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How to Offer Hospitality Like Martha (even when it’s hard)

We had unexpected company over the other night after running into a friend while biking home from work. While my husband generously offered our hospitality, I went into Martha mode. I was tired and stressed out, and had a long to-do list in the back of my head. Company would interfere with that.

Our friend declined the invitation to dinner because of a previous commitment. Inwardly, I breathed a sigh of relief. Then my husband suggested coffee later in the evening and offered our friend a place to stay for night. He said he would call us later to confirm, and we biked the rest of the way home.

I had several blocks in which to gripe to myself as we rode. When a stop on the way home didn’t go as planned, that added to my irritation. We’ve had a busy week and have more busy weekends coming up. All I could see was the work that wouldn’t get done because we weren’t around to do it. My husband asked me what needed to be done, and pointed out that most of the items on my to-do list weren’t that urgent. They could get put aside for a friend who wasn’t often in town. He then offered to make supper while I took care of one item on the list.

How to offer hospitality like Martha (even when it's hard)

I felt slightly more in control of my affairs after finishing that task. We put off eating supper while we ran out to pick up our wedding pictures from our photographer. We sat around for an hour with her and her husband, chatting and looking at the pictures, before returning home for our meal.

Our friend arrived shortly after we finished doing dishes, and I got the futon ready for him. (We have a small apartment, but we chose to buy a futon instead of a couch so that we could offer hospitality like this.) We caught up on the news with him and looked at wedding pictures. He courteously understood we had to be at work early the next morning, and I excused myself to go to bed.

I lay there for a few minutes before I fell asleep, thinking about my reaction and my husband’s reaction to the situation. Jesus’ visit to Martha’s home in Bethany  leaped into my mind:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” ~ Luke 10:38-42

I felt ashamed. I thought about what would happen if I put off seeing or talking to friends until every item on the to-do list was finished. I’d probably never talk to my friends again! Yet which is really more important: the friends or the to-do list?

As I reread that passage, the first sentence caught my attention: Martha opened her home to Him. We often focus on Mary in this passage, or look down upon Martha for focusing on the work. Yet she’s the one who invited the Lord over. Often, I don’t even offer hospitality because I’m so worried about what I need to do—or the state of my apartment.

My husband had had the right reaction to the situation. He’d also put up with my grumpy mood all night over it. Yes, I could ensure that the dishes were done and the futon was made, but our friend also deserved my smile and attention. He needed my hospitality on that night, not in a few days when (if?) I’d finished all the work and felt ready to invite company over.

The next morning, we made toast and eggs for our guest. Despite my usual morning scatter-brained state as I tried to get ready for the day at work, I tried to be more of a Mary than a Martha.

How do you react to unexpected company? Do you enjoy offering hospitality or do you find it, as I do, a struggle at times?

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3 Comments

  1. Janet Rubin July 3, 2007
  2. LC June 30, 2007
  3. violet June 30, 2007

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