Hospitality

How you welcome guests matters.

We had breakfast this weekend at the home of some dear friends. As a final summer hurrah as we all prepare for the school year to start, we allowed our children to play together while we enjoyed a delicious meal, sipped our coffee and caught up on the summer vacations and adventures. Our time together fueled each of our souls.

Some time after breakfast, my daughter accidentally bumped a coffee mug, splattering coffee onto their chair and carpet. Each of us calmly jumped into action to clean up the mess and my daughter apologized as we all assured her it was no big deal. Then, we began to discuss the reality of how normal it is for messes to happen around our homes, and how unphased we are by it. 

As we discussed, I remembered how calm I felt coming to our friends’ home, because I knew it wouldn’t be pristine and I wouldn’t need to warn my kids not to run or spill anything. I knew that we didn’t need to present an impressive spread of fruit, that it would be fine if we slept in and rinsed and cut the fruit once we arrived. 

I knew that when we walked into their home, it would be like walking into our own home, that we would be welcome as we were and that we’d meet them as they are. 

Though their house is lovely and clean, I knew there would be no anxiety to impress us, no panic to get everything perfect before we arrived. When we came up to their door, we were welcomed by a handwritten sign made by their third grade son that said, “Welcome Cooks” and we felt so welcomed. 

Our friends demonstrated a beautiful and simple act of hospitality toward our family today, as they have so many times before.

Real hospitality ought to always feel this way: like you’re walking into a home, not a hotel. Real hospitality is happy to see you, engaged, interested and present with you, but not looking to prove something to you about themselves. Real hospitality is about time simply enjoying each other. 

For years, I didn’t recognize the difference between real and artificial hospitality.

While the two may seem similar, artificial hospitality is postured toward the host, but real hospitality is postured toward the guest. 

Artificial hospitality is aimed to impress, aimed at broadcasting perfection at every turn. “Look how expensive our possessions are. Marvel at how gourmet our food is. Notice how brilliant our children are. Envy how perfect our marriage is.” 

Real hospitality, though, is about sharing. Real hospitality invites you in as part of a home for the time you’re there. Real hospitality prepares, but doesn’t peacock. Real hospitality communicates that real people who are great at some things and not great at others live in this home, and you’re among us with all your perfections and imperfections just as you are in our time together.

Real hospitality can extend beyond our homes into any situation, really. When we engage with another person, if we approach them with a posture of humility and openness, we have an opportunity to welcome them home in our own hearts by listening inquisitively and sharing honestly. 

When we demonstrate that we’re happy to be with someone, that we love them, that we’re grateful for our time together and that we’re interested in them, that’s really what hospitality is all about. 

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Colleen Cook works full-time as the Director of Operations at Vinyl Marketing in Ashland, where she resides with her husband Mike and three young daughters. She's an insatiable extrovert who enjoys finding reasons to gather people.

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