The Spiritual Discipline of Making Room

Last night there were twenty people in my average-sized house.  It was a festive occasion — my daughter-in-love’s birthday — so we gathered the in-laws and the out-laws for giant subs, iced tea, and birthday cake.  As usual, once the crowd arrived, I was elated that we had made the effort to host the gathering, but all day long my stomach had been in a knot, and the length of the do-list had far outpaced the number of triumphant check marks.  Practicing the spiritual discipline of hospitality is both a risk and a joy, but I want to keep saying “yes” to God in this area, because when I open my home to others, my heart expands too.

Food preparation and clean-up run like a perpetual conveyor belt through my kitchen and through my life.  Yesterday, feeling overwhelmed as I gathered chairs from the far corners of the house and rearranged the dining room for a buffet, I fretted, “Why do I take on these assignments?  My house is never as clean as it should be!  I don’t have time for fancy menus . . .”   Feeling and sounding a lot like Martha of Bethany (Lazarus and Mary’s overwhelmed sister), I realized that I was overlooking a far better role model in the Old Testament.  We don’t usually consult Nehemiah for lessons in hospitality — he’s the guy we look to when it’s time to expand the church’s facility or to take on a project that requires delegation and team work.  However, in Nehemiah 5, he confides to his journal that throughout the course of his twelve year term as governor, he regularly hosted “one hundred and fifty Jews and rulers, besides those who came to [him] from the nations around [him].”  Nehemiah’s table was a metaphor for Nehemiah’s heart.  His fear of God (5:15) spilled over into a love for God’s people.  He made room for them at his table; he expanded the boundaries of his life to welcome them into his schedule.

Elisabeth Elliot, author and missionary, attributes her own vision for seeking the kingdom of God to her mother’s hospitable home.  She and her siblings were privileged to “meet Christian men and women from all walks of life, to hear firsthand their stories of the faithfulness of God, and to enjoy the privilege of asking them questions.”  In The Shaping of a Christian Home, she recalls Depression-era frugality alongside open-handed hospitality, and “if things were not perfect, [Mother] trusted friends to understand without making a fuss for the sake of her pride.”  Herein lies the challenge:  if my home cannot be “Pinterest perfect,” am I willing to open my doors anyway?  As usual, the real discipline shows up in motives and attitudes.  I Peter 4:9 sifts mine:

“Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.”

Strictly speaking, my birthday bash for twenty did not meet the definition for “hospitality,” because the Greek philonexia means, literally, to entertain strangers.  The guest list for Nehemiah’s table was much broader than mine, and his provision for the needy remnant in Jerusalem is the same brand of faith-expressed-in-works that I recall from The Hiding Place in which Corrie ten Boom, faced with the plight of God’s people under the Nazi regime in Holland, prayed, “I offer myself for your people — any way, any time, any place.”

Hospitality is a spiritual discipline in which I trust God for the ability to pour myself out for the comfort and the needs of others.  Paul’s letter to the Philippians encourages me that the sacrifice of love, offered freely, is a lovely fragrance that pleases the heart of God, (Philippians 4:18) — even more than the scented candles that I forgot to light last night in all the flurry of preparation.  True hospitality is more than food.  It is more than space and table settings and the perfect menu.  The spiritual discipline of hospitality is the practice of making room in my schedule, in my home, in my budget, and — most challenging of all — in my heart for the people that God chooses to bring into my life.

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Published by

Michele Morin

I am a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. I have been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 27 years, and our four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Nonetheless, two teens still remain at home, and along with an incorrigible St. Bernard, we laugh, make messes, clean them up, and then start all over again. I love hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop me in my tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. I lament biblical illiteracy and advocate for the prudent use of "little minutes." I blog at Living Our Days because "the way I live my days will be, after all, the way I live my life." You can connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

25 thoughts on “The Spiritual Discipline of Making Room”

  1. Oh how the rise of “Pinterest Perfect” has so negatively affected us imperfect homemakers. I’m really working on my hospitality attitude lately. I used to hate having people over. For the past year or so we have hosted a group of people from church. It has really helped me. Each week I let the house be a little less perfect and focus more on the guests. Thank you for this awesome reminder of why hospitality is so important!

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    1. Agreed. “Pinterest Perfect” is poison to me. I can’t look at too many of those perfectly decorated rooms without just sort of staring in despair at my home, covered in toddler toys and with furniture that not only doesn’t match but is mostly hand-me-down still.

      My in-laws come over each week or so now to have dinner with us and our little girl, and it’s been so good for helping me keep up a certain level of cleanliness. And I’m learning, every week it happens, to stress about it a little bit less.

