At college, my roommate and I were determined to make our home a center of hospitality. The only problem: Our home was a 16’ x 11.5’ dorm room occupied by two beds, two desks and two giant wardrobes. Cozy was the gracious way to describe it. Cramped was the honest way.
Yet once a month, we would declutter our room (or in the case of my roommate, tuck the mess in random nooks and crannies), then drive to Trader Joe’s and buy as many snacks as possible with as little money as possible. Skimpy college budgets were no match for our thriftiness. We’d open our door, send out dozens of text messages, then crowd our room with close friends, lonely freshmen and random passersby.
Usually there was a deck of cards, sometimes a couple of watercolor sets, maybe a movie or some jazzy tunes in the background. Coats were abandoned outside of our door and the window was thrown open to let in fresh air. On their rounds, the RAs would pop in, grab a snack, tease their residents. A bemused junior would humor an impassioned freshman, listening patiently to whatever soapbox topic they had chosen to rant about. As the night wore on, people would drift out, eventually leaving my roommate and I chatting with one or two stragglers as we picked up loose popcorn kernels and half-finished watercolor illustrations.
Even writing this makes me pine for those carefree, pre-coronavirus gatherings.
Hospitality as a ministry
One night in particular stands out in my memory. Everyone had left except for a freshman girl who had tagged along with a mutual friend and ended up staying the whole evening. As she was leaving, she turned and declared, “What you’re doing is a ministry.”
I was startled and touched. She went on to express the loneliness she’d felt over the past months of school and said that this was the first night she had felt truly comfortable and at home. I assured her that it was none of my doing; I had just opened the door.
And that’s what hospitality is: an open door.
Hospitality doesn’t require much
I once expressed to a friend who was having roommate conflict that my door was always open to her. After that, I would often come back to my place and find her asleep on my bed. Instead of returning to her home, a stressful place, she found solace in a midday nap in my room. Hospitality doesn’t require a crowd.
It doesn’t require a lot of space either. For most young adults, our spaces are small. We have a dorm room. A tiny apartment. Roommates and shared common areas. No matter. Sometimes it’s small spaces that foster community the most.
As something of a wallflower, walking across the room at a social gathering and trying to insert myself into a conversation can be intimidating. Gatherings in small spaces guarantee that the wallflowers are surrounded by at least five other guests, thanks to a lack of room to mingle freely. If you pivot to the right a little, there’s probably a conversation happening. If you pivot to the left, there’s probably another conversation happening. There’s no doubt a conversation happening right in front of your nose, too. No walking required, no awkward “Excuse me” as you try to breach the circle.
Hospitality also does not require a lot of money. Who said hospitality means catered hors d’oeuvres? Hospitality is about welcoming, listening and being available. Sure, I feel welcomed when I’m offered a La Croix and a cheese platter, but I also feel welcomed when someone sits down with me and offers their full attention.
Hospitality happens now
Some of the most hospitable people I have ever encountered didn’t even formally invite me into their space; they simply saw me and spoke to me. They listened to my woes and cared for my needs. The time and presence they offered was far more valuable to me than a party invitation or an HGTV-worthy home.
Hospitality is not something you have to build up to, study or master. It is something to do. Now, right where you are. It is something to put your space, time and energy into, no matter what that might look like.
How have you practiced hospitality in the past? How can you be an “open door” to others in the coming weeks?
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