Socialization Begins with Hospitality in the Home
By Sherry Bushnell
Generous hearts, and a gift of hospitality such as the example above, graced my mother and fatherís life. It was here that I learned to welcome all the Lord brought to our home.
As a child, my personality leaned toward being anti-social. I shrank from meeting people. Shy and talking softly, I avoided eye contact. Yet because of the consistent example of my parentsí welcoming hearts, I knew how to be gracious. The basics were there. When I grew up I knew what to do to make a guest feel welcome.
After Tom and I were married, our first years were full of fun dinners with friends; and taking in refugees from other countries, single moms, drunks who wanted more than T.V. dinners, run away teens, and even entire families needing a temporary home.
It seemed that the Lord had indeed blessed our efforts to share His heart with others in need. It wasnít easy. Sometimes we had to ask folks to leave. We were taken advantage of. We laughed with Christian brothers and sisters who shared a similar vision for hospitality, saying we ought to have been missionaries in a foreign field the way our door swung open day and night. In spite of periodic troubles, we loved sharing our home. We knew the Lord would protect us. This was to be an important lesson for us to remember later in our walk down the lane of being hospitable.
When our children began to be old enough to emulate the behavior of our sometimes challenging guests, we began to be concerned. We needed more control of who our children came in contact with. On a long term/live-in basis, we only welcomed into our home people and families we could trust.
19 years of hospitality has taught us some interesting lessons. We thought we could share them with you.
The Basis For Hospitality
Hospitality is more than just a human talent. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit, which, when combined with Godly living, can be used by God far beyond what we can imagine.
For the Christian, hospitality is not an option. It is the means by which others come to know our Savior by our love. It is the encouragement of tired believers needing their Saviorís loving hand. It is also a requirement for high office in the church. In Romans it says we are to "practice hospitality". 1st Peter 4:9 stresses this again, telling us we are to "practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another."
Hospitality is not just inviting people into our homes for a visit. It is an attitude of openness that welcomes believers and unbelievers into the recesses of our heart. It is a smile that warms from the depth of our soul where Christ lives. It is putting aside our plans, sharing our means with those in need. It is taking risks and subjecting our family to being used. Yes, it also includes allowing our home to be smudged with finger prints, things broken, and food spilled on the floor. It is a privilege to be used by the Lord in this way. We see these mishaps as our homeís battle scars against the enemy. Honor stripes!
Sadly, many who say they follow Christ do not understand the basics of hospitality. As a Christian, we believe we should not allow our homes to become shrines of our accomplishments in lieu of meeting the needs of the down trodden.
A single mom, tired and frustrated at her lack of parenting skills, needs our encouragement. More than just a warm smile at church, she needs a family to welcome her and be an example. She needs to witness Christís love in action in the home.
The family with a special needs child that is not pleasant to be around, spills food, is destructive and loud, needs another family to say, "Itís O.K. We understand. Letís accommodate each other in Christ and share together. You are worth it."
It is surprising how many Christian families will readily agree that these people need Christís love.... But so many of us see it as someone else's gifting. "I am not called to work in this area of ministry."
Brothers and sisters in Christ with a special needs child (this means us!), we have a job to do.
There are so many hurting families with special needs children. We could practice hospitality every minute of every day and still not meet the needs around us.
Special needs does not mean special exceptions to Christís instructions for our family. We are called, as Christians with special needs children, to minister. The Lord has gotten our attention and given us a calling card. Special needs. The gospel of Christís redemption and love is especially inviting to those who feel they have gotten the raw end of the deal in life. Many families curse the disability that follows them around like a ball and chain. It is their bad luck, their sorry choices, their re-payment for evil. For those who love the Lord, disability can be an honor, an added way God can show himself faithful on our behalf.
Entertaining vs Christ-like Hospitality
Entertaining says, "I want to impress you with my home, my decorating, my cooking."
Entertaining puts things before the very people we are to be supposed to be putting first.
Christ-like hospitality seeks to minister. It says, "This home is yours while you are here. I am His servant, this is His home."
9;So many times I have caught myself feeling very self conscience about the state of my home with drop-in guests, apologizing profusely for things they would not have noticed if I had not pointed them out. This is my pride.
I resolve next time to put a welcoming
smile on my face, surrounding them with Christís love. After all, He has brought them to my door and He knows what kind of day I have had.
