Hospitality Vs. Entertaining

Surely I'm not the only one who has experienced something like this:

You started the morning at a deficit on the "spic and span" scale. Some of the groceries from two nights ago still remain in bags on the kitchen counter. Couch cushions are askew, and it looks like your child's room exploded in the living room. You still haven't gotten a shower. You hope to get one when the kids go down for a nap at 2. Then, there's an unexpected knock at the door. You want to run for cover and dive out of sight, but you know that THEY know you're home. Reluctantly, you open the door and the apologies begin.

"The house is just a mess... I'm so sorry..."

"We've had a rough morning... please excuse the mess..."

In the last post on hospitality, some of the comments got into the expectations that arise from the "Martha Stewart" mentality. I'll never be one to criticize Martha's taste, recipes, decorating tips, or style... she's got an eye for all of those things, and we all could stand to learn things from people who have a natural gifting like that, about how to decorate our homes and cook tasty & nutritious meals, etc.

But there IS something more. Something BEYOND the perfection and presentation that's expected in that kind of "Entertaining" model.

As Karen Mains writes in Open Heart, Open Home,
"Entertaining has little to do with real hospitality. Secular entertaining is a terrible bondage. Its source is human pride. Demanding perfecting, fostering the urge to impress, it is a rigorous taskmaster that enslaves. In contrast, scriptural hospitality is a freedom that liberates.

Entertaining says, 'I want to impress you with my beautiful home, my clever decorating, my gourmet cooking.' Hospitality, however, seeks to minister. It says, 'This home is not mine. It is truly a gift from my Master. I am His servant, and I use it as He desires. Hospitality does not try to impress but to serve."
I have begun to realize that I have bought into the lie that hospitality and entertaining are the same. I have been held back by the paralyzing fear that says, "if I let her see how I really live, I won't be seen as a real woman."

And isn't that the complete OPPOSITE of the truth? Isn't it liberating to walk into a respected woman's home and see that she, too, has a stack of books that she never has managed to put away? Isn't it freeing to see that other young moms have Hot Wheels and blocks all over their floor on the average weekday too? It is for me! The truth is, that if we let each other see how we really live, we will suddenly BE a real woman to our friends. Suddenly, we will no longer appear or have the need to appear perfect. Mains writes, "I had to learn to put away my pride when I open the front door and accept those standing there as they are. Consequently, I expect them to accept me as they find me." FREEDOM!

That kind of attitude and approach to hospitality speaks complete FREEDOM to me. And I hope it does to you too. No longer do I HAVE to have things "together" when someone comes over. No longer do I have to apologize for living real life in our home. No longer do I have to put together a flawless meal, served with special little individual touches for each guest.

I can just be me. If I have the time and ability to prepare an amazing meal, great. But if not, people are welcome just the same. If I have the time to pick up, sweep, mop, and carefully arrange each couch cushion, great. If not, I can still enjoy time with friends without apologies or shame. I can't speak for you, but I'll choose the freedom of hospitality over the bondage of entertaining ANY day of the week!


the blackwells said...

I totally 'get' what you are saying...BUT I just don't feel comfortable when too much mess is around me and people are over. My pastor (a woman) wanted to pop in for a cup of tea after she dropped me off at home from a meeting. There were still dinner plates on the table (b/c I had left for the meeting right after dinner) and I couldn't just sit. I had to tidy while we were chatting. I know I need to get over that a bit...

Love the new look on your blog BTW...I'm a sucker for daisies. :)

FreeIndeed said...

This is a good reminder. Thanks!

I recall once getting in the car of a male friend and colleague for a ride. His car was a cluttered mess yet he never offered an apology and I appreciated that he didn't. To me, he was keeping it real and not allowing our ride and talk time to be derailed by the superficialness of whether or not his car was clean or dirty. Though we never have spoken about it, I respected him for this and I've tried to incorporate this attitude in my life as well.

