It is so very easy to make hospitality about us. As a recovering perfectionist/people pleaser, I am especially aware of my proclivity to let hospitality be a vehicle for improving my reputation, even if it’s just my reputation with myself, instead of a self-less act of service towards others.
But God is so faithful, and for each and everyone of us who are tempted in this area, he has provided a challenge and a heart check: to examine whether or not we are offering hospitality first and foremost to those with whom we share our home.
Now if you have small children like I do, then you’ll know that there is likely no place where your hospitality is appreciated less, then in the minds of your own children. They complain about the dinner you made, they don’t notice the work you put into keeping the house neat and tidy, and they could care less if you decorate the table to make the evening feel special. But even if you don’t have small kids, this can still be true. If your kids are older, or if it’s just you and your husband, or if you live with roommates; inevitably the mundane tasks we do everyday, are more likely to be overlooked by those who enjoy the benefit of them.
It’s not a slight. It’s not intentional. It’s just the reality.
I’ll tell you a funny story to illustrate this point. When my husband and I were first married, he wasn’t exactly the best at putting things away when he was done with them. I mean, compared to me, (a not-yet-recovering-perfectionistic-clean-freak) he was SUPER messy. And because I was also a clean freak AND a conflict avoid-er, I just picked up after him for the majority of our first year, too afraid to make waves in my new marriage. Which was probably just as well since these things weren’t exactly a hill to die on.
So there I was one day, sitting on our 70’s rust orange sectional, furiously typing away on a paper due the next day, when I hear my husband calling to me from the bedroom.
“HONEY? Do you know where my pajama pants are??”
“UMMM, how about where you left them!?!” I holler back.
And sure enough, there they were, on the left-hand side of our bed, crumpled in a ball on the floor. And he couldn’t find them because for the past year they had been *magically* folding themselves and ending up back in his drawer.
See what I’m talking about? Maybe you have a story like that. It’s nothing malicious, nothing malevolent. But every home has its comfortable ruts where we run our wheels all the time, and these daily acts of service can become expected. And where things are expected, they are less likely to be appreciated. And when you realize you aren’t exactly being appreciated for all these tasks, it can be tempting at times to want to remind them how much work you do for them by, *ahem* not doing it for awhile.
Believe you me, I have fallen into that trap on more than one occasion. For this stay at home Mama, it’s been a seven year journey to figure out how to serve my family without having my own unwritten mental requirement that my work be noticed or appreciated by those I am serving.
It can be so easy for me to become bitter about my unseen work. Not that its inherently wrong to want affirmation for your work, everyone wants to know that what they are doing is meaningful and important and it’s important to communicate our emotional needs to those that live in close proximity to us. But I have learned for myself that when I start to have bitter thoughts about my work and appreciation, or lack thereof, it’s pretty much always a sign that I have been doing this work with wrong motives. And knowing me, I was probably also trying to hammer it out with my own fleshly energies instead of by the power of the Holy Spirit.
When I care more about being noticed and appreciated then I do about serving my family, then I know I’ve got something sideways.
When I think others should be going out of their way to do things for me just because I am doing things for them, then I am no longer doing it for self-less motives.
When I refuse to extend hospitality to my family, and then warmly offer it to others, I am the worst kind of hypocrite.
So I would challenge you that when, or if, that appreciation comes, it is better for all the hearts involved if it comes as an unexpected blessing, instead of as a strict requirement.
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c]being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Phillipans 2:3-11, emphasis mine)
I can never humble myself more than God himself humbled himself on my behalf. I can never go so low that I have succeeded in descending further than Christ has. I can never serve others more, or empty myself for others more, than Christ has already emptied himself for my sake.
He is not removed from my experience of washing dishes for thankless little people; he himself died for the very people that nailed him to that cross, and yet he counted it all joy.
It’s the upside-down economy of the Kingdom of Heaven. The first shall be last, the last shall be first. The foolish shall be wise, and the wise deemed foolish. The one who wishes to be greatest in the Kingdom, should become the servant of all.
So think of extending hospitality to your family as a litmus test for your heart, and use these questions to guide your introspection:
-Are you really interested in serving the needs of others, and not in the praise and recognition that it may bring?
-Are you really invested in doing good for the Kingdom with small acts of faithfulness, and not big acts that serve to draw attention to yourself?
-Are you keeping what you do with your right hand a secret from your left when you serve? Are you content to serve in secret and unseen ways?
-Are you serving God by taking good care of those with whom he has entrusted you, or are you serving yourself by conveniently looking like you are serving God?
Think about the last time you did the dishes. Or think about the work you have to do tonight in preparing food for your family, the laundry, the cleaning, etc; what do you feel in your heart when you think of these things? Take some time today to get alone with God and ask him to search out the heart motives behind your hospitality. And when he reveals that to you, ask him to help you to honor Him as you move into the quiet and unseen places where your service is valuable, needed, though seldom recognized by others.
After all, it was His great love that came down and breathed in our dust and healed our diseases and bound up our broken hearts, and saved us from the power and the penalty of our own sinfulness. Only His love is enough to break through any cage of selfishness around our hearts. He is a God of freedom, and is forever about freeing us to do well the tasks he has set before us, for His name’s sake and not our own.
And if you know Jesus, then the same power that raised Him from the dead lives in you, to will and to work for His good pleasure. He will give you what you need, to make your hospitality not confined to those things seen and appreciate by other people, but instead to be those things which He most values: The small. The seemingly insignificant. The overlooked. The endless wiping of the counters and the endless washing of the laundry and each and every cup of water given in his name.
He sees you. He knows you. He loves you. Everything you do today to offer hospitality to those closest to you is part of the good work that he has called you to do with your life. Embrace it.
I’ll close with a quote from Ann Voskamp in her latest book The Broken Way;
“You do something great with your life when you do all the small things with His great love.”
When you head home from work today, or when you look up from this blog post at the end of nap time, I hope you feel encouraged. None of us can do this on our own, in our own power we are simply law followers who will fail and could never earn grace. But through the Cross, Jesus gives us his righteousness like only he can; and he shows us his gentle ways, and He will complete the good work He began in you.