The Secrets of Social Grace – Part Two

The Secrets of Social Grace – Part Two

The Art of Hospitality

by Leslie Ludy | November 1, 2010

“...well reported for good works...if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints' feet, if she has relieved the afflicted…”

– 1 Timothy 5:10

“Use hospitality one to another without grudging.”

– 1 Peter 4:9 KJV

My mom grew up in the south. She has an amazing knack for hospitality, because she grew up in a place where genuine hospitality is a way of life. When she receives guests into her home, the environment is peaceful, orderly, and refreshing, with quiet music playing in the background. The table décor is beautiful, with fresh flowers, lovely dishes, candles, and unique seasonal touches. The food is delicious and satisfying, and you always get the feeling that it was especially prepared just for you. And instead of running around distractedly when company shows up, my mom has mastered the art of being prepared by the time her guests arrive, so she can enjoy their fellowship instead of stressing over last minute details. Her seemingly effortless preparations help everyone relax and enjoy themselves to a much greater degree. And whether her guests are close family members, or a family of poor refugees, everyone receives the very same royal treatment. They always feel special, honored, and valued when they are treated to my momʼs marvelous hospitality.

I have not yet quite mastered this level of hospitality in my own home, though I hope to someday! No matter how organized I feel ahead of time, I still find myself rushing around at the last minute, right as people are arriving. And no matter how fool-proof my recipes seem, they hardly ever turn out just right. But even when things donʼt come off perfectly, there is incredible satisfaction in opening my home and welcoming people in – whether they are strangers or close friends. And when we are able to practice hospitality toward people who donʼt otherwise get invited places, itʼs even more fulfilling, because we realize we are making an eternal impact.

True hospitality is a sacred art – the act of sharing what you have with others and opening your home to friends and people in need and blessing them with refreshment and love. Just like etiquette, hospitality is a fading ideal in our modern era. Most young women today are so self-focused that the only time they think of being hospitable is when it somehow benefits them. But Scripture is clear that true hospitality is not having a few friends over every week to hang out and play games or watch movies. Rather, itʼs a demonstration of honor, love, and selflessness. Itʼs an act of “washing the saintsʼ feet” – to refresh, uplift, and strengthen other believers in their faith. Itʼs an opportunity to “lodge strangers” – to share your home and resources with those in need of shelter, food, and love. Itʼs a practical way of “relieving the afflicted” – a decision to put selfish wants aside and pour your time, energy, and focus into those who are lonely, discouraged, sick, or struggling.

Jesus said,

...When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:12-14).

Jesusʼ version of hospitality is quite backwards from our modern thinking. Rather than using hospitality as an opportunity to increase our social status or quell our own desire for friendship, He says to use it as a chance to reach out to the outcasts of society, the ones whom no one else deems valuable. While there is certainly Scriptural endorsement placed upon inviting close friends and family members to be guests in our home, we shouldnʼt stop there. Christ says we are to search out those who are lonely, outcast, and poor, bring them into our homes, and treat them as royalty.

Iʼve spoken with countless missionaries who have been guests in the homes of poor people in other cultures. Often the family has nothing but a meager supply of food, but even if they have to sacrifice their own dinner, they will do whatever it takes to serve a meal to their company and treat them with the utmost honor. Such stories put American Christians to shame. Most of us donʼt know how to treat anyone as more important than ourselves, let alone sacrifice our own food or comforts in order to serve someone we barely know. Itʼs shameful that dirt-poor families around the world can excel at the sacred art of hospitality, and we who have so very much donʼt understand the first thing about how to treat others as royalty.

Hospitality, much like social grace, is a reflection of true, Christ-shaped femininity. When a young womanʼs focus is not on herself, but on serving, honoring and blessing those in need, hospitality is the natural byproduct.

Here are two practical ways to begin:

Become a Peaceful Meadow

You donʼt have to have your own home to excel in the sacred art of hospitality. When I was sixteen, I received a card that artistically described the “spiritual meaning” of my name: Leslie: peaceful meadow. The definition of a “peaceful meadow” was a place where others could come and find rest and refreshment. I felt that God was reminding me, through that simple definition, that my life was meant to be a place of peace and refreshment for others. As I learned to invest in othersʼ lives, listen to their stories, pray with them, and spend time with them, I discovered what it meant to be a meadow where people could be refreshed. As Iʼve grown older, itʼs my goal to be a peaceful meadow through all that I do (my writing, my friendships, my music, my home, etc.). To me, thatʼs the sacred art of hospitality in a nutshell.