Sometimes it's hard, however. While I do try to be a good housekeeper and a hospitable host, at times I fall short on the housekeeping side. While I don't think that should get in the way of true hospitality, some folk can make it difficult to ignore. I have a couple of family members who have made hurtful comments when they've come to my home and it's been in less than perfect shape. Because of this, I stress the importance of calling me before visiting and, frankly, I don't make the effort to open my home to them very often (this isn't the sole reason, but it is a large part of the reason). Of course, they've been offended in the past by my position, but I really don't like to open my home or my heart to criticism.

Obviously, this is an issue that I need to work on because, regardless of their comments, my focus should still be on allowing myself to reflect His love, His patience and His glory.

Again, thanks for the reminder!



LisaM said...

It is liberating, isn't it? A friend and I were just talking about this very thing, how we sometimes feel that we can't be hospitable (even though, as you correctly term it here, what we are having trouble with is really "entertaining:). Friends are not seeking to be entertained; they just want to be with you. It reminds me of something my husband pointed out: How little do I think of people to assume that they will rate my hospitality on how well I entertain them, have a clean house, provide exotic meals? I've found that, when I'm on the other side, it is the true hospitality in the host's attitude which I notice, not necessarily the surroundings. As a matter of fact, too much emphasis on the entertainment can overshadow the true hospitality and make people uncomfortable, I think. Thanks for sharing these thoughts!

Anonymous said...

You are SO right, Jess. The best party I ever had was the day I moved to a new place. My house was full of boxes (I hadn't unpacked), I put out folding chairs and ordered pizza for everyone-- because all my cookware was packed. My friends had a great time looking in all the closets, coming up with decorating ideas, and just chatting (some even sitting on the floor). It was really fun. Everyone told me how great a time they had, and they stayed REALLY late.

You are completely right about hospitality... it's very different from entertaining.

dcrmom said...

Excellent post, Jess. Nail on the head.

Mrs. Elliott said...

What a wonderful post! I've definitely been struggling to be free of the hospitality = entertaining thing. Thanks for the encouragement!

Anonymous said...

You know it's funny...when I go to someone's home, I don't look around to see if they've dusted, done their dishes, or have set fresh flowers on the I notice their attitude. It's easy to forget that when I have people over. I think, "Oh they're going to think I'm a slob if my table linens aren't pressed..." But in reality, I'm 99% sure they wouldn't even notice, but I'm 100% sure they would remember my attitude.

Diane said...

Great post. I admit I have fallen into the same trap over and over and over again. Love your blog & the new look!
Blessings ~ Diane

Nicole said...

I've only just 'discovered' your blog and I'm loving this series on hospitality. It's something I feel very strongly that many of us need to do more of as Christians (including me!). The main thing that does stand in my way is that I am a perfectionist that is afraid of being judged by others if things are not completely 'in control'. Thanks for the encouragement to put away our pride and just open our houses to others regardless of what state they are in!


Sweetpeas said...

So true!!! This was really brought home to me about a year ago when my life had spiraled out of control and my house was at it's worst. A young mother stopped by to pick something up, she was just as harried, or moreso than me, her kids were sick & in the car, so she just stepped in out of the cold while I got her order for her, then left. But later she e-mailed me and told me how much it had encouraged her to see my house such a mess. She'd been feeling so discouraged that she couldn't keep up with everything AND keep her house spotless, yet whenever she went to play groups and such, everyone else seemed to have perfect houses. It made her feel so much better about herself to see that she wasn't the only one who didn't always have time to keep all the balls in the air, and so, let the housekeeping ball drop.

And I was so thankful that I hadn't found the time to straighten up before she stopped by (or even found the time to have her order sitting by the door so she didn't have to step in & see my mess), and could be a blessing in this unusual way of letting her know she wasn't alone or a total failure.

Allison said...

Once again, I really appreciate what you have to say, Jess. I find it's tempting to compare my house to what other people's homes look like (especially my mother's) and you know what? I can never measure up. I am finding that when my husband and I really LIVE in our house, it does not stay neat and trim. And you know what? I guess that really is okay afterall! It can be a messy home at times, but I believe that it is a happy one, and in the end, I suppose that it more important. How freeing to think that I don't have to have a perfect house to invited people into our world. :)

Summer said...

