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It happened ten years ago, but I remember her tone as if it all went down yesterday. I was just learning what it meant to offer hospitality. I was just learning to open my heart and my home to others. We lived in a little doublewide at least a dozen miles from anything worthy of being called a town, and we kept company with deer and coon dogs that echoed through our valley on cool autumn nights.
I’d been investing in the life of a younger woman for a few months, and I finally invited her to our modest little home with blue couches, blue carpeting, and blue walls. (Yes, it’s true. I hadn’t started reading Better Homes & Gardens yet.)
We shared a lovely evening with a walk down the dirt road where I often strolled, ate fried chicken for dinner, and enjoyed light conversation. As the evening wore on, I wanted to hear more about her life – about the struggles that had shaped her and the truths that defined her. I asked deep questions, and she opened up with answers about her past. Hard things. Things no girl should have to endure.
My heart ached as she spoke, and when she finished speaking I did what I thought I was supposed to do as a good Christian mentor. I started sharing passages of Scripture to speak into her broken past.
While my motives were pure and heart-felt, my friend didn’t appreciate them. She looked me straight in the eye and told me she didn’t need a sermon.
I was crushed.
I only wanted to help.
That was the night I learned that people often want a safe space to be heard, but they don’t often appreciate a quick response that comes off more like a sermon than a conversation. My friend simply needed me to listen to her story. Certainly there would have been a place to share some heart-felt Scripture later, but she didn’t need five quick and easy Bible verses to erase her past pain.
I later apologized, and we mended the relationship.
I look back with gratitude for what I learned that autumn night in the blue room: The best way to offer hospitality is to create a space where others know they belong. We do this through unspoken words and gently conveyed attitudes that speak louder than the presentation of our food or our perfectly tidy homes.
When it comes to offering hospitality, attitudes speak louder than anything. Here are 15 attitdues that cultivate a sense of belonging:
Aim to create a space where people are free to show up and be the truest form of themselves. Set the example by being the truest form of your actual self and displaying the truest form of your actual home. Your goal is not to impress people; it is to welcome them and love them.
I lead younger women in Bible studies from my living room every Tuesday morning. I used to believe that I had to know my Bible cover-to-cover and hide my struggles with these younger women. Over time, I came to realize that some of the best life lessons are learned when I let younger women see my struggles and allow them to help me wrestle through difficult circumstances. We don’t need to have our faith, our theology on suffering, and our lives entirely figured out before we invite people into our homes and ask deep questions.
3. Focus on conversation and not tasks
Whether you’re hosting a dinner party or leading a book club, focus on looking into the eyes of your guests and loving them through listening to them. Focus on asking probing questions and listening actively.
4. Comfort over a 5-star presentation
Regardless of the event you are hosting, people want to feel comfortable. They want a place where they feel like they can show up and belong. Offer a comfortable environment and comfort food instead of worrying about a perfect table setting and matching seat covers.
5. Let your gifts shine
If aesthetics are your gift, go ahead and decorate until your heart is content. If you love to bake, go all out. If landscaping is your passion, create a beautiful space in your backyard. But don’t try to force what doesn’t come naturally. If you are too stressed out to enjoy your guests, it will be obvious. Aim for kindness over perfection.
Hospitality largely involves creating a space where people feel like they belong. Numbers 6-10 on our list are dedicated to making others feel listened to and loved. This can happen in your home, at a restaurant, or anywhere you commit to open your heart and love well:
6. Listen well
Most people are hungry for a place where others will listen to their stories, their struggles, and their concerns. Offer hospitality by listening well.
7. Try not to act shocked
Listening well often opens doors for your guests to share very personal aspects of their lives. Especially if your form of hospitality is a one-on-one coffee date or mentoring morning, you might hear a few secrets that surprise you. Aim to react with compassion and empathy and not shock. If you want the conversation to continue flowing, simply stay engaged as you listen and reassure your friend that this is a safe place to share difficult experiences.
8. Love others wherever they happen to be on their journey
Countless times, younger women have joined me in my living room and shared their struggles with deeply personal issues. Provide a place of support and remember that we make a difference in the lives of others when we aim for the heart and not the behavior. A young woman who is partying hard and living a reckless life needs love and a safe place to seek truth. Offer that place by loving her right where she is on her journey of life, encouraging her to make healthy decisions, and speaking truth . . .
9. Speak truth, but only in LOVE
No one wants to sit on your couch and hear your sermon. Speak the truth to those who share heavy burdens, but don’t speak it until you have examined your heart and experience deep grief over saying difficult things. Speak the truth in love and love alone.
For numbers 10-15, click here to download your free Toolkit for Hospitality without Perfection.