Because true hospitality puts away pride, it doesnít care if others see our humanness. There are no false pretenses here. People can relax and share.
Entertaining looks for repayment. "My, your home is just beautiful!" Where did you get those pictures?" We may be looking for a return dinner invite. Our entertaining may even be a form of manipulation hoping for a better standing in a social clique. If we want a model for entertaining, we can find it readily in popular womanís magazines at the grocery store.
Christ-like hospitality does everything with no thought of reward, but takes delight in giving, doing, serving, listening. If you want a model for Christís hospitality, look in His word.
Is It Safe To Be Hospitable?
As a family, we have been abundantly blessed beyond measure by many, many families. It has been our privilege to stay in the homes of lots of families with special needs children.
Special needs children also might mean parents with special needs. Their lack of social graces might show up as seeming rudeness, un-thoughtfulness. It might mean that when you share Christís love and His Word, it is taken with offense.
Are those we should not show hospitality to? Some scriptures talk about unrepentant sin. There are Christians in the midst of an adulterous relationship, use religion as a means to make money, and those who have a form of Godliness but deny the power of God. The Lord warns us to avoid men who seduce, deceive and falsely lead other Christians, those who are looking for a hand-out, refusing to work for a living.
The Bible is not talking about avoiding Christians who are socially rude or loud, eat messy, have a sour out-look on life (some people with special needs do), the poor or unclean, the financially destitute, those who look disgusting with missing eyes or limbs, crumpled arms or legs, drooling mouths, those who stutter or cannot talk well, or those who are sick and failing physically. The unlovely, who love the Lord, are His special treasures. Believe me, those who care for them God blesses!!!
So, the Bible does mention some limits to hospitality. But if we only fellowshipped with those we felt never gossiped, caused division among brethren, or never were deceptive, letís all be honest. Weíd never see each other!
There is no doubt about it. Our children are influenced by all who enter our home. Those families who practice hospitality to the unlovely need to have a good relationship with their children. Spotting unwanted behaviors and nipping them in the bud is part of training our children to be used by God. Children with a firm foundation, learning to put aside ungodliness, will be prepared for a life of turning aside from sin and running toward their Savior. Too much negative influence is really hard on a young family struggling with keeping children on the straight and narrow.
Here is what we do as a family when ministering to families struggling with behavior problems:
* Know what our children are doing at all times. No going back into the bedroom to play alone, no going out to the tree fort. Find things to do together within ear shot. We donít worry about offending guests because our cheerful attitude says, "This is how we do things here."
*A common plan our family has is to limit the visit time with some flexibility. Have a plan. Guests arrive. Dinner is served, we all sit together. Dishes are done, working together. After dinner we visit, around a camp fire, or in the living room for about 2 hours max.
*When itís bed time, Iíll excuse myself and get the children into bed with books. I have been known to put the littlest ones to bed extra early if we have had a hard evening.
We believe Christ has still called us to open our homes and share what we have with the people He loves....and this is all part of the job.
Hospitality Begins With Our Family
We have found that a hospitable spirit begins in our hearts at home with each other. Here the Lord gives us practice ground. Charity starts with a husband loving his wife and a wife honoring and loving her husband. What about brothers and sisters putting each other first and showing kindness, being tender hearted and forgiving each other, just as Christ has also forgiven all of us?
We need to practice open arms in our homes first. Do dads and husbands feel greeted and comfortable when they come home from work? Are children coming in from play consistently met with scolding? Do we push our children away instead of embrace them as Jesus embraces us?
If our households are not filled with gentle considerations, putting others first, an "Iím so glad you are here" attitude, it will be very difficult to be genuine in sharing Christís hospitality. If we are tempted to put on a show of charity, just for hospitality sake, we will be found out!
Socialization beings at home. We need to be the host or hostess we want our children to be. This includes keeping our tongue when things go wrong with a guest. We have learned the hard way that sharing problems with each other, in front of children (unless they are part of the problem and you are working with them on it) can be dangerous. Our little ones, and big ones, can absorb our frustration and express it just when we donít want them to. Part of being hospitable is being gracious. We can choose not to be offended.
Here is a Biblical secret. When we can share genuine charity with our family first, our brothers and sisters in Christ, next and then the world, we will be experiencing that very special unity in our churches and community we all wish for. Suddenly we have beautifully socialized children. It all begins at home.
Who Should We Invite?
