Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Flip Side of Hospitality

Being good guests is just as important as being hospitable in your own home.

Have you had guests into your home that you can't wait to invite again?
 Have you had guests over that drained you and your family of every ounce of energy?
What kind of reputation do you desire to have as guests?
It was the beginning of a new year, and we were preparing for company.
Our five young children were still enjoying the gifts they had received for Christmas. Our boys were very excited to have some boys their ages over to play. We had splurged on some camouflage play rifles for them for Christmas, and spent more than we normally do on toys.The boys loved them and couldn't way to show them to our company.  At one point during the visit, our young son came out to sit next to me, and snuggled up for a cuddle.  He didn't leave my side, and seemed upset, so I asked him if something was wrong. He just looked at me with tears in his eyes, but couldn't talk.  I excused myself and took him out of the room, where he burst into tears and told me this story. "I showed my new gun to my friends, and they asked where we got it. I said that we each got one for Christmas. He took my gun and broke it over his knee." My son was shocked and crushed. I was shocked and crushed. My husband had the same reaction when he heard the story.  This isn't the only time something like this has happened when we have opened our home to company. Kids have rifled through out closets, helped themselves to our fruit bowl leaving bites in each piece of fruit in the bowl. They have bullied our  kids, broken lamps, left huge messes in our kids rooms which they had worked hard cleaning before company arrived, colored on our walls, eaten food while we were preparing it without permission, entered into rooms that are off limits, even when we made it very clear that those spaces were not to be entered into and the door was closed,  jumped on our furniture, and shown blatant disrespect to us in our home. We've also had families over who have been a joy and blessing to be with.  The kids were respectful, offering to help, and they showed kindness to our kids, respect for our home, and cleaned up the toys they got out before they left.
Hospitality is a gift. 
When someone extends an invitation into their home, they are extending their kindness and generosity. They are trusting that those they invite will appreciate and respect their home and belongings.
We have seven kids, but only five of those still live at home with us. Five kids feels like a smallish number to us, but that many kiddos can feel like an army to many people, so when we receive an invitation, we view it as a rare and precious gift, and prepare our children accordingly. We talk about manners and the importance of offering to help with the meal, and how to be a watchful servant, looking for ways  they can serve their hosts.  Sometimes it might mean entertaining toddlers so their parents can visit, or finish preparing the meal. It may mean setting the table, or running little errands like gathering extra chairs from various areas of the house, or washing dishes, or serving coffee. They know we do not leave someone else's house without cleaning up and that we always thank our hosts for their hospitality.  They are expected to follow our own house rules while we are visiting another home, and they are to learn the rules of that household and apply them. Do they always behave perfectly?  No, in fact, we have been confronted on our own children's behavior on more than one occasion. Yes, it's a little embarrassing, but ultimately it is a gift.  When someone makes us aware of choices our children make that need to be addressed, it's a wonderful opportunity to come alongside  that child and help them learn to confess their behavior, understand why it is wrong, and how it effects others, accept the consequences, repent, and make things right with those they have sinned against.
It is important to take the opportunity to teach and disciple children while they are young. They will do wrong things. There will be conflict. These are opportunities to instill truth into them, and to help them develop godly character, care for others, and compassion. I remember the time we were guests in the home of some friends, and one of my boys was playing with a little matchbox car.  He must have been about three or four years old at the time, and he decided he wanted to keep the car.  He was always shy, and more introverted than our other boys, so imagine my surprise when he boldly walked up to my friend, Jenny, and asked her if he could keep the car! She graciously told him he needed to leave it there so he could play with it the next time he came over.  We spent the next ten minutes or so, cleaning up the messes the kids had made during our visit, and then headed for home.  As we were driving, one of the kids said "Hey, why do you have that car? That isn't yours. You were supposed to leave it there!"  I was a astonished! It was so unlike him to do something like that, but I knew this was an opportunity for an important character lesson. This was a minor little thing right then, but I knew the potential for developing a serious character flaw was very real.  When we got home, we sat down and had a little talk.  I asked him what kind of reputation he wanted to have with his friends, and with the adults in his life. "Do you want people to think of you as a thief? Do you want the parents of your friends to think of you as an trustworthy boy, and think of you as a good influence on their kids, or would you prefer to be thought of as a bad influence?"  Even young children create reputations for themselves by the way they behave and the choices they make.  Proverbs 20:11 says "Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright."  This is a verse we have discussed frequently in our home, and it has helped our kids understand the importance of good decision making, developing the Fruit of the Spirit, and making things right when they do make wrong choices.  That day my son called my friend, Jenny, and confessed to taking the car.  He also asked for her forgiveness, and then I made him give his favorite "Lightening McQueen" car to Jenny's kids.  I wanted him to understand the pain of having something removed from him that he highly valued, so he would remember that feeling every time he was tempted in the future, to take something that didn't belong to him.  It was very painful for him, and it hurt my heart, too, but it was a valuable lesson that has not needed repeating.
Preparing children and helping them understand how to conduct themselves outside of the home, is a life long, valuable gift that we as parents can and should give our kids. Understanding that kids need direction, and boundaries is key, and loving our kids enough to help them learn to care for the needs of others, and understand the sacrifice others make when they invite us over will help them to develop a thankful attitude when they are away from their own home. Also, giving children jobs to do to prepare for company will help produce an understanding of the sacrifices and care that go into practicing hospitality.

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