The Secret of Hospitality (Hint: It is NOT Space)

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J_Bronwyn

I stared, mesmerized. A glitch in my computer settings changed the screensaver. Instead of the usual drift of my children’s smiling faces floating across my screen, images from a decade ago appeared: snapshots from dinners I’d long since forgotten.

Picture after picture rolled onto the screen: seven students laughingly piled on a creaky hand-me-down futon. Twenty women cross-legged on our living room floor. Eight excited smiles of the short-term mission team we hosted for dinner in preparation for a trip back to South Africa.

So many people, I thought. And to think we hosted all of those events in a cramped apartment of less than 800 square feet.

My mind flew back to that first year of our marriage. In the first six months after our wedding, we’d lived in an apartment for just a few weeks, and then put all our worldly possessions, including boxes of not-yet-used wedding presents, into storage. We packed our clothes and essentials into two suitcases of airline-regulation weight, and then, over the next four months,  lived on the hospitality of kind friends in four different countries as we slowly made our way to the United States.

Seven months after our wedding day, we moved into our first “permanent” apartment: a one-bedroomed space hastily found. With our few remaining dollars, we bought a makeshift bed and a set of linen, and gratefully accepted boxes of used kitchen supplies from a kind couple who were marrying and trading in their “college goods” for the new things on their wedding registry. We purchased a set of cutlery and crockery for $12 from the thrift store, and celebrated our good fortune.

I walked past the large trash containers in our apartment complex, amazed that in the US people would throw out perfectly serviceable things, even if they were no longer fashionable. I salvaged a throw pillow here, a tray there, a creaky-but-functional chair.

Just a few weeks after arriving with nothing but suitcases, we were ecstatic to find ourselves in a furnished apartment, albeit a rather mismatched and eclectically decorated one. And it was into this tiny space that I started to do what I had always done: welcome people over, brew pots of tea, cook shared meals, tell the stories that stitch new relationships together.

Staring at my screensaver, I counted more than 60 faces who had shared a meal with us during that first year. No doubt, there were more. My eyes drifted from the window into our past up on the screen down into our present-day living room: with new, leather couches, and book shelves lined with hundreds of books. Down the hallway, I could see the two large boxes of goods awaiting delivery to the local thrift store: the results of a week of fervent decluttering where I was now the one throwing away serviceable, but unused, items from our house.

How was it, I thought, that I sometimes found myself thinking, “We can’t host that event. We don’t have enough space.” Ten years ago, we had hosted groups larger than that, in half the space and with a quarter of the goods.

I breathed in deeply and heard my younger self speak kindly to me: “You have space enough. You may not have seats enough, or plates enough–but you have love enough, and that is enough.”

Hospitality never was about having enough space in our home. Hospitality is about having enough space in my heart–enough space to welcome people to share our old futon, and our chipped plates; to slip off their shoes and sink into a safe space where we say with honesty, Mi casa, su casa.

See this mess? See this jumbled assortment of goods? This is our home, where we LIVE. And your messy, jumbled self is most welcome to be at home with us here.

There is space enough for one more at the table. Take off your shoes. Pull up a chair. You are welcome here.

________________

Image credit: emdot

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Bronwyn Lea
Bronwyn Lea is a South-African born writer-mama, raising little people in California and raising eyebrows at bronlea.com. Fueled by grace, caffeine and laughter, she writes about the holy and hilarious in life, faith and family. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Bronwyn Lea
Bronwyn Lea

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  • ashslater

    Love this article, Bronwyn! This is something I’ve been challenged over the last few months to do better at … so your article continues to inspire me.

    • Thanks, Ashleigh. You know, we keep an empty chair at our table 😉

  • HBurns

    Love this post – perfect! Thanks for the challenge and the important reminder. Happy New Year xo

    • I was challenged by Younger Me too! Happy New Year 🙂

  • Such a great reminder! Perfect as we head into the new year. Thank you!

    • Thank you, Jenn. May you have so much SPACE in your heart and home this year,

  • Fabulous reminder … Love this so much, Bronwyn!

    • Maybe we’ll get to pull up our knees on a couch full of lego and crumbs and drink rooibos, together. How lovely.

  • This is a great reminder. I was supposed to host a dinner this summer and one of my chairs broke and I called the the whole thing off. “Where would they sit?” I asked myself. How hard is it to borrow a chair? I’m wondering now. I remember Pastor John preaching on generosity one time and he said, “If you think you’ll be generous when you have more money, you won’t be. Generosity is about sharing what you have, not sharing the extra bit you don’t need.” The same applies to hospitality as you’ve written so well here. It’s in the heart, not in the size of our floor plans.

    • “Generosity is about sharing what you have, not sharing the extra bit you don’t need.” Brilliant quote. Thanks, Claire!

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  • Donna

    Love this so much..,, thank you.

    • Thank you for reading, Donna 🙂

  • Thanks for the reminder that it’s not about how much square footage we have – its about how wide we throw open the door.

    • Yes!! Let’s open our doors way, way wide 🙂

  • JennaDeWitt

    This is so convicting and timely! Hosted a tiny New Year’s Eve party, but was a little embarrassed about my bachelorette-pad apartment leading up to it because my friends have REAL houses. You know, grownup, pretty houses with large sofas and fancy dining rooms. Also felt like I couldn’t invite nearly as many people as I wanted to because I have so little seating. It turned out to be really fun, and we could have fit a lot more people!

    • I bet it was a cost and delightful party 🙂 Happy New Year!

  • Brett FISH Anderson

    Love this, Bronwyn – my wife and i have a huge heart for hospitality and having just returned to our home in South Africa [well still looking for a home actually – in a transitionary time right now] after 3 years in SA are really wanting to have significant conversations around the meal table, as i just wrote about on my blog: https://brettfish.wordpress.com/2015/01/04/solving-the-worlds-problems-one-meal-at-a-time

    This just resonates so much and we definitely have the heart for it and even while we wait for our own actual space, that doesn’t mean we can’t use the ones we find ourselves in, in the meantime.

    Keep on
    love brett fish

    • If home is where the heart is – then anywhere is a great hospitable space – rented or owned, local or abroad 🙂 Thanks for reading and sharing, Brett.

  • pastordt

    I love this – so, so true! Thank you.

  • Holly

    “Hospitality never was about having enough space in our home. Hospitality is about having enough space in my heart.”

    Oh how I love this, Bronwyn! We, who have so much, could learn so much from those with so little. It has always been my experience that folks whose lives are short on living space and material goods but full of love are the ones whom I should be modeling myself after.

    • Thanks, Holly. It was an eye-opener to me to realize that it was not just about me comparing my generosity with others when they have less than I do… but comparing my generosity with MYSELF when I’ve had less or more. I always want to be increasing, not decreasing, in generosity.

  • Bev Murrill

    I have no idea how I missed this first time around but what a lovely way to begin New Year’s reading… I love that real hospitality is about the space in our hearts and not in our houses. Beautiful post.

    • Thanks, Bev. I have been so encouraged by your own hospitality online: always making space for other voices and experiences. Thank you for your welcome in the She Loves community, too.

  • Ruth Dimech

    Very good point of view! For sure having more space doesn’t mean that you are more hospital! web site

  • Bronwyn, What a lovely reminder God gave you. May our doors always be open to dispense His grace. I have been loving the new community, Grace Table. This article reminded me of the stories found there. So many beautiful tables.

    • I love the image of us coming together at a table, whether in real life or an online one. Grace Table is fabulous! The fellowship over a meal is always that much sweeter.

  • Katy Tullos

    I love this. My family and I are in transition and living with family while we look for a house of our own (having just moved back to Texas from Iowa). We have had so many talks about our commitment to be hospitable even when all our belongings are in boxes and pizza in a box is the only thing on the menu.

    • I, for one, am a big fan of pizza in the box. Hope your new home is filled with many memories of friends being well loved in your space.

  • Marcy Hanson

    Oh how I love this! It brings back memories of married student housing and 400 square feet! Love is enough. Hospitality is all about our hearts. Beautiful post, Bronwyn.

    • Thanks, Marcy. 400 square feet is very cosy indeed (like those IKEA show rooms… imagine the possibilities!)

  • Lisha Epperson

    I remember a stretched wide grace that emboldened me to embrace hospitality…to make it work whenever, wherever. Those were the days of hosting more that 30 people in our tiny 2 bedroom railroad apartment. Today we have twice the space and wouldn’t think of hosting half that amount. Remembering the love that gave us the courage to consider doing something we’d call foolish now. Love IS always enough.

    • Lisha, I am so with you. How is it that twice the space cannot accommodate twice the people? We are on a journey towards ever enlarged hearts.

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