Hi Jess. This is my first time to comment your blog, though I've been reading for a while and always find it enjoyable and thought-provoking. Hospitality is a subject that God seems to be continually putting in front of me. I want my house to be a "home" to many, but still feel the constraints of entertaining. Your post was a reminder that if I let go and Let God work through me, I will find freedom!

:..Rebekah..: said...

This is so good! I love to have people in my home, but unfortunately, I have not known freedom in this area. I love what Karen Mains says, "Hospitality, however, seeks to minister." I've always desired to minister, but I think that there have been many times when I've been too concerned about how everything looks or tastes to ever get around to the ministering! I will remember this, and I will search my heart so that I will not be prideful, but instead show real, biblical hospitality. Thank you!

Brenda said...

Well I have just never heard that!!!! That is such good news!! I thought I was a terribly hostess b/c I don't "entertain". But I can be hospitable just by being myself and welcoming others to my house? What good news! Thanks for this post.

Terry said...

Thanks, I needed that!

Kim said...

Amen, sister. I am a mess, most of the time, and while I live at home and therefore rarely have my own company, I am trying to learn that at the end of the day, it's OKAY to be a little bit of a mess. And in the same vein, I try to be gracious to friends who maybe are worried that their place is messy or that they don't have it all together - that's not why I came (and I call first!!). I came to see them!

Anonymous said...

Jess, I love this topic on hospitality, as it is something in which I feel very convicted about lately. I have a real desire to invite our friends over, our small group that my husband leads, etc.

So this is my question that I would love to hear your thoughts on:

What if your husband doesn't want to be hospitable? What if he doesn't want to have people over?

It is not because our house is messy (and it is most of the time since we have all littles), but because it is not quite 'up to par' with the rest of the world. My husband is not materialistic in the least, so this always surprises me that he feels this way. For example, our house needs painting, there needs to be some serious yard work (and money spent) going on, we don't have the nicest of furnishings, etc.

All I have done so far is pray...because I am not sure what else to do besides pray and respect his wishes.

Any thoughts?

Thanks for reading :)


Jess said...

Interesting questions, Lauren.

For sure, keep on praying. One of the requirements for an elder is that he be a man of hospitality- so I'm convinced that it's something that God will convict men about as they strive for spiritual growth and depth of relationship with the Lord. Keep praying that God would give him a desire to be involved in the lives of others.

Until then, and while you wait, is he open to you having other moms and friends over, when he's not home? Perhaps you could have a women's lunch at your house every now and then, or invite neighbor kids over for backyard Bible clubs/mini-VBS's? Would he be open to that kind of thing?

Perhaps having the opportunity to hear what God is doing through your openness and hospitality would help soften his heart towards being involved in opening your home together as a couple.

Good question... I definitely wouldn't encourage you to "go against" his desires in that area- but I would encourage you to do whatever you can do and then to just pray and wait to see what God does with his desires to be hospitable.

Hope this helps give you some other ideas of how you could do this, even if it's by yourself for a season.


Denise said...

I'm a regular visitor though this is my first comment. I'm now in my fifties and my adult children can't be blamed for the condition of my house (which isn't too bad!), but I so remember the days when I felt unable to invite people in because I thought they would judge my housekeeping skills. Friendship will see past the dust and the clutter - but feelings are hurt if you keep people on the doorstep. I know from having driven long distances on several occasions to deliver good wishes and flowers from the office to a sick work colleague and being kept standing outside how painful it is - did she think I would judge her if she still had dishes in the sink? In fact I would have sympathised and might even have offered to help. Thanks very much for this and other thought-provoking posts, Jess.

Anna S said...

I do believe you are right on target, Jess, particularly when we're talking about close friends.

Anonymous said...

Jess, Thanks for answering so promptly! :)

I had not thought of just having women over to start with. Great idea... I honestly have only 1-2 friends that are home during the day with their babies. Almost all of my mama friends work. But that looks like a good place to start. :)

Thanks for responding...

Anonymous said...

Nice post! I would truly like to come to a place where I would be unashamed to have someone walk in at any time. This is a real struggle for me at this point. In fact, I was crying over the dishes before I got on here. lol.