Itʼs not an art I always excel at. When I am going through extra-busy seasons or feeling stressed, hospitality quickly falls by the wayside. In our American culture, itʼs all too easy to get caught up in our own little busy world and forget to open our lives, hearts, and homes to others. Time and time again, Godʼs Spirit has gently reminded me that when I make sacred hospitality a priority, I am valuing what He values and honoring Him.

Make Your Space a Welcoming Haven

I remember visiting a missionary training college, where two young women were living in a small hotel-style room on the campus. Rather than keeping their room cold and impersonal, they added some simple touches, and transformed their room into a restful haven for all who entered. They placed a cozy rocking chair in one corner. They positioned a vase with fresh flowers on the dresser. They added some handmade pillows to their hotel beds. And they hung their favorite photos in frames on the wall. Everyone who came into their “home” felt welcomed and refreshed, and quickly forgot that they were sitting in a cramped hotel room.

Iʼll never forget reading the story of Betsy ten Boom, when she and her sister Corrie were first put into prison for hiding Jews in their home during the Nazi invasion. The prison was filthy, dark, rancid and overcrowded with despairing, sick, miserable women. Corrie and Betsy were separated into different cells, and Corrie spent many days wondering how Betsy – who loved beauty, flowers, and sunshine – was fairing in such a destitute, ugly place. Betsy had always had a gift for making things beautiful and creating beauty all around her, no matter where she was, even on a meager income. But how could a dank prison cell be made into a haven?

One day, Corrie got the chance to walk by Betsyʼs cell and took a quick glimpse inside. To her amazement, she saw that somehow the bleak chamber had been transformed into a sacred sanctuary. “Unbelievably, against all logic, the cell was charming,” Corrie wrote. She continued,

The straw pallets were rolled instead of piled in a heap, standing like little pillars among the walls, each with a ladyʼs hat atop it. A headscarf had somehow been hung on the wall. The contents of several food packages were arranged on a small shelf. Even the coats hanging on their hooks were part of the welcome of that room, each sleeve draped over the shoulder of the coat next to it like a row of dancing children. (from The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, John and Elizabeth Sherril).

The sacred, beautiful environment Betsy had miraculously created was simply a reflection of the beauty and sacredness in Betsyʼs inner life. Even a dismal prison cell could not crush Betsyʼs radiance and joy – because her inward beauty came from Jesus Christ. And that Heavenly beauty could not help but spill over into her environment, no matter where she was. Thomas Kinkade writes about the “glow in the windows” that he adds to nearly all his paintings of homes and cottages. Itʼs a glow that comes from a home full of laughter, love, and warmth. He says:

Here in America, we’ve installed television sets everywhere so that people never have to converse. Have you ever walked at night by a window where the television was on? The light is dim and cold. But walk at night by a window where a fire is flickering, where a candle is lit, and see the difference. The warm glow in the windows is so inviting that it draws you in. It’s not high-tech entertainment that puts warmth in the windows, but human connection. It’s human warmth that makes up the golden glow (from Simpler Times by Thomas Kinkade).

What are some ways that you can add that kind of glow to the windows of your own home, in order to bless and refresh others? Candles, music, homemade meals, fresh-baked cookies, flowers, and warm decorations can go a long, long way in adding that cozy welcoming light to your home. But itʼs even more important to consider the activities and attitudes that take place when you invite people over. Do you cultivate meaningful conversation? Do you sit and really listen as they share their heart? Do you laugh and enjoy each otherʼs company, without having to rely on high-tech entertainment to do so? Do you turn the focus toward things of heaven? Do people come away from your home feeling like theyʼve encountered Christ?

Allow God to mold and refine this area of your life. As you think and pray about making the atmosphere of your home more welcoming, you may find it helpful to write down any practical and creative ideas that come to mind. Creating your own special glow in the windows of your home is one of the most fun and enjoyable aspects of God-centered hospitality, and a beautiful way to fulfill one of the calls Heʼs placed upon your life as a set-apart young woman.*

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