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  2. What an encouraging reminder to practice the gift of communing together to share His love in all the beautiful ways He equips us to do so. Thank you! 🙂 I was reminded to host some friends this morning and your words confirmed the gentle nudge already on my heart.

    Blessings,
    Dawn

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  3. What a wonderful reflection on the spiritual discipline of hospitality. I sometimes struggle with this, or make excuses that hospitality “is just not my gift”. But we are all called to love one another – and as you wisely pointed out, hospitality is really just making room in our hearts for loving others. I needed the reminder. Thank you.
    Blessings,
    Kamea

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  4. I have a tendency to expect perfection prior to entertaining, but I am realizing that I have a finite amount of capacity. If I spend it all on making sure my house looks great, I have nothing to fuel the energy of my heart, which is what I really want to give anyway.

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  5. Hospitality is a challenge for me for many different reasons. I do find there is a lot of benefit from opening my home, but due to chronic health problems there is a high price as well. God has called us to welcome in those around us, and perhaps my expectations are too high, and I need to be ok with the house not being ‘just right’ but rather being open to whomever the Lord brings my way. Thank you for sharing. Stopping by from the Linkup.

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  6. Wow. Thank you for this. The Lord has been really dealing with me about hospitality lately. I love having people over – but yet through the stress of setup I often find myself complaining – if to no one but myself. This was perfect for me. God bless! (And thanks for sharing at Motivate and Rejuvenate!)

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  7. I so appreciate your heart here! God has taught me about the importance of hospitality, too. I’m an introvert, so hospitality isn’t my natural inclination; I would likely be a hermit without the influence of my husband, a social butterfly! 🙂 You’re wise to point out the pitfalls of pride – I think this is the number one obstacle to our hospitality. And oh, the rich fellowship and ministry we forfeit when we allow pride to interfere with opening our homes to others! Thank you for linking up with us at Grace & Truth!

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  8. I have tried to be hospitable most of my life, learning from my mom who welcomed people into our home. I still struggle sometimes with my house not being very neat and in disrepair, but when I choose not to worry about that and have people anyway, we are all blessed. I’m not saying we shouldn’t prepare, but when the preparation causes us to grumble and be upset when everything doesn’t get done, then we aren’t being very hospitable. We can even make our guests feel uncomfortable by our complaining and apologizing. I think you summarize it well here; “The spiritual discipline of hospitality is the practice of making room in my schedule, in my home, in my budget, and — most challenging of all — in my heart for the people that God chooses to bring into my life.”

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    1. I’m with you in the struggle, and have found over the years that what God wants is our willingness, our availability. I’ve always said that if I wait until my house is perfect to start inviting people in . . . well, I’d still be waiting. So, yes, open the doors wide, put lots of food on the table and love your guests. Ask them questions, be interested in their responses. They won’t care that I missed a clump of dog hair when I vacuumed.
      Blessings, Gayl!

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  9. Convicting and beautiful: “Nehemiah’s table was a metaphor for Nehemiah’s heart.” Do you think everyone’s table could be different too? Hospitality and community and fellowship lived out in different ways for each of us?

    This was a thought-provoking piece for me. Thanks, Michele.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Michele, I love this: “Practicing the spiritual discipline of hospitality is both a risk and a joy.” Yes, yes it is. Thank you for your clear writing, your honest heart and leading us all into thinking more fully what hospitality really is.

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    1. Thanks, Ashley. I’ve struggled with it over the years, because, honestly, my house and I are never in synch with what I picture as being “gracious” or “inviting,” but we are certainly “relaxed” around here, and maybe that’s better in the long run.

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  11. Michele, I’m a little late to the table, but I’m here. I appreciate you laying out the manna in sweet bites: the desert from Corrie ten Boome will stay with me for awhile. I remember the way she and her family open their table to strangers and in the sharing changed lives. May we all have the heart, as you do in hospitality whenever, where ever and whatever. Thanks for your instructive and wise voice on The Loft.

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  12. Your last line sums it up so well: “The spiritual discipline of hospitality is the practice of making room in my schedule, in my home, in my budget, and — most challenging of all — in my heart for the people that God chooses to bring into my life.”

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful – and challenging – piece at the Loft today. You’re stretching me -as always!

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    1. I really needed to re-read these words that I wrote a while ago, because we’re in the midst of a heavy-hospitality season right now. All a joy and a delight — but then, I’m so selfish . . .
      Thanks be to God that He keeps bringing the people and enlarging my heart.

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  13. Wow, Michele, I can so relate to you. And I don’t think my hosting would always fall under the category of hospitality either. I do love to have people in our home, though. As I think about going to homes of my friends, it is the ones that just stop what they are doing and fully engage in the visit that bless me the most. Thank you for sharing.

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