Hospitality is a word that gets thrown around a lot.
We have hospitality committees, the hospitality industry, hospitality suites. But what is hospitality?
My experience is that most people associate hospitality with being good at cooking, having a lovely home, and knowing how to throw a killer party. If you are good at any of these things, then you must “have the gift of hospitality.”
I spent most of my life making the same assumptions about hospitality. It’s the gourmet food. It’s the perfectly appointed home. It’s the pinterest-worth party. But it turns out, while all of these can be part of the experience, none of these are required when it comes to hospitality.
I spent a lot of years straining toward perfection, followed by more years processing through layers of pain, only to come out on the other side and realize how wrong my assumptions about hospitality had been.
At just the right moment, in just the right situation, someone sent to me this quote from Henri Nouwen on hospitality:
“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”
Hospitality, put quite simply, is the art of creating space for others. At its purest, hospitality is me intentionally preparing a place for you.
That’s it. End of story.
Notice that while we may eat food or drink a beverage, those things don’t define hospitality.
And notice, that while we will be somewhere (perhaps in my home or perhaps in a public place) the specifics of that place are not important.
And finally, notice the magnitude of the occasion is nowhere to be found in this definition. Is it a big party? Maybe. But it might also be a quiet cup of coffee shared on my couch.
The only unifying characteristic, the true defining dynamic of hospitality is that I created a place for you.
I have so much more to share on this topic, and I intend to do so along the way, but for now, I want the simplicity and starkness of the definition to sink in and spark some thoughts. As you have these thoughts (or questions, or even disagreements), I would love to hear them.
What does hospitality mean to you?