Dish discipleship: Hospitality is more than hosting

Ever heard the phrase, “everything but the kitchen sink”? For many college students, that’s what runs through our heads when we’re headed out from a professor’s home after a well-cooked meal or when we hurry back to the dorm after visiting a friend’s place for dinner. We so often emphasize the role of host in these scenarios, and for good reason. But we fail to adequately emphasize the role of guest and how it relates to the kitchen sink.

Growing up, my parents engaged in a lot of college ministry. At least once a week, my sisters and I would hurriedly sweep hallways, vacuum carpets, scrub counters and wash dishes in anticipation of 20 or so young adults entering our home for dinner.

These were some of my favorite nights; the students brought excitement, and their laughter mingled with the warmth of shared meals. When things died down, a few of the students would excuse themselves from conversations, roll up their sleeves and plunge into the saintly duty of dishwashing.

For the students who had not grown up in a culture that emphasized helping in the kitchen, they quickly learned that one of the best ways to give back was to lighten their hosts’ dish load and help in any way possible. For, as my mom likes to say, “Many hands make light work.” 

These students came to understand that hospitality is a two-way street; it does not belong only within the confines of the role of host or hostess, and it certainly is not bound to the safety of your own home.

Fast-forward several years to my freshman year of college; I had some friends over to my family’s home in Lynchburg. We had each determined to cook a separate meal and consequently made a disaster of my poor mother’s kitchen. Once we’d covered every surface with pots and pans and sprinkled miscellaneous ingredients haphazardly on the floor, we all gathered at a small table in the kitchen to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

After cheerful goodbyes, I hospitably ushered my somewhat forgetful friends out the door and turned to face my parents’ tired faces and the bulging sink behind them. They both expressed the same sentiment to me:

“They didn’t clean up after themselves.”

My friends and I left my parents a burden. Granted, hospitality means serving others, but too often we associate this fruit of the Spirit with the act of welcoming guests into our home and not enough with entering into another’s home.

My parents readily hosted my friends; they loved pouring into others and making family, strangers and neighbors alike feel welcome. What they were less keen on was the thoughtlessness with which my friends left our kitchen.

I had in that moment an opportunity to graciously invite my friends into the relationship that takes place between guest and host. I could have asked my friends to help with the chores, and in so doing, given them an opportunity to grow in their capacity for hospitality. Instead (feeling a little afraid to ask), I forwent this avenue.

There is a way to be a gracious host while also gently and lovingly inviting your guests into mutual hospitality and, by extension, discipleship. This may require redefining your definition of hospitality, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

In her book “The Gospel Comes with a House Key,” Rosaria Butterfield writes that “radically ordinary hospitality means that hosts are not embarrassed to receive help, and guests know that their help is needed. A family of God gathering daily together needs each and every person, host and guest are permeable roles.”

If something sounds off with the above statement, I can say that I once agreed with you. I found pride in not allowing my guests to lift a finger in the kitchen. But, as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to value the wisdom of my parents and their gentle pulling of others into meaningful, discipleship-heavy relationships through the simple task of emptying the kitchen sink.

Glen is an opinion writer for the Liberty Champion

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