Kehrberg: Hospitality more than a clean house

Aug 14, 2017 by

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Having people over. Getting together. Fellowshipping around the table.

Sarah Kehrberg


Regardless of the phrase you use, hospitality is a difficult thing. It involves time, effort and vulnerability.

The statistical data and anecdotal evidence consistently prove that eating together as families and communities enriches life and happiness. Yet, we tend to avoid it.

It’s like telling us to exercise: We know and agree. We just don’t do it.

It is tempting to blame electronic screens and social media. They are the perfect scapegoat for all societal maladies, are they not? But I believe the culprit is more practical.

We don’t host because we aren’t home. Either we’re at work, commuting to or from work, ferrying children and grandchildren, or running errands. We probably spend more time in our vehicles than our house.

Oddly enough, I hosted more when my two daughters were preschoolers than I do now. I was plenty busy with the intense demands of young children, but I was also trapped in the house much of the time. So, I had people over to keep me company.

Now, when I’m able to be at home I want to lock the door against the world and all its demands.

The other reason we shy away from hosting is the vulnerability. When we allow people into our personal space, we open up another layer of our lives that they can judge.

And yet, since most of us believe that offering and receiving hospitality is valuable, even important, I offer some tips for making it less painful.

1. My house doesn’t belong in Better Homes and Gardens, and neither does yours. We’ve agreed and can now move on.

2. It doesn’t really matter what food you serve. Your guests are so thrilled to not have to make (or find) dinner themselves that it doesn’t truly matter if they’re consuming something from the deli, microwave or “made from scratch.”

3. That said, avoid trying new recipes when you have people over. This tip comes from my husband, and he wishes I would heed it more.

4. If guests ask if they can bring something, say “yes!” The potluck concept is genius on so many levels.

5. Do not ask your guests if they have food restrictions. You are only asking for a headache. If they have a real allergy, they’ll volunteer that information.

6. Adopt the Closed-Door Strategy. It isn’t time consuming to prepare your home for visitors: simply transfer all clutter to a room that won’t be used. Be sure this room has a door that firmly shuts. Locking is optional.

7. You do need to clean your bathroom. Sorry. While guests remember surprisingly little about the food, they will take home the memory of your toothpaste spit dotting the sink. It doesn’t take long to swish out the toilet and wipe down your sink and counter. Do this minutes before the guests arrive.

8. Your kids can (and should) help. The small, last-minute tasks like setting the table or vacuuming the entry rug are quite suited for them.

9. The resulting mess of hosting is unavoidable and best accepted at the outset. Before your guests arrive, particularly if children will be among them, chant quietly to yourself, “My house is going to be trashed. The sun will come up tomorrow.”

Hospitality requires a posture, at least in part, of humility and servanthood — the same posture Jesus modeled in the upper room when he washed his disciples’ feet. And that’s the upside-down truth about hospitality: The difficult parts are precisely what make it essential to the kingdom of God.

Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.

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