The Heart of Hospitality
By Martha Bastke
At around the age of eight, I quickly learned that if I wanted to keep my toys intact I had to hide them from view when other children came to visit. No way was I going to risk having my new crayons broken or allow my best doll to be handled without tenderness.
Now that I have a home of my own, my "toys" have been raised to new levels. There is the fine china we received as a wedding gift, the delicate glass teacups bought while living in Germany, and my favorite leather chair to which I am quite attached.
These finer "toys" have raised a dilemma, however, since one of the aspects of my ministry is that I am expected to have an open house at any time. Hospitality is something I genuinely love doing. Our guests have come in all sizes, nationalities, varying theologies, and they have exhibited their own forms of manners and idiosyncrasies. Most have encouraged and blessed us in so many ways, but a few have tried my patience and tested my attitude toward my "toys."
For example, at the beginning of our marriage, all our earthly belongings fit into four suitcases. (Today, 32 years later, we could fill several rooms with them, and we have been practicing hospitality about that long.) I still remember some of our first guests. After dinner, the wife of a visiting pastor offered to help me do the dishes. While wiping a goblet dry, she accidentally broke it, and immediately said that perhaps this was God's way of giving me a new glass! I waited ... and waited ... not knowing quite what she meant. I still don't for that matter! There was no apology or offer to replace it. I would never have taken the money, but an apology would have been nice. The glass had little value to me - character did however. Her "manners" in this regard were part of my initiation into my new ministry and I was frankly surprised, perplexed and later amused.
On another occasion, a guest speaker stayed overnight, and was given "exclusive rights" to the guest bathroom. When he left, I discovered he had cracked the entire porcelain sink, no small thing to replace. Another time a couple assured me their children did not need protection on the mattress as they were "fully potty trained." You can imagine the results!
Then there was the couple who asked to stay with us for several days while they were touring America. We were more than happy to welcome them. However, before they had even been shown to their rooms, my enthusiasm waned when they commented that Americans are very wasteful. (I could agree with them on that point, but I didn't need to hear it just at that moment!) We "wasted" our food and time on them, and welcomed them into every room of our home without reservation, yet there was no appreciation shown for the efforts made toward their comfort.
This is not to say that we've always been the ideal guests. I'm sure a certain family will never forget us, though amnesia was the prayer of my heart at the time! While running bath water for my children in an upstairs bathroom, I noticed the water pressure was very low, so I stepped out of the bathroom for a moment. When I returned, the tub had overflowed and the entire floor was covered with water. In shock, I fumbled to turn off the water and quickly mopped up the floor until the evidence of this disaster disappeared. I casually walked downstairs to the room under the bathroom and glanced up for any evidence of my mishap. To my horror, not only was water coming through, but so was much of the ceiling! Fortunately, I discovered that our hostess was very gracious, and had prayerfully given her "things" to the Lord long ago. It became a lesson I recall again and again.
I've learned that hospitality is a given for the Christian and that what we have doesn't belong to us - it's God's. May Jesus break my china and crystal any time He wants? May He spill grape juice on my white tablecloth? Yes, if He wants to. It is all part of the "cup of cold water in His name." If our earthly possessions get used, broken and dirty or our efforts go unappreciated, are they not His to break, soil and consume? Should I do any less for a God, who in loving me, has never withheld any good and perfect gift, even to relinquishing His most beloved Son?