Hobbit Hospitality & The Surprise of Adventure

When it comes to hospitality, I am more Bilbo Baggins than Better Homes & Gardens. This morning, as I was listening to Tolkien’s The Hobbit with my youngest son (a literary rite of passage of sorts in our home), I laughed aloud at my likeness to the little hobbit.

Though “he was fond of visitors,” he wanted visitors on his own terms. He liked to follow the schedule on his “Engagement Tablet” and wanted only the adventures of which he approved.

Gandalf, knowing what Bilbo needed and pushing him past what he thought he wanted, refused to take a polite no for an answer. Marking Bilbo’s round, green hobbit hole door with a secret sign, Gandalf made his home a host hollow for worlds Bilbo had hitherto not known.

When guests began flooding his hobbit hole the next day, Bilbo was startled but initially polite. He went from a stiff but kindly hospitality with the first unexpected guest to a flustered, even fearful, forced hospitality as dwarves kept showing up at his little hobbit hole.

“He liked visitors, but he liked to know them before they arrived, and he preferred to ask them himself. He had a horrible thought that the cakes might run short, and then he – as the host: he knew his duty and stuck to it however painful – might have to go without.”

By the time more guests had arrived, “The poor little hobbit sat down in the hall and put his head in his hands, and wondered what had happened, and what was going to happen, and whether they would all stay to supper.”

As I listened to Tolkien’s description of the hobbit’s heart as the omniscient narrator, I saw how easily the Lord (the ultimate omniscient narrator) might say the exact same of me through a smile. 

Convenience & Comfort

I like hospitality to a point. I like to host when I am on my A-game (or, at least, my B+ game). I like to host when our schedules are not crammed full and when my heart and soul feel together and ordered (things, which, in this season of our lives, are increasingly rare).

But the true heart of hospitality usually involves welcome at the cost of convenience and comfort. That’s what sets it apart from entertaining with its scheduled plans and well-manicured meals and table-scapes.

The last thing I want to do when I am in the middle of (or on the heals of) a disagreement with my husband or a wrestling over wisdom for my children is welcome people into my heart and home. But, if I am honest, it’s those moments when hospitality seems to most honor the heart of God. When there is risk involved and transparency, not just a meal, is served to our guests, I think God smiles a bit like Gandalf did knowingly at Bilbo Baggins.

A week ago, we made plans to host a couple who very recently began to attend our church. At the time, life felt ordered and my heart felt spacious. But when the day to host arrived, life had changed drastically. Worries crowded my distracted heart just as clutter crowded our messy counters. What I desperately wanted (and thought I needed) was to cancel so I could spend time alone processing the problems of the week and the subsequent waves of emotions they were causing.

I intended to share some cake and tea, but we ended up sharing our stories. And then, something amazing happened: the character and goodness of God were maximized and the looming problems were minimized.

Wrapped in the trappings of obedient hospitality, God gave me the gift I didn’t know how much I desperately needed: perspective. Just as Gandalf knew what Bilbo really needed, God invites us to a deeper adventure through the doorway of seemingly simple hospitality.

The Adventure of Obedience

In one of his essays, G.K. Chesterton talks about adventure in a way that deeply resonates with my experience of true hospitality and the relational adventures it begets. And I think Bilbo Baggins (after his adventures) would agree.

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

True biblical hospitality rarely fits neatly into our color-coded agendas. It costs us precious time and energy. It will oftentimes feel like an inconvenience to our comfort. It may make us wonder with Bilbo Baggins if there will be enