The true essence of hospitality

by Shelby List


Today’s we’re thrilled to have a guest post by Shelby List. Shelby is a graduate student at Taylor University, pursuing a Master’s Degree in Higher Education and Student Development. She’s also a residence hall director at Taylor, and is spending a portion of her summer as a Graduate Research Fellow for the Vocation in College Project. Enjoy this insightful post on hospitality.  

Fancy dinner napkins. Fine china. A house full of people. And one heck of a dinner party. This is often what we think of when someone mentions the word hospitality. While it’s possible for a spirit of hospitality to be present at these dinner parties, hospitality is not limited to the confines of the expensive and/or the elaborate. In fact, it’s even possible for these parties to be the furthest thing from hospitable.

Hospitality is not simply a sociable action or gesture; it is an art form, a way of living, a posture with which you approach the world. If the purpose of this blog is to help you to explore, with bravery and vulnerability, the true depths of your twenties (side note: it is), then hospitality is worthwhile to discuss—potentially for reasons you might not expect.

Shauna Niequist, author of Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table, with Recipes, writes, “The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved.” One of my favorite spaces in college was my resident director’s (often known as the “RD”) apartment. It was small and on Monday nights, full of people, but there was always coffee and room for honest and raw conversation. My RD was both my supervisor and dear friend. She asked really good questions, and after the questions, she listened. Her willingness to unpack the uncertainty we discovered helped me to be more honest with myself, God, and others. I am so thankful my RD didn’t run away when I uncovered nastiness in my heart. Instead, every time I entered her apartment she created a space for me to feel seen and heard and accepted anyway.

Who is that person for you?

Who makes you feel most at home?

Who do you gravitate toward to feel accepted or heard?

In the book Radical Hospitality, authors Homan and Pratt claim hospitality meets two of our most basic human needs: to know and be known. They describe hospitality as the acknowledgment of our own humanity and that of the stranger. I appreciate how pastor Jeanette Yep defines a stranger as “those without a place or the presence of relationships in which they feel known.” In her words, hospitality is the welcoming of strangers. How beautiful and simple is that?!

Maybe you are a poor college student, maybe you are a twentysomething working two or three part-time jobs just to make ends meet, or maybe you are sitting very comfortably financially and you feel as though you have the means to give. Regardless of the camp you find yourself in, hospitality is about the invitation. It is about welcoming people into a space where no expectations are placed on them other than to show up and be themselves. Yep said it so well at a conference I recently attended: “We make a statement about who is valued, important, and worthwhile by our hospitality.”

What does your hospitality say about who you value?

Most of us seek a prescription for hospitality, but you don’t need one. Think back to that person who makes you feel most at home. What about them is so refreshing to you in the midst of a harsh and judgmental world? Begin to change your posture toward the other and be the first to initiate the conversation your heart longs for. Believe it or not, most humans are all alike. We desire to feel known, understood, and invited to the table. So let it start with you.

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