I was recently a guest at my boyfriend’s daughter’s wedding. He lived several states away for most of the last twenty-five years and this was the first time I’d been around his former extended family and many of his friends. Being the father-of-the-bride’s girlfriend was a bit awkward most of the weekend, but it gave me the perspective of an outsider which I realized isn’t a common experience for me.
It made me think about how often our families change and how many people will be experiencing that social awkwardness over the next few months as family holiday gatherings take place. Kids grow up and bring home dates. Parents divorce. We experience loss.
All families change. It’s part of life, but we don’t usually think about how to adjust graciously, in a healthy way. We’re often more concerned with how change means it isn’t like it’s always been. If you think about it, we’re always in a temporary family situation. Change is inevitable. Let’s consider how we can approach family change with an open heart and spirit rather than a protective, get-off-my-lawn attitude.
Let’s start with the idea of hospitality. Hospitality isn’t just people throwing parties and it’s not simply entertaining well. It’s less of an event than an attitude prompting genuine service. We share our lives and invest in others because Christ has done so for us. Matt Chandler says,
Hospitality might sound unexciting or initially feel confusing. But when the Bible speaks of hospitality, it almost always ties it to aliens and strangers—people who aren’t like us. If I had to come up with a biblical definition for hospitality, I’d say it means to give loving welcome to those outside your normal circle of friends. It’s opening your life and your house to those who believe differently than you do.
You may be in a position this holiday season to give loving welcome to those outside your normal circle of friends–right in your own family. It’s certainly easier to think that it’s someone else’s responsibility. You might not like their looks, their behavior, their choices, or their culture. You might even be offended that the person is present. But, does any of that really matter?
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2)
I’m not saying your brother’s new girlfriend is an angel. But God doesn’t ask us to show love and gospel-driven hospitality only when it’s easy and convenient. Sometimes we have that opportunity within our own families. Sometimes it’s awkward. Sometimes it’s a personal sacrifice.
So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done for you.
“Truly I tell you, a servant is not greater than his master, and a messenger is not greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13:14-17)
Jesus served his closest friends in a humbling way. He washed the dust, dirt, and grime from John and from Peter. But, he did the same thing for Judas. He washed the dust, dirt, and grime from Judas knowing exactly what was to come.
But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
While you were an enemy of God, he gave his life for you. If you struggle to show love to others this season, remember the sacrificial love Christ offered you while you were his enemy.
“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9)
If you’re looking for ways to serve Christ, to show his love this season, you may not need to look any farther than the couch in your mother’s living room. You don’t need to preach. You don’t need to quote bible verses. All you need to do is choose to genuinely care about another human being.
Families Change: Five Ways to Be Hospitable at Family Gatherings
Smiling could not be any easier to do. But, to an outsider at a gathering unsure of their place, their welcome, or their reception, a warm smile can mean a great deal. Being willing to make eye contact and smiling can offer reassurance and welcome in the simplest of ways.
Be the first to approach a newcomer, introduce yourself, and ask a question. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Don’t wait to be invited. Make it your assignment to go out of your way to make people feel welcomed.
It’s easy to allow a stranger in a family group or group of old friends to lurk on the outside of any conversation. They won’t know the insider language, the stories, or the references. Include those new to the group by explaining references, asking someone to retell a story, and including topics everyone can participate in. Don’t let the newcomer’s companion be the only one responsible for translating the conversation.
Ask the newcomer about their life, their interests, their work, or their family. Make it a point to learn three to five interesting things about them. Ask open-ended questions, ones that require more than a yes or no answer. Ask follow up questions and dig a little deeper. Show interest in who they are.
Feel free to share about yourself and your family, but don’t do all the talking. Learn to listen well.
Whether you develop a life-long friendship or simply make someone feel more comfortable for a few moments, taking responsibility for showing kindness and hospitality in a gathering of friends or family is a very simple way to share the love of Christ in your corner of the world. For you, it might mean a few minutes of awkward conversation (particularly if you’re an introvert). But, for the outsider in any gathering, it will be an unforgettable kindness.
Hospitality should be our natural response as Christians. Go out of your way to be an includer. Take responsibility for the warmth and welcome in any gathering you find yourself in this holiday season and you’ll be acting according to God’s heart.
P.S. Sandy, if you read this, thank you for showing that unforgettable kindness to me at your granddaughter’s wedding. Much love to you.