Making Space for the Virtue of Hospitality

It was a hot August day. In a few days, I’d be moving over an hour away from the town I grew up in so as to begin a new teaching job. Trying to eke out every last minute of summer and the close proximity to my friends, I texted Julia, “hey, are you around?” She responded quickly, “sure, come on over! House might be a mess, but you’re always welcome!” Five minutes later, I was greeted by a 37-week-pregnant Julia, a 19-month- old baby propped up on her hip, her three older children being ushered out the door to play outside. 

As we walked into the dining room, Julia gestured, with a wave of her hand and a laugh, to the mess around us, “and this is what it looks like when you’re in your third trimester, the addition to your house is still not complete, and you have four other kids!”

Truthfully, I didn’t see a mess, I saw normal life; I saw legitimate reasons for her to have told me that my last minute plan to drop by just wouldn’t work; I saw a woman who valued the gift of friendship and was willing to coexist with the chaos of everyday life rather than let it prevent her from spending time with the people she cares about; I saw a woman who radically  lives the Christian virtue of hospitality.

Hospitality – A Virtue Rooted in Love

St. Therese of Lisieux wrote, “love is the vocation that includes all others.” Love is the foundation for each and every vocation, that love must be one that invites in, one that breaks down walls, a love that creates a space for the unexpected guest. This is best achieved through the virtue of hospitality, which is love in action.

Our culture has led us to believe that hospitality is a “Pinterest-worthy house,” an image off of a perfectly curated Instagram page, where the rooms are tidy, the coffee hot, the treats homemade, our dispositions always cheerful.  In a unique way, I suspect this pressure is particularly felt by women, as we are often (though not always) expected to play the role of “homemaker.” 

With this image in mind, we run the risk of being so overly fixed on outward appearance, that we forget to pay attention to the person sitting in front of us, or worse, never allow that person to have a chance to sit in front of us because we are ashamed of what we lack. The lie, that somehow our worth and our identity are tied to perfection, begins to seep in, the sin of pride dictates our actions. In this, we mirror Martha who failed to “choose the better half” because she was so preoccupied preparing things that she forgot to pause and acknowledge the person in front of her.  The words Jesus says to Martha, he offers to us: “you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing” (Luke 10:41-42). That one thing that Jesus speaks of is being present to the people in front of us, and in turn, being present to our Lord.

One Last Thought

The virtue of hospitality demands a particular disposition to those who are receptors of that gift. Had I, after having been invited to Julia’s home, looked critically upon the sawdust that had accumulated on the dining room table or the heap of unfolded laundry in the living room, and in any way thought to myself that Julia was somehow inadequate, or prided myself that I was more “put together,” I would be falling into sin just as much as the person who denies the virtue of hospitality. Instead, I was honored that I was not shielded from everyday life, honored to have a friend who presents herself authentically. As Christians we are called to invite each other in, to dwell with each other  in the chaos and messiness of life — whether that chaos is in our hearts or in our homes. 

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