I struggle with feeling if my house isn't almost perfect I am a failure. I grew up in an extremely unorganized household - the kind where you never have anyone over and when I first was married did not have the knowledge or self-discipline to take care of a home properly (which was a very sore issue between us newlyweds). I have been praying that God will renew my mind & help me to truly know there is no shame (condemnation). I recognize the wrong-thinking/feeling I have, but am still struggling to overcome. Praise God for how He has helped me so far!

I guess I have wandered off the topic a little, but this is what I thought about when I read the post. Thanks again for sharing the post! Off to finish those dishes... :)

ModMomMuse said...


I just blogged on the concept of messy homeschooling this week, and on community last week. The two merge almost daily when my doorbell rings and the five-year-old next door neighbor comes to play at my house instead of her own. I have struggled so much with letting go and letting in! My mother was always concerned about a clean house, and therefore I had few friends over--those, infrequently. I committed years ago to not take on my grandmother's OCD traits and my mother's identity in the cleanliness of her home. So, as it is, it is. I work, daily, to tidy, but when that takes precedence over outreach or ministry (Martha), I think I've missed what God has for me (Mary). That's my own faith journey anyway. Would welcome your comments on the two blogs I posted, as stated above. Love your site. It's risen to my Top Five (not yet reflected on my blog roll, but, then, I spent tonight as a reader instead of a writer, so I'l update this weekend.). God bless you!

Oh! And, thanks for the great tunes. ;-D

Mary at HSH said...

I've often wanted to blog about this very thing...I have two friends who are really relaxed about their homes, and they have done wonders for me! But I still have so far to go...however, you are so right, it's lovely to walk in on them and see that we're all struggling with the same things. I used to have a sign on my wall that said, "My house was clean yesterday, sorry you missed it"...which so often was true...the days my house was spic and span, no one dropped by...hee hee, oh well. I think we miss out on MANY hospitable moments, and precious times with each other, just because we don't want others to see that last night's dishes are still in the sink, or whatever.

And when you add homeschooling to your dailyness, the stacks keep stacking up against you! But that's life!

Great post, Jess! I really love your blog...

Stacy McDonald said...

I think you have some great points. Serving and preferring others should be our focus of hospitality, not impressing. We shouldn't be so wrapped up in whether or not everything is "nice enough" or "clean enough" before we open up our homes to others. Our doors should remain open.

However, I've seen another pitfall. I remember walking into someone's home for dinner when I was younger and the mom greeted us with, "Sorry it's a mess, but this is the way it always is." She talked about it like she was proud of how laid back she was. And the home was filthy. Not just a few books or toys stacked around - the house was unclean. The bathroom was so dirty we were afraid to touch anything.

I bring this up because I've seen this attitude to varying degrees. Part of hospitality IS preferring and blessing others. When we have guests, it is right and good to prepare for their arrival. It shows that we are trying to honor them. We clean the house, prepare foods we know they will like, we may even set a lovely table with flowers or special decorations.

This isn't pretentious, it's showing that we want to bless others and that we thought of them before their arrival. Obviously, someone dropping by unexpectedly when we're in the midst of daily living shouldn't horrify us (I admit this is where I struggle) because this is just plain old pride and we need to get over it.

But let's also remember that God is a God of order and having an orderly, clean home is still what we should seek to have - even in the midst of homeschooling.

Again, thanks for the reminders that we should be willing to happily open our homes at all times - not just when things appear "perfect." I do think that's a problem too - and probably a reason so many people hesitate to practice hospitality (at least very often).

Godsgrdnr said...

I have been married for 26 years this week and discovered Open Heart, Open Home about 13 years ago. God graciously changed my perspective from one of entertaining to one of hospitality and we have been able to use our home as a place of ministry and blessing ever since. My children are adults now, but they know that they can ask anyone, any time into our home for any reason--just because the person needs love and hospitality. They do usually call ahead, if possible, and we try to make sure that folks won't trip over the bookbags, etc. in the floor as they come in. We also have a "please take off your shoes when you come inside" note on the door (really helps w/ dirt traffic!!). I always have something in the freezer that can be brought out on a moment's notice to share and coffee, tea and lemonade can be made in a snap. With those in hand, a smiling welcome and an open heart, no one will notice the imperfections of your home :)