behind, we naturally want to prove our value and our ability to contribute. It’s not that we mind other people being gracious to us as long as we can eventually even the score. Errr,…. I mean “return the favor.” But when we can’t, when we’re not on the giving end, grace can actually begin to feel like a burden.

But what if, like most things, we’ve got it wrong? What if we were never meant to be the hero? What if being a guest was just as much an act of hospitality as being host?  Because what if God not only modeled for us how to graciously give but how to graciously receive as well?

Think about it. Whenever God took on human form, you find Him in the most unexpected places. He’s not sitting on a throne, distributing his wealth, or bringing about world peace. No, often the King of the universe has strategically placed Himself in a position to be ministered to. Whether it’s through Abraham and Sarah in a dusty tent alongside the road or through Mary and Martha in the quiet refuge of their Bethany home, our God has made a point to teach us how to accept hospitality.

By humbling Himself to be a guest, He reminded us that receiving grace from another person is as much a part of the gospel as extending it. Perhaps more.

Because the reality is, when it comes to the gospel, none of us bring anything to the table, and none us of are meant to be the hero. The reality is that at that great final feast, at that long-awaited, heavenly wedding reception, we won’t even get to bring a side dish. All we are expected to do is respond to His invitation, wear our best clothes, and celebrate.

So maybe as much as hospitality means extending ourselves, it also means being a gracious guest and letting someone else serve. It means learning to humble ourselves, learning to relinquish our need to control, learning to be honestly grateful, and learning to follow our Host’s example. And it also means realizing that learning it now in this life is simply practice for the next.