Our churches, communities, and even families are filled with the unlovely. They may be sojourners on this earth waiting anxiously for their heavenly home, often excluded from fellowship by the nature of who they are. How desperately our churches, our homes, need to be unselfish, accepting and hospitable.
Do you know of an unlovable one? Are there Christian neighbors who do not know you? How about ungodly neighbors. It may not be "socially" right to share Christís love, but that doesnít diminish the need for it.
Believe me, unselfish hospitality to the extent God has called all of us to, cannot be done without completely giving of our selves, our lives to God and His purpose. Servant hood may not always be convenient for our dayís plans...yet isnít this what Jesus calls us to be... His servants?
Do we care that the hard-to-settle-down, autistic child and tired mother need our touch and help? Do we care that the older man, unkept, uncaring, sorrowing over the loss of his life companion is needing a meal prepared with love?
Do we see the social cripple, the angry-at-life-teen (with purple hair), the foreign exchange student, and the immigrants from Poland who cannot speak English? The young person far away from home in the service (have you ever tasted army food?) How can we close our eyes to the single moms, grandmaís and grandpaís with no family to cheer them, the hungry-for-fellowship new family in town who would jump at the chance to sit at your table. (Even the floor if youíd just welcome them with love...)
There is no better place to be about the Lordís work than in our home. The more we give of our lives to the desperately lonely, the more we see the need, as Jesus opens our eyes. The Christian home is truly an unusual miracle to be shared. Is your home a shelter in an inhospitable world?
As a mommy to 9 children, several with special needs, I would like to candidly share with you some of my mistakes and some of the things that have made me feel welcome in other homes. What is written here is not meant to criticize anyoneís gracious hospitality or to critique any guest we have had. Simply put, God has used you to teach me some of His ways.
Preparing my home
My opinion will differ from others. Maybe you can relate, but if I waited until my home was perfectly presentable before inviting others over for a meal, I never would. (Maybe some could not endure my standard of being "ready" either. Smile.) Each of my children have different ideas on what equals neat and clean. Helpers though they be, most are young and in training. Hence, the kitty litter may not be perfectly cleaned out, the toilet may have been cleaned with liberal amounts of Comet and not wiped very well. These are some of my real experiences. Are you ready for more?
Ah, yes... an extra tablespoon of salt put in the cake behind my back, putting away the clothes means dumping them on the dresser, washing the windows with Spray and Wash instead of Windex, picking up the garbage out side, going to the dump, yet forgetting the garbage cans inside the house.
Does my house sound upside down? At times yes, quite disorderly. But Iíll have to give them all an "A" for effort. My children really like to help. Often they will work diligently all day at "something" getting prepared. There is nothing our children love to hear more than... "Letís get ready, companyís coming!"
This summer has taught me an even deeper meaning of hospitality and how little the condition my home needs to be in to be "ready". I am pretty desensitized to the need of having it perfectly presentable for guests, but Iíll have to admit, some guests provoke the fear of offense more than others.
When I know guests are coming, I really like to have my home picked up. I feel it sends the message, "You are important and we are honored to have you here." Like as not, lately, Iíll have to prepare our newly arrived guests with something like, "We are in the middle of construction as you can see," before they enter the door way. Still present, however is our welcoming smile and greeting at the door. Greeting our guests at the door is so very important. I like to walk out side to the car, standing by them, actually saying the words, "Welcome!" "We are glad you are here!" "How was your drive?" "Come right on in, my house is yours." This may sound corny in written word, but in reality, like a profusely worded thank you card, it always seems to fit.
Learning to be a good steward of my time, I am a woman of lists. My brains are attached to these pieces of paper and I have been known to have many subjects stapled together, guarded with my life!
The dividing of tasks helps us to work together with a purpose. We like to have fun when we work. My attitude makes all the difference. If I am demonstrating having fun, so will my children. If I delight in surprising them with a special treat for a job well done they will look forward to momís call, "Letís get this imitation of World War III cleaned up...companyís coming." My home might not be as bad as all this...things might even be in semi-order, but my "desperate" need for their help makes them feel really needed.
Sheela cleans the kitchen, Jake and Josh clean and mop the white, painted cement floor, Mommy cooks, Daddy organizes and keeps the younger boys busy, Sheraya and Mercy pick up toys, Lynny organizes the book shelf.
