In every guest, we see Christ

Hospitality scares me. You, too?

Did you grow up in a home where everything had to be magazine-perfect when guests were coming? And now, when after a soccer game, your husband turns to the couple standing next to you on the sidelines and says, "Come by our house; let's cook out," you die a thousand deaths. Because you know there are no guest towels in the foyer bathroom, and you know the kitchen floor is sticky under the bar stools by the island. And you know you hadn't really budgeted for an impromptu cookout. But he's smiling warmly and they are offering to bring something, so you also know this is going to happen.

Die, you tell yourself. Die to your perfectionism. Die to your pride. And don't you dare start barking orders at your children as if you could whip things into shape quickly enough to keep up the image that your household is perfect.

It's not. And you know it.

Instead, shove aside your Martha Stewart imagination and resolve this one thing: Offer hospitality without a side of sin. Offer gracious hospitality. Offer grace-filled hospitality.

In 1 Kings 17, the prophet Elijah goes to Zaraphath and drops in unexpectedly on a widow, who has only a handful of oil and a little water with which to feed herself and her son. The prophet asks for a cup of water and some bread. She explains that she has very little, even as she goes off to prepare something for him. And he assures her all will be well.

I think it's safe to assume the widow is remarkably unconcerned about guest towels and sticky spots. She is a bit concerned about quantity, because she barely has enough for herself and her son. She extends herself anyway, offers hospitality to Elijah and is blessed beyond her wildest imaginings. You can't outgive God.

But you can stand rooted in pride and miss the opportunity to both give and receive blessing. The key to hospitality is humility.

In order to truly extend hospitality we must put away our pride. We must be willing to open our doors, no matter the state of homes or our wardrobes, and to graciously seek to make our visitors feel welcome and at ease. When we do this, we allow people to see us as we are. We put away the pretense and we offer ourselves with all our weaknesses. When we offer ourselves to other people and allow them to see our imperfections, we take a chance.

A chance is all God needs.

He'll step into the space you create in that chance and He will bless it. It may not look perfect. It very well could be disastrous by magazine standards. (I've had that happen exactly once in 28 years, and I'm still learning from that particular experience.) But it will be blessed.

As we begin to practice the ministry of hospitality, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable; we live genuine humility. We open our doors and our hearts, and certainly some people will come through those doors who don't view our efforts through the same lens of charity. On occasion, we will hear a critical comment; we will be judged according to the world's standards. We will feel as if we've come up short. But we haven't truly. Those are the times the hospitable hostess will offer to Christ, imperfect and heartfelt, knowing that He will redeem the time and the effort.

When it's 11 a.m. and you're still in your pajamas and the doorbell rings and it's your neighbor, let her in. Clear a spot on the couch. Find a clean mug and make tea.

Take a chance.

In every guest, see Christ. Open your heart wide; risk allowing people to see your weaknesses. For it is in that very weakness that His power is made perfect.

Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015

@elizabethfoss