I am a serial home-opener. I admit it. If there’s a party to be thrown or a meeting to host, I’m first in line to volunteer my home. It’s just the way I was formed in my mother’s womb – one with the gift of hospitality. The desire and love for using my space (clean or dirty!) flows through my veins as powerfully as my morning caffeine! A few weeks ago, I hosted a Super Bowl party for our neighborhood church in our new home. When I say “new,” I mean, “we’ve been here for three months” kind of new! We had about forty adults and four hundred children running through our home for about four hours. (Okay, I it was more like two hundred kids). There were children crying, noses running, adults laughing, people eating, friends drinking for a very long time. Every once and I while I thanked the Lord for our 1-year home warranty because I was quite certain the ceiling was going to collapse. A friend even said to me on her way out the door, “I’m so thankful that you hosted this party.” Translation: I’m so glad this is your house and not mine. Eventually, everyone was gone. The house was quiet. And the quiet house was a disaster.
Now usually this is where I make my big confession that having the gift of hospitality really, really stinks. It’s usually at this moment that I realize that all my hard work of cleaning the house, preparing food, keeping everything flowing has been rewarded with house shrapnel. But not this time. This time was different for me. Why? Because for the first time in a very long time, I was loved and thought of as the host from before the party even began. From an hour before the party started and throughout the evening, I was constantly met with help and hospitality from the party-goers! I’m actually tearing up as I type this. The house was left just as horrifyingly messy as usual…but I was thrilled and content. Why? Because of the kindness shown to me by my guests, I awoke the following morning eager to clean and thank the Lord for a wonderful night with old friends and new. I didn’t have an ounce of frustration.
All this got me thinking (yes, while I was loading the dishwasher for the third time and still smiling!). I imagine that there are plenty of you out there who are not home-openers but home-goers. You aren’t the ones volunteering your homes, but you are very happy to enter other’s homes for meetings and parties. I’m going to take a wild guess and assume many of you have no idea how to be a good guest. I mean seriously, have you ever said to yourself before entering a home: “Man, I hope I can show hospitality to the host tonight?” Don’t lie. I know what you say. You say to yourself, “Man, I hope the host throws a good party tonight!”
Christian circles chatter a lot about how to be hospitable, but this is almost always from the perspective of the one playing the role of the host. The fact of the matter is that we spend far more time being an attendee than we do the host. I’d love to share some thoughts with you about how to be a hospitable recipient of hospitality. 1 Peter 4:9 says: “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Why would he write this down for all of eternity if grumbling isn’t a typical side effect of showing hospitality? As someone who is more often the giver than the receiver of hospitality (let’s face it, no one invites their pastor or his family over for dinner, right!?!), I thought I’d share with you some ways that you can help your hostess win the battle against grumbling.
8 Hints for Reverse Hospitality
1. Think ahead. Call or text (do not email!) the host about an hour before the gathering. Ask her if there’s anything she needs…or even crazier, if you can help clean! Gasp! Try to consider that the host (and the family she has enslaved for the hour) is running around frantically trying to hide the clutter in every nook and cranny while her kids are simultaneously pulling out every toy they never knew they had. Most likely they’re finding permanent markers and paint. She’s fighting a losing battle. One simple gesture of being thought of can give her a great deal of momentum.
Recently, I had one friend text to see if she could come help me clean before the party. I had a couple volunteer to do my dishes before the party, and yet another friend came by to drop off a television. She looked around, saw the state of the home, and stayed to help clean too. Dang, I’m looking like a really awesome housekeeper right now. Anyway, I needed the help, but I would never have asked for it. What a gift those friends were!
2. Take a gift. You know, a hostess gift. It’s pretty easy for me to say this being that I’ll often be the recipient, but it’s true. This used to be common sense, but in recent years the notion of a hostess gift has gone to the wayside. I’d love to see it brought back to life. I don’t mean a gift like you run out to Anthropologie and buy her a cardigan (I mean, unless you want to!). I’m just saying it’s customary to enter the home with something in your hand to contribute to the party or her home. A bottle of wine. A CD with party music that you’ve mixed for her. A bag of salad mix – anything that says, “I’m not a freeloader. I appreciate you having me over.”
Our Super Bowl party was a potluck, so fortunately almost everyone came with a hostess gift. The cool thing is that several guests left us treats – an unopened box of tiramisu, a box of steaks, and a bottle of wine. Thanks friends! One of my favorite “gifts” is a pack of napkins. I buy several packets from Ikea every time I visit so that I always have a pack ready to give.
3. Think about the guests – during the gathering! Remember that the church is a family. We work and play together. We should all look to exercise hospitality at a party—pursuing the stranger, loving a neighbor, encouraging others. There is no possible way that the hostess can be present with everyone at every moment. Her goal is to keep everyone entertained and feeling welcomed. Feel free to join her on this mission by keeping an eye out for the wall flowers and corner dwellers in the room. Go up to them. Introduce yourself. Make a new friend. Your hostess will be delighted.
We had a great mix of neighbors, friends, and acquaintances. We had a couple come that was so new to the city that they’re not even living in Austin yet. Suffice it to say they knew no one in the room. Wanna hear the crazy thing? They were the last two to leave! This is because so many people reached out to them and showed interest in them. Heck, I’d savor every last moment of that too!
5. Keep it short and gracious with the hostess – your conversation, that is. Trust me on this. She is thinking about everyone in the room. Not just you. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but during the party you are not the only planet in her solar system. Please do not use the event as the perfect time to fill her in on your latest heartache and how devastated you are. Use the party to express interest in hanging out later in the week. Also, and I have seriously had this happen – do not, under any circumstances, use the party as the time to confess how you’ve been angry and bitter towards her. End of story. Don’t do it.
The Super Bowl party was so enjoyable to me! I was able to keep floating around the room, checking on people, adoring the children, making introductions, and so forth. I was never once asked to sneak away for a private conversation… and, sigh of relief, was never punched in the proverbial gut for disappointing someone that week. Whew! Good times.
6. Take what you brought. Please hear me on this. I wish there was a more gentle way of saying this, but this is the best I can come up with: The hostess just cannot deliver your Pyrex containers to you. It cannot be her responsibility to wash your casserole dish or your fleece sweater. Please take what you brought, and kindly arrange a time to pick up what gets forgotten. She will most likely lose your casserole dish … or, knowing her, will give it to someone who needs a meal!
Of course there were items and dishes left on the counter last time…but so far no one has made any demands on me to deliver anything. I am rejoicing in that! In fact, I’ve set up a Lost and Found bin in my garage. If anyone leaves something, I throw it in there. No more transferring unclaimed clutter from room to room day after day. Freedom!
7. Think about the hostess – during the gathering! You cannot begin to imagine how much it helps to have people tending to your home while you’re entertaining. Be mindful of juiceboxes and paper plates just lying around for the elusive “someone” to pick up. Why not pick them up yourself? If you see the ice level getting low, how about not telling the hostess but rather fill it up yourself. Trust me – she won’t mind. She has no personal connection to the ice maker.
A gentleman came to me during the Super Bowl and quietly asked, “Where do you keep your trash bags?” Are you kidding me!?! What a beautiful question. I wanted to hug him! Most guests say something like: “Your trash needs to be emptied.” Nate let me know he was on it and just needed some help with the supplies. His wife married good!
8. Think twice. By this I mean to contact your host sometime following the party to thank her. Of course you should thank her before you leave…but I’m suggesting contacting her again once it’s all said and done. She has poured her heart out in preparation. Even the smallest of gatherings require cleaning and a lot of thought. When everyone is out of her house, she will spend quite a bit of time trying to determine if everyone enjoyed themselves and if the goal of the evening was accomplished. Your simple text, voicemail, email can make a huge difference to her. Something so quick and effortless carries a huge impact on her heart. Grateful hearts give her fuel to host another gathering!
I’ve had several emails thanking me for the party and know what’s even better? I’ve had two women ask me if they can come over and help me clean up! What a joy to be offered help like that. That is reverse hospitality!
These are seven simple ways that the receiver of hospitality can profoundly encourage the giver of hospitality. I have hosted events where none of these happened, and I’ve hosted events where each of them occurred. There is a marked difference in my memories of the events. I’ll give you two guesses s to which I remember more fondly.
The Chief Host
I want to be clear before concluding. As a bearer of a spiritual gift, I am responsible for my own heart. I believe each gift from the Lord comes with it’s own job hazard such as pride and fear of man. The job hazard of hospitality is often bitterness. I am responsible to guard my heart against it whether or not anyone ever expresses gratitude for offering my home, time, money and energy. Even under the best of circumstances, there’s always something I can find to complain about. After about twenty years of using my gift of hospitality, the Lord has proven to me that He alone can bear the burden of meeting all my needs. Even the best of parties can leave me wanting if I am not serving or leaning on the power of Christ. He is the gift provider and the giver of the grace to accomplish it.
Having said that, isn’t it wonderful, though, that as family of God we can make things easier for each other? We can “show hospitality to one another,” even if you don’t do much hosting. We can bear one another’s burdens, while enjoying a party. Jesus frees us to serve one another, and from keeping a record of hospitality, because he is our chief Host. He lays a banquet of perfect rest and delight.
My hope in writing these words is to encourage you to be an encourager. I’d be so thrilled if just one more hostess could wake up the morning after so grateful that the Lord gave her the privilege of destroying her home for His people. As a serial home-opener, I’m encouraging you to be a hospitable receiver of hospitality, to practice reverse hospitality. The party will be better for it!
Robie Kaye Dodson lives in Austin, Tx with her husband Jonathan and their three young children. She's a horrible cook and a worse housekeeper...but she loves Jesus who gives her worth and meaning in the majestic and mundane of life. When all else fails, she makes dresses! Read more of her craft at www.sosewsomething.com. Follow on Twitter: @RobieDodson
Read Gospel Amnesia by Luma Simms.