Some simple touches that my children can do that speak volumes of welcome to our guests might be a candle, a bouquet from the garden, a center piece with a favorite theme like spring, Christmas, hunting season, horses, school work, craft projects. As simple, unperfect and unofficial looking as these may be, they still speak a happy "weíre glad you are here" to our guests.
The amount of inviting touches I can muster are directly correlated to my amount of energy!
Setting the table for guests in our home is usually limited to buffet style. Many of our children are incapable of dishing themselves or passing food. If we know our guests well, we might attempt a sit down dinner, and how the children love this. Mommyís special dishes, extra careful table manners, fancy foods that we all helped to make provide enough food for the camera as the tummies. Usually this is limited to grandparents.
We work hard 6 days a week, so Sundayís are our favorite day for fellowship. However, we have learned that this day may not be the best for others. So, when inviting others over, together choosing a day, be flexible. The Holy Spiritís leading to invite someone over should take presidence over our projects. We need to put others first.
If we are meeting a guest or family for the first time and they are staying for a meal, I may take the time to explain, simply, what our childrenís quirks are. Jordan may love to sit by you, but unless you like being stared at while you eat, better opt for someone else. Sheela (our daughter who is blind) cannot pass the food if you ask for it, and she is provided with a rag each meal because she is learning to keep herself neat as she eats.
Lynny may take the opportunity to clean your mess for you if you spill. She is compulsive with her keeping clean, as we have made an issue of it with her, in order to get progress. She will also loudly comment on any spills or accidents you make.
I confess, I have been know to purposely put guests out of reach or ear shot of specific children.
The bathroom has been a sore spot for me. It gets incredible abuse. It can be clean one minute and used by our daughter with CP the next (without me knowing). This is a fact of life in our house. As much as we are working on appropriate bathroom skills, it seems our children (in the excitement of sharing their home) might pick the moment when guests need to use it to forget the skills previously learned such as, wiping and making sure the toilet paper is all the way into the toilet before flushing.
As gracious of a host as we may be, we are still human and so are you. Some of these mishaps are unavoidable.
While living on a farm, making a meal without a few hovering flies, BBQing outside without bees, keeping the toys out of tripping distance, keeping a peaceful atmosphere without loud talking or exuberant welcome may be almost impossible without some drastic measures like keeping the worst offenders in a separate room or cooking under fly screen.
Pray about who to invite and be in agreement as husband and wife. We make choices with each guest, as to how tolerant we feel they might be, and try to accommodate them appropriately. Sometimes I make a bad guess.
There is nothing more worldly gratifying to me than a clean home. It satisfies me deep inside, and evokes a feeling of supreme contentment (perhaps related to pride). Perhaps this is why God has limited the days this wonderful experience graces my life right now. I will always cherish the feelings I had when as a new wife. The house was neat, the table set to perfection, the breeze blowing the freshly cleaned curtains and I was pregnant with my first child. The bliss of thinking this was how it would always be ended long about my 3rd child.
Now it is a dream that I perhaps one day might be see again... but my mother-in-law reminds me that there will be grandchildren....
When inviting a family with very active children, I may prominently post our simple rules for this house. This is for the parentsí benefit, for we hope they see fit to enforce them.
Not a cook at heart? Find a meal that works well such as tacos, or spaghetti and get it down to a science. Prepare what you can ahead. Enlist your guest to help make the gravy. That way if it turns out lumpy then both of you can laugh.
I despise running out of food. (This is the stuff nightmares are made of.) Better to error on the extra side for left overs than not have enough. Several years ago, one Celebrate the Family picnic, I made 20 extra apple crisps. By the end of the winter, we and the neighbors were all tired of apple crisp and find it hard to eat that recipe today!!
Our Family As GuestsThis part is much harder to write. We have made our share of blunders, actually offending in some cases.
We have learned to say "no" to an invite we do not have peace about. Instead we might choose to invite them over to our home. We may gently explain that we honestly donít feel a visit would work out. Instead of avoiding a family we are not comfortable visiting, or making excuses to get out of each invite they give, sweetly shared honesty is always best. The hard way, we have learned not to invite ourselves over to someoneís home for dinner. As much as we would desire to get to know a family, it may not be convenient for them. They may not be ready for special needs. (Especially our brand!) The same goes for when we invite someone over several times and they decline. After a few enthusiastic invitations, donít push. They may be uncomfortable with you or disability.
Occasionally people have invited us into their home for dinner not completely understanding our limitations or special needs. These have been painful experiences. They have been our fault for not cluing people into our differences and social inadequacies.
We are now more careful about accepting invitations. Some well-meaning folk are especially vulnerable to feeling offended or disgusted by table manners (spilling food and messy fingers). Disability can be difficult to explain briefly and those not exposed to disability can be afraid or really taken back by the differences of no eyes, mental retardation, crippled limbs or inappropriately loud voices.
We feel there is no excuse for bad manners from any of our children, but a parentís "standard" of manners is subject to many things such as a childís ability. How hard our children try to have good manners is directly correlated to the time we have spent, our consistency in teaching them, and their understanding. In our home, a thankful heart, asking for things nicely, and trying to be careful is more important to us than actually dropping food, spilling drinks or managing silverware or a napkin correctly.
There are books on etiquette, but in reality some of our children could never meet this social standard. Yet, we should aim for something. If your family, as guests, are not ready for a formally set table, do not put yourself in a place to be embarrassed. Practice at home first.
Practicing manners at home is simply putting others before self, and we agree. Good manners is also overlooking the inappropriate things our guests do in our home. It works both ways. We can choose not to be offended.
The capabilities of parents to enforce manners can be enhanced by the following.
*Seating. I need to have certain children sit by me. Pre-seating my family for me may be proper etiquette, but donít expect me to be at ease. Let me decide. Give me time to think.
*A few wash rags set on the table in a pretty dish can do wonders for a messy face. Paper or cloth napkins are fine for the refined, but not for truly gooey face and fingers.
*Rolly peas, running gravy and crumbly cake may all be very delicious, but elusive to blind eyes and jerky hands. My ideal, less stressful meal is something that sticks together or served in one piece like pizza, casserole, chicken and mashed potatoes. Messy mouths and sticky fingers are wonderful sights to parents who have struggled just to get their children to feed themselves, period. It may be totally disgusting to those who are not used to sharing our progress.
*Share with me your concern for your carpet or your rule about taking shoes off while in the house. We know several families who covered their gorgeous dining room floor with a big rug when we came to visit. This doesnít bother me a bit. How accommodating and thoughtful. The fact that my children may make a spill when we eat is probable. (Iíd like to see me eat without eyes or with cerebral palsy!)
* If food must be served immediately after guests arrive or it will be ruined (like a souffle, perfectly done meat, a salad that has a special dressing), I make it when my guests are already there. Then I donít have to worry about them being on time. If I am tempted to stress on "making things just right" to impress (or bless???) I have learned not to bother. It never works out right.
*If we are a guest, being on time is important to us. Being on time says to your host, "I am honored you invited me. You didnít have to drag me here. I want to be here!"
On the other side, canceled guests at the last minute can be frustrating IF we are putting on a show or not being open to Christís leading. He is in control. Maybe He wanted a quiet, well prepared meal, just for our family to enjoy. (This may be the only way they get one, too. Smile!)
We hope our goof-ups are encouraging to you. They are to us. We still love to have guests and we are more hesitant to be guests. Leaning on our Heavenly Fatherís wisdom in welcoming families into our home and visiting others is the safest way to implement hospitality on a regular basis.
Pray about inviting someone over if you are not in the habit of already doing so. If pride is getting in the way, squelch it. So what if the windows are not washed. If the carpet isnít vacuumed invite someone who you know will help you vacuum it when they get there!
Regardless of the example we had as children or how well-off financially we are, or how different from others we feel because of our special needs, if we are Christís servants, there are those God has called us to be hospitable to. Granted, the Lord has not called us to minister to everyone ójust those He asks us to.
Proper socialization begins at home, not in the middle of the action away from tender prompting. Our children, who have a hard time catching social cues, need our example of happy hospitality.
Healthy socialization, (the kind we as parents love to see, not necessarily the kind the professionals want to see that emulates love of the world) is ours to enjoy as we share Christ-like hospitality with those He calls us to.
Who has He called you to share with today?
An excellent book on hospitality, my favorite, is written by Above Rubies editor, Nancy Campbell.
The Family Meal Table is a wonderful resource that is both encouraging and inspiring. What a ministry our table can be for both our families and guests. Lots of practical suggestions and scripture to cement the whole idea that families eating together is important to the Lord. This book is actually a study guide. Nancy has put a lot of work into this timely resource. I highly recommend it for all of us to read again and again.
For more information contact:
P.O. Box 681687
Franklin, TN 37068-1687