It looked like a tornado had ravaged its way through our house. Toys were strewn from bedrooms, to living room, to bathroom, to playroom and back again. Dishes were piled and overflowing in the sink. We could feed one of our girls for a week with the amount of crumbs underneath the table. Somebody’s kid had pulled the toilet paper roll across the bathroom floor. Every organized, clean freak nerve in my being was pulled taut. And yet, there was something so beautiful about the chaos all around us. While my mind was frantic with all that needed to be cleaned up, put back in order, my soul felt so nourished and rested.
The chaos was simply a by-product of a shared meal, newly cultivated friendships and eight kiddos, ages five and under spreading their joy and creativity across every conceivable surface. This was the end of our first true practiced Sabbath day, and while the above scenario may not sound restful, it was definitely a form of worship in a most uncomplicated way.
Hospitality is a discipline that was lived almost daily in my home growing up. My Mum is a genius at stretching a meal to accommodate another couple of mouths. And as far as having enough room around their table? My parents own three. And I’ve often seen all three filled to capacity and spilling over.
My pivotal growing up years were also spent in a small country church. This was a church where everyone knew you, so when a visitor would attend a service, the whole church was made aware. Our church in particular gave out pens to their visitors and then had the visitors stand up during the service so that the whole church could sing the Welcome Song to them. Each Sunday, a rotation of families were assigned to hospitality duty. Their job was to invite any newcomers over for lunch. Usually at least two or three families were all brought together around one table, most of them strangers or loosely acquainted, to fellowship around steaming bowls of home-cooked food. This church truly took the passage in 1 Peter 4:9 “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” to heart.
Now Jeff and I are part of a church where if we know half of the congregation, that would be a generous estimate. While our church family is young, vibrant and full of opportunities to be involved, there are times my soul craves the warmth of a church where I know every face. Somewhere along the way, in the anonymity of a large church, I have allowed the gift of hospitality to slip through my fingers. Yet it’s something that is more than just a gift – hospitality is an actual spiritual discipline that God requires of us. Romans 12:13 “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
I will be the first to admit that hospitality does not always come easily. I envy my Mum and her ability to not fret over enough food, place settings or whether or not she cleaned the bathroom that week. Jeff, as well, is one of those people who has a way of throwing our door open and inviting people over for supper, when all we have in the fridge is leftovers. (Meanwhile, I’m inwardly screeching in my head, “We only have LEFTOVERS! What kind of host serves their guests microwaved shepherd’s pie?!”) I tend to be the type of host who likes to clean before people arrive, have a pot of coffee waiting for guests, and have a definite meal plan planned.
Yet we’ve concluded as a couple that hospitality is one of our most important family core values. So this past Sabbath, as part of our rest, we decided to do just what I had witnessed growing up – surround our table with faces both familiar and not so familiar. We ate food that had been prepped the night before or that others brought. We didn’t worry about vacuuming because seriously – eight kids five and under ended up destroying our house in about five minutes flat. We ate at our dining table, poured over to a card table, spilling over onto couches. It wasn’t elaborate or fussy. The food was simple. The house was far from perfect. But it was warm, the conversation flowed, laughter swelled, and amongst the chaos, my soul landed on the truest form of connection by simply opening our front door. And with that, we closed our first Sabbath day, rested and refreshed, having struck the perfect balance between rest and fellowship.