My youngest son’s 2nd birthday is this week. Normally I’d be in the middle of finalizing all the birthday party details, doing what cooking prep-work could be done, getting the proper groceries, making a pinata (if I had waited this long to make it!), etc. But this morning my mother asked me what we are doing for his birthday and I don’t even have a plan! There will be no party, beyond immediate family and grandparents. There will be no party favors or pinatas or screaming children in my house (except for my own). It feels weird, but after months of not hosting any parties, celebrating with just the ones we live with has become the norm across our country.
Normally in early June I’d be hosting a Ladies Brunch as well. And these last few months have eliminated other typical hospitality gigs like Easter, monthly fellowship breakfasts, a clothing swap party we had scheduled for March, and anything else that would have popped up. Even as things loosen up a bit, there is an air of uncertainty at how to proceed. Not everyone is on the same page about what rules should be followed, and there is a strange mixture of carefree and anxious attitudes about seeing other people.
I have really struggled to wrap my own mind around what my events might look like in the future. Should I stop serving food? Maybe just individual serving-sized portions to limit handling? Have a designated food-server? Limit my guest list? Only have people sit outside? Require masks? Keep hand sanitizer at the front door? Or just put a sign on my door that says “enter at your own risk” and let people figure it out? It honestly feels simpler and safer to just not invite anyone because of all the unknowns.
Has hospitality become a casualty of the pandemic? I cannot quite accept that, although it does feel like hospitality has been given a grim prognosis. But then I remind myself: hospitality is about so much more than the food that is served. Hospitality isn’t about a clean house—it honestly isn’t even about having people over! Hospitality, when stripped to its’ bare bones, is about how you receive the people you encounter.
Think about traditional hospitality. A good host will extend an invitation to get together. Next, the host will observe their guest or guests, trying to determine what they might need. Then, the host will meet what needs they can. That is the entire formula for hospitality! Perhaps an image of a hostess refilling coffee mugs and engaging in uplifting conversation comes to mind, but beneath the surface of those simple acts beats a servant’s heart.
Invite. Observe. Meet needs.
With everything going on in the world right now, you might feel stuck—unable to extend hospitality. But what about this scenario: you can’t stop thinking about a certain friend—they are on your heart. You send a quick text, “Hey thinking about you, how’s it going? Anything you need?”. You’ve just invited that person to engage in conversation with you! After some back and forth, you detect that they are feeling very discouraged and lonely right now. You’ve just observed their needs. You offer encouragement, prayer, or perhaps even pick up the phone and talk to them. You have met the needs that you are able to. This scenario is also a form of hospitality! And you didn’t even need to clean your house and cook a 3 course meal!
Or maybe your neighbor gives birth to a baby. When you see them outside, you ask them how they are really doing, and they feel comfortable telling you about how they are really doing. You already know how tiring it can be to have a newborn, so you cook them a meal or buy a restaurant gift card. This is also showing hospitality, using those same basic 3 steps, and requires no entry to your home. Being approachable and available extends an unspoken invitation for people to feel welcome in your very presence—no house needed!
Don’t get me wrong—I love having people over! I thoroughly enjoy cooking too much food, filling my home with people, and connecting them to one another and to God. I think gathering people together in fellowship is God-honoring and can be used to create community.
But if we limit ourselves to this specific version of what hospitality can look like, we will miss all of the other opportunities we have to show hospitality. There are a lot of people in the world who would love for someone to notice them or remember that they exist. And there are a lot of needs not being met because no one is looking to meet them.
Hosting, and therefore hospitality, is inherently about others. The true host remembers that their ultimate job is focusing on other people, not themselves. So, for us to continue to engage in hospitality, in spite of a pandemic, we must remember to take the focus off of ourselves, and look around at others. Hospitality, in its’ various forms, is a way for us to show Christ’s love and servitude to others.
So, for my parties that have been canceled or have evolved: I can still look for ways to serve and love others. The birthday party that is now an intimate family dinner: it’s a way to build into those individuals at a deeper level than if we had 50 people over. The Ladies Brunch that was canceled: I asked the women to send me encouraging videos that we can use to create a “video brunch”. And with the extra time I have because I’m not preparing for all these other gatherings: I can take the time to reach out to individuals I may not otherwise have talked to. Each opportunity can be redeemed when given to God.
I encourage you to proceed with hospitality despite this pandemic! Be approachable and available—so that people feel their presence or input is desired. Be looking at those around you to see where they may be struggling or needing something. Be a need-meeter—doing what is in your control to do. Be a beacon of the light of Christ’s love in the darkness!
I may not know what my future parties will look like, but I do know the things I can do for others today: taking meals to people, chatting on the front porch, texting or calling people to keep lines of communication open, and being creative in finding new ways to show love to those around me. Or even being approachable and available to the people I already live with. Perhaps hospitality doesn’t need to be salvaged after all. Perhaps we just needed all the excess to be stripped away so that we could remember its’ heart. And the heart of hospitality, when filled with the love of Jesus, can remain strong even during this pandemic.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”1 Peter 4:8-10