spiritual disciplines real families

Missed the previous posts and the ideas behind this series? Catch ’em here.

He was barely in the front door, cheeks flushed from the bike ride home. He smelled like the cold and that faintest puff of little-boy sweat. “Mom! Guess what! We’re getting a new kid and his name is Toby and the teacher wants me to show him around and tell him all about the school!” He drew a breath, those Chiclet-sized adult teeth still, charmingly, just a bit too big for his eight-year-old mouth.

I grinned. Just a month ago, he’d been the new kid. Now my little guy was thrilled to be the one ushering in a new friend.

In all reality, hospitality isn’t something I find just in someone’s home. Like me, you’ve probably got friends who you feel at home with even as soon as you meet them on the street. That sense of “home” is just a glimpse of the eternal.

THE KEY: Teaching our kids to accept and welcome people of all kinds–in any place–in a way that shows how Jesus welcomes us, preparing a place for us.

In this welcoming, we offer unseen resources–like comfort, peace, delight, nourishment–from tangible surroundings.

The goal is not our own glory as the host. It’s loving well in the name of Jesus; to offer even a cup of cold water in His name.

If this is so, we’ve gotta rethink this Martha-Stewart-meets-Pinterest idea of hospitality. Yes, making a “prepared place” is legit and praiseworthy! But if the goal is God’s glory (i.e. not mine) and loving well, let’s not restrict our hospitality training to the likes of forming a perfect likeness of the Easter bunny from a starched napkin.

Let’s think bigger.

My eternal lesson from times with my impoverished friend Monica: Her hospitality sparkles because of her desire to honor us, to give generously, to connect with us and enjoy a relationship. 

Now–practical ideas to instill this in our kids!

  1. Teach them to greet well–a life lesson for me from Africa. Greeting is our first brush with hospitality! Find practical ideas to teach kids how to greet in this post.
  2. Let them take charge of a little part. When guests come to our house, I like to give different kids different jobs, from setting the table, to getting drinks for arriving guests, to making a dish.
    • Young kids can pick wildflowers, mix something in a bowl, be in charge of welcoming, take coats, or even draw a picture or place cards for guests. Find ideas for teaching table manners here.
    • If guests will have kids with them, try putting an older child in charge of making comfortable a couple of the guests’ smaller kids.
    • If guests will spend the night, let kids’ help replace sheets, clean bathrooms, put out towels, plan meals, or even brainstorm and compile a “hospitality basket” of toiletries and small treats.
    • Kids might not pull it off the same way you would–but it’s terrific training, and so much better than if you didn’t share the opportunity with them. Because the “administrative” element of hospitality is real, you’re creating a mental checklist in them.
    • You might  replace one of your kids’ normal chores with these gestures of hospitality! Again–the idea is for our kids to “get the bug” of enjoying these spiritual disciplines, so they’ll keep being self-driven in them for the rest of their lives.
  3. When guests come, I’ve been guilty of offering beforehand a small reward for the kid who asks the best question of our guest. Sometimes I let the guest decide the winner!
  4. Show kids ways to be a safe place emotionally.
  5. At the playground or other arenas where there will be younger kids, remind bigger kids to look out for–protecting, helping–smaller kids. This small gesture helps kids look not just to their own play. It helps them serve and help others have a good time, too, even in the midst of fun.
  6. Pray for opportunities. On our final home assignment in the U.S., I asked God to help me draw dotted lines from our compassion-driven in Africa to life in the U.S. And I was amazed with how He answered! One opening was with next-door neighbors to the house where we were staying–a mom whose military husband was frequently deployed, and her two preschoolers. My kids couldn’t wait to go entertain those girls after school each day–and we’re still friends. This was an act of God’s kindness to me, showing that yes, there are so many opportunities to love…even right next door.
  7. Model, model, model. This post explores the fascinating concept of making our homes an “open house”!  Africa–with all its spontaneous guests and a lack of frills–drove home what hospitality can be. (Hint: It’s something more than cleaning the house in a frenzy and crafting your best dessert.) If our homes are God’s–how can they flourish as hubs for simply loving people, whenever they come–wherever they’re at? Do we welcome people of all races–including society’s “lame” and “blind”–or are our shindigs only for our own kind? Honestly, it’s what my own parents modeled for me–the “family business” they keep passing down to my sisters and our families.
  8. After church one Sunday, I realized I hadn’t really prepped my kids for all the conversations we adults have. They just wanted to pile in the car. This resulted in some whining (theirs, at least this time) and even one child head-butting me consistently in the side. Nice. So in the car on the way home, we talked about what church really is: doing life together, like Acts 2 discusses. It’s not an event. Now my kids understand that times before and after church are times to take care of people and connect–not just book it home so we can chill.
  9. A note about cleaning up: As a woman whose house constantly teeters on the brink of squalor–well, disarray at least–I’m conscious of this idea that “Mom goes into a cleaning flurry whenever we expect guests.” It seems to focus on that “appearances” aspect of hospitality I’m tempted by, when I really want to focus on just loving people well. And honestly–I do want kids’ rooms clean for guests. And in general. So when my kids mention cleaning up “for company”, I remind them that a clean house makes a prepared place, comfortable for people, and that God loves order. Also, in our culture, a clean home tends to make people feel more comfortable. (In China, I’m told they would not clean for a guest.) But that doesn’t mean we run around like chickens with our heads cut off. We work from peace, not for peace. If someone shows up spontaneously and the living room looks a little like someone turned it upside down and shook it–oh, well. This is who we are, and it’s real life. Let’s not perpetuate the “you should have your act together at all times” myth.
  10. Go MAD. When I was a kid, my dad would send us from our aging farmhouse every morning by patting me on my overly-purple backpack and cheering us on to “Go MAD”: His code for Go Make a Difference. Now I’m the one on the front porch, praying for my kids (maybe finger-combing their unbrushed hair in the process) and telling them gently to “Go make a difference!” Part of hospitality is simply training kids’ eyes to see; to be givers rather than takers. I pray aloud they’ll be a blessing to their teachers and loving to other kids. Sometimes training missional, hospitable kids is simply reminding them to see, I think. To look for opportunities to love and give.
  11. What will they cook up? In the summers, I put a different child in charge of cooking the meal (or a dish, based on age; my kids 10-13 can cook simple meals). I’ve found it valuable to train kids in the administrative aspects of hosting: planning what you’ll cook and how much, balancing a meal (no, we can’t have mashed potatoes, rice, and bread for a meal), getting all the dishes ready at the same time, etc. Even better, help them form a collection of their favorite recipes, which will keep on giving.
  12. Be the conversational host. If they’re at a table (say, the cafeteria) or standing in a group with friends (youth group, perhaps?), they can act as the host–introducing somebody new who joins, and helping the newcomer know what the conversation’s about. In a new situation or group, give kids a few questions to hold in their back pocket in a group situation, to help get conversation going.
    • What’s your favorite subject in school? Mine is __.
    • I like [Legos, dance, strategy games]. What are you into?
    • What’s one of the coolest things you’ve done lately?
  13. Take initiative. If you’re moving into a neighborhood, consider being the one to bring over the banana bread and introduce yourselves. At Christmas, consider making a tradition of homemade treats for teachers, neighbors, and those who serve you(garbage men, postal workers), passing them out and wishing a Merry Christmas. It may be as simple as dipped pretzels with sprinkles (great for little kids), or melted almond bark spread with crushed peppermints. Yumm-o–and what a fun way to embrace people around you!

Help us out! How do you pass on skills of hospitality to your kids? Please comment below!

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