I really should invite that family over.

I ought to be friendlier to my neighbors.

I must do something for that family in need.

I need to open up my home, but I don’t feel like it.

I wish I were more compassionate.

Any of these sound familier to you? Why do so many of us speak about grace and compassion but have a hard time living it? I know I struggle with this. I use the above terms of obligation, duty and demand quite regularly. As I fall into using this language, I feel guilty and lose my joy!

I was challenged this morning as I wrote. When I review the language I sometimes use (words of obligation or guilt), I think about the huge responsibility God has given to me as a mom: What am I teaching my children? The law (I feel forced to) or love (I want to)?

I want hospitality to be gracious – a way of life. I want hospitality to be heartfelt. I want to have joy when I do something for someone. I want to use the language of grace. I want to teach my children well.

So, I’m changing my words. Instead of “I should,” how about: “I’d like to,” “I hope to,” “I desire to,” “I want to.” These words clearly communicate love instead of a sense of bondage or “duty.”

Putting Joyful Hospitality Into Practice

No doubt, reaching out to others out of love can be tough even when we genuinely want to do it. I frequently hear people say that their stumbling block to practicing hospitality is time. When we feel pressed for time, reaching out becomes just one more chore on the long list of things to do. But I wonder if time is the real problem, or if we just don’t know how to make reaching out a priority?

My niece, a new mommy, made hospitality with our family a priority last week. I say a priority because with a brand new baby and a two-year-old, you don’t just snap your fingers and have a perfect house and a beautiful meal to serve for your guests! You might call our dinner last week a “spur of the moment” meal – but Addie made it happen by taking the first step of inviting us into her home.

We worked out a time (that very day) and split up the meal: she made the roast beef and mashed potatoes, and I brought the salad and bread. We knew we didn’t need dessert, and we ended the night early because it was a school night. Our evening was simple and relaxing.

What’s in it for us – to practice hospitality like this? By inviting people into our homes, we’ve taken our minds off of ourselves and put them onto the needs of others. It stretches us to ask others about their lives and puts our own lives on the back burner. It helps fights against loneliness. Hospitable actually lightens our burdens by putting our lives into perspective.

For Addie, last week was not about how well she cooked or how well she decorated. It wasn’t about the table setting or the size of her home. It wasn’t about impressing our family or coming across as a spectacular hostess. It wasn’t about a nagging sense of obligation.

No, with two small kids under the age of two (oh, how I remember those years), our dinner was simply about sharing with family. And her willingness to reach out benefited both of us. I was able to feed baby Jaxon, burp, change, and jammie him up, while Addie finished her chores in the kitchen. We worked together!

The evening was really a treat. We know it takes an investment of our time to build relationships, yet the more we reach out and share, the richer our lives become. Not in material wealth, but in wealth that lasts forever.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:8-10


Sandy Coughlin is a wife and mother of 3. She loves her family and loves blessing other people's lives by entertaining in her home. Sandy’s husband, Paul, (who used to be the reluctant entertainer) has come on board, and they often offer hospitality together. Sandy and Paul co-authored a book called Married but Not Engaged(Bethany House, Aug. 2006). It's written to women who are married to "checked out" or emotionally absent men and who want to create a more satisfying, intimate relationship. This article was adapted from Sandy’s regularly updated blog “4 Reluctant Entertainers,” which you can visit at www.reluctantentertainer.com. Get more information on Married but Not Engaged by clicking here. Visit Paul's website at: http://www.paulcoughlin.net/