Grandma Miles’s house always seemed to smell of molasses, and I still remember the tall jar of hard candy she kept on the shelf by the door. There were always shoes scattered clumsily in the doorway. There were always dishes in the sink, and coffee cups—both used and unused—lined the countertop.
When I think of how to be hospitable, I think of Grandma Miles.
It wasn’t the presentation of perfect baked goods or gourmet coffee that made Grandma’s house the picture of hospitality. It wasn’t the neatness of her shelves or the trendiness of her home décor.
What made Grandma’s home the picture of hospitality was the warmth that exuded from the woman who welcomed us all with open arms, joyful laughter, and literal songs of celebration.
Grandma was the mother of six adult children and the grandma to dozens of grandchildren. She understood the value of imperfection, and her life had possibly forced her to understand this idea out of necessity. Every time we walked through Grandma’s creaky screen door, we stepped into a place where we knew we were accepted just as we were, appreciated without needing to wear a façade, and supported amidst our imperfect lives.
As I aim to be hospitable in my own life, I remember the way our family gathered in Grandma and Papa’s den. We shared rootbeer, laughter, and memories. Grandma was seldom anxious and rarely distressed. She took joy in serving cookies and apple pies. Her home was a place where everyone belonged and isn’t this what we all really need—a place to belong.
Grandma wasn’t wealthy by cultural standards, but she didn’t fear hospitality. She embodied John Piper’s words: “If you are afraid of hospitality—that you don’t have much personal strength or personal wealth—good. Then you won’t intimidate anybody. You will depend all the more on God’s grace. You will look all the more to the work of Christ and not your own work. And what a blessing people will get in your simple home or little apartment.”
How do we cultivate the kind of hospitality that touches eternity? We worry less about presentation and set our focus on conversation. We create a safe place where people know they belong. We offer warmth over neatness. We embrace kindness instead of trying to impress. We offer comfort instead of presentation. Let’s look at each of these ideas below:
1. Be Hospitable by Aiming for Conversation instead of Appearance
It’s tempting to try to make our homes appear perfect when we know there will be guests. Instead of stressing over the dirt on the floor, the fingerprints on the mirror, and the dishes in the sink, welcome guests into your home through the art of conversation. Ask probing questions. Set distractions aside and show them that you’re interested in what they have to say. Turn off the phone and the television and drink deeply from the well of another person’s life experiences.
2. Be Hospitable by Creating a Safe Place by Listening Well
Michael Card once said that the best way to love someone is to listen to them. More often than not, when guests arrive, they long for someone to simply listen to them. Grandma Miles offered a safe place to share our fears and concerns. She always offered input, but even in times of correction, we knew her words flowed from a place of love. Seek to be hospitable by listening well.
3. Be Hospitable by Offering Warmth over Neatness
I mentor younger women from my living room weekly. The room is generally strewn with my children’s toys, snacks, and messes. With a five-year-old boy in the house, I never know what they might encounter when my guests ask to use the powder room in the hallway.
When they do encounter a mess, I apologize, find the Lysol, and we laugh. It’s not perfect, but we are both blessed by sharing in relationship. Valuing conversation over appearance does more than show care; my messy house shows that my guests don’t have to have perfect lives either.
4. Be Hospitable by Focusing on Comfort instead of Presentation
I admittedly feel nervous when I know we’re having dinner guests. I want the food to turn out just right, and I fear burning the crust on the bread and over-baking the chicken.
Instead of worrying about perfect presentation, whether it regards food or simply the ambiance of the house, focus on comfort. Serve easy crock-pot soup or a meal you cook with ease. Focus on comfort food and comfortable surroundings instead of perfect food and a perfect living room.
5. Be Hospitable by Aiming for Kindness instead of Trying to Impress
When we’re honest, most of us feel anxious about opening our homes because we’re worried about what others will think. We want to offer our very best. We want to impress people with our napkin folding, wall art designs, and cooking skills.
Instead of trying to impress those who walk through your door, focus on extending as much kindness as possible. Offer a sincere smile. Ask heartfelt questions. Listen with your heart. Aim to encourage and bless. Make hospitality entirely about your guests and not at all about what they might think of you.
As I remember the warmth of Grandma’s home, I smile at the legacy she leaves in each of her children and grandchildren. May we learn to open our homes to others and leave similar marks of kindness on the world.
This post is part of a series called The Art of Imperfect Hospitality. For a toolkit of practical ways to extend hospitality in your life, click here to receive your free Complete Toolkit for Hospitality without Perfection. The kit includes twenty easy ways to extend hospitality, games, activities, recipes, conversation starters, and more.
Written by Stacey Pardoe
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on staceypardoe.com.
Featured Image by Daiga Ellaby