As I dropped the last boy off at home, I could see that it was getting late. The smells of sweaty football feet and fresh earth still lingered in the car. Relieved in the quietness of that moment, I turned and finally got my son’s full attention to ask about his day and hear about football practice.
As he recounted his interactions, I noted (with a twinge of weariness, honestly) that this is the norm for us. Caleb is constantly offering rides, inviting guys over, treating them to ice cream cones with his hard-earned lawn money, and generally including them in his escapades.
What I failed to recognize at the time (probably because of my weariness) was that this is actually Caleb’s way of displaying hospitality. It’s his way of inviting people in and caring for them. The guy who would have to walk home from practice, somehow always ends up in our car. The guy who can’t afford to join in on the guys going to the theater to see Superman, somehow gets a phone call from Caleb about an “extra” ticket and is able to join in.
Because of the way it sometimes inconvenienced me, I was missing something wonderful in my son. Something that we value highly.
Here’s the thing: I’m not sure that we ever sat down and taught him to do that. At least not as part of some parenting curriculum.
I think the reason Caleb does it is because we do it. And we have friends who do it. So he has always seen it modeled. Since before he was born, it has been our practice to invite people into our home. We’ve had families to grill out. I’ve made tea for sad friends in crisis. We’ve offered a glass of water to the guy selling newspaper subscriptions and given a ride to international students when we found them hauling their bags of groceries up the street in a suitcase. He’s watched us do these things – and often participated. He’s even given up his bed for overnight guests.
But, we’re certainly not always on the giving end of hospitality. We’ve been richly blessed by the warmth and kindness of others. He’s seen that too. He’s heard the stories of the three consecutive families who let us live with them when we first came on staff with Campus Crusade as a young couple with little money. He’s been the recipient of great hospitality, getting treated like a prince in the home of dear friends from church. He has gathered around the family meal bowl at a table in Senegal, Africa. He knows the encouragement that comes with receiving genuine hospitality.
For us, hospitality has usually been a family affair. Sometimes it’s a little more work to include the kids in the process but it’s paying untold dividends in our lives and theirs. Dividends I didn't even notice at first.
Here are a few practical ways to include them:
- Prepare your own heart. It’s important that they see you serving with joy and not duty.
- Keep it simple. Don’t be a stressed-out mess everytime you have people over. The menu doesn't have to be fancy and the house doesn't have to be immaculate. Your kids’ association with hospitality should be a good one, not a horrible memory of “how mean mom used to get.”
- Include them in the preparations. And, I don’t mean just making them clean their rooms. Let them put slices of lemon in the glasses or create the centerpiece. You might even include them in the cooking or menu-planning if they’re old enough.
- Give the kids jobs to do when the guests arrive. They can greet and take jackets. They can keep the dog occupied or help with a younger sibling while you greet. My daughter Madison loves to get drink orders while I finish table preparations. Both of our kids also enjoy interacting with the young kids that sometimes come over. They pull out their old Duplos and keep those young ones busy so their parents can chat for a bit.
- Include them in the conversation, proactively teaching them to interact with adults. While there are certainly times they get bored with our conversation, often times they are content to hang out with us for a good bit of the evening. They engage and ask great questions. We often ask them to pray before the meal, warning them ahead that we might.
- Offer to play a game or something that will pique their interest. A deck of Uno cards can go a long way toward building relationships and bridging any age differences. It’s important for them to see that your hospitality is more than just preparing meal, but that it’s about truly engaging with people.
- Affirm and encourage them when they are hospitable. They need to hear that their efforts were important and that their sacrifice was a ministry. Your night was truly richer because of their participation.
Hospitality can and should be a family affair. These small but intentional actions will help to develop a heart of hospitality in your kids. But, fair warning… it might mean that you’re always taking a car full of kids home or coming home to a full backyard.
Grace and peace,
This post is one in a series of 31 days of posts where I'll be exploring the topic of hospitality on my own blog. Feel free to check out the rest of the series over here.