If you grew up in a church then there are two particular stories that you are probably familiar with. The story of Mary and Martha, and the story of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples. Most people use the story as Mary and Martha to illustrate how we should focus more on worship than on things of this world. However, what if we looked at the story a different way? What if we looked at this story from the eyes of someone opening their home to a guests and stopped trying to over-spiritualize it? Martha and Jesus are two very different examples of hospitality. On one hand we see a hostess busy working for her guests, and on the other hand we see a host busy serving his guests. There may not seem like much of a difference at all, but as we look closer we see the difference is the focus. Martha was busy focusing on the preparations, and Jesus kept His focus on the people.
Luke 10: “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
John 13: “It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
There is a difference between working and serving when it comes to hospitality. Working implies that you are busy with the preparation and the appearance of your home, even when company is sitting on your couch. Serving implies that you are preparing your heart for the people sitting on your couch. I am not condemning Martha at all. There is nothing wrong with working, the Bible commands and commends hard work. The problem comes when we are so busy with the work that we forget the reason for it. Martha could not stop worrying about the preparation of the meal and of her table that she failed to realize that Jesus Christ Himself was sitting in her living room. What if we treated each guest as if they were Jesus? What if we gave them our undivided attention while they were in our home, just as we would give Jesus? Jesus says in Matthew 25 “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
From the example Jesus set in the book of John, He sat and ate with the disciples and then got up to serve them by washing their feet, still spending time with them by serving them. I’m not saying we need to start washing our guest’s feet, but what are some practical ways to apply this truth while we have guests in our home? Here are 4 simple ways that we can practice to place our focus on the people in our home, rather than busy ourselves with preparations.
1.) Prepare ahead of time.
When you are planning to have company, do any necessary cleaning the day before. Wipe surfaces down and clean toilets. Sweep the floors clean and clear any clutter. If you are having a dinner, have as much of the food prepared ahead of time as possible. Have the table set ahead of time (set it the night before if you work a day job outside your home). Be sure that the dishwasher is empty and ready to go.
If you are someone who has unexpected or “drop-by” company often, set a daily tea/coffee tray that can be ready at a moment’s notice. To set a tea tray you’ll need a serving tray, tea/coffee pot, sugar bowl and tongs, cups with saucers, and a plate of simple shortbread cookies or scones. You can also add cocktail napkins or small pretty handkerchiefs and cream/milk to add to your beverage.
If you have space and can dedicate a cupboard or shelf to keep stock for company, that helps save time when grabbing for something quick. Good things to keep on hand are shortbread cookies, biscotti, crackers, summer sausage, block cheese, assorted tea bags, and an alternative to sugar for sweetening.
2.) Listen to your guest.
One of the biggest problems with people is that we like to talk. Talking is not a bad thing, but unless your guests came specifically for information don’t make them feel like they’re sitting through a seminar. We should listen at least twice as much as we speak. Encourage your guests to open up by asking open ended questions that require an answer more complex than a simple yes/no. When you are more interested in your guests than impressing them, you will build their confidence and let them know that they are important to you.
4.) Put your phone down.
Don’t spend your evening catching up on emails or text messages. Don’t sit there scrolling through social media while your guests are speaking to a wall. As boring and dry as some people may be, resist the urge to open your phone’s game app. Turn your focus 100% to your guests. It’s disturbing how much of our attention goes to our devices and how disconnected we are because of that. Make a habit to leave your phone in the other room during meal times. Place it on silent and away from your person when you have a guest sitting with you actively talking to you. Put it in your bag or pocket when out to dinner with friends. Be sure that the people and relationships in your life aren’t suffering because you can’t put your phone down.
4.) Save the dishes until guests are gone.
This is a tough one. I’m the type of person that wants to do the dishes and clean my kitchen right after dinner. I’ve had to force myself to learn to sit them on the counter, or in the sink, and return to my guests. This makes for some late nights and it’s not always fun. But my guests feel loved. They feel the effect of my full attention. They know that I care about spending time hearing what they have to say. They feel important. And that’s what it’s all about. I say this often, but true hospitality is when your guests leave your home feeling better about themselves, not better about you. If you have company that is uneasy with leaving the dishes, you can quickly stack everything in an empty dishwasher and come back to sort it out after they’ve left. One exception to the “leave the dishes” rule is when you have overnight guests.
Friends, in a life that’s busy and surrounded with so many distractions, let’s turn our focus on the people in our home. Let’s lift them up, listen to them, pray with them, encourage them, and love them like Jesus.