The Key to Hospitality

Some months ago my wife, Isabelle, and I hosted our close friends, Ray and Kelly and their three children, as they traveled down from Wisconsin to Florida. They stayed with us last year, too, on their way down and back up. When you spend time with people, no two interactions are the same, and neither was this.

During this trip, I found myself stretched in a way I hadn’t previously been. Maybe it was because I’d just started a new job, had just finished my first week, and was aching for some rest that only a weekend at home can provide. This was a root of tension in me because, though I longed for rest, I longed for my friends also. There was also another person added to our group, another person to extend hospitality toward: a baby.

I don’t know much about babies. Just basic stuff, really. But I do know that they’re taxing. Not because they’re ill behaved or a bother, but because they require near-constant attention. That attention is the responsibility of the parents, but as a host you can’t help but have at least a slice of your attention pointed in that direction too. There’s a need to be sensitive to the baby if he’s sleeping, or the need to be sensitive to the parent if they’re tending to him and can no longer hold the conversation with the same intent. This became evident our first night together as we sat down for dinner.

As we gathered at the table and began to pray over our meal and time together, we all looked up simultaneously to witness the baby cough once, twice, and vomit. He vomited the most green and slimy substance I had ever seen. Some of it got caught up in his bib, and some of it splashed all over our floor. Ray and Kelly said they had never seen him throw up so much.

We were all concerned for him and Kelly eventually concluded that he had eaten so much so late in the day that this was the result. No need for alarm then. But in that moment I continued to feel alarmed. Not for the baby, admittedly, but for myself. Was this opening moment a foreshadowing of the next two days? I wondered.

But in that moment I also realized this: hospitality is accommodating. This is the key of hospitality, not just in terms of resources, but also experience.

Hospitality—the kind that blesses you and blesses others—pushes your boundaries and stretches you. It opens you up. I don’t mean that all hospitality will stretch you. At one point it did, but now you’re adjusted to accommodate whatever that thing that stretched you was so now it’s like second nature and you know how to take it on. But every guest is different, as is every season, and generally every circumstance. Being hospitable opens you up to different seasons and people and circumstances, and ultimately grows you and blesses them.

You can only offer to your guests what you have, which is fundamental to hospitality. But you can’t have them conform to the experience you wish for them to have, the experience that is most ideal to you in your head. If that were so you would never learn because you wouldn’t be allowing yourself to be pushed beyond comfort. Being pushed beyond comfort reminds you that hospitality is about your guests, not you. A good host, then, ebbs and flows with their guests and their particular needs. A good host offers what they have and then sits back, lets it all happen, observes, and then smiles at the results.

The things that will happen are the beautiful things that this life is made of—a baby vomiting on the floor, a little boy’s Legos covering every inch of our living room coffee table, a little girl who has an innocent unawareness of personal space, singing pop radio hits at the top of her lungs.

What's more difficult for you in showing hospitality, accommodation or something else? Leave a comment. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Jon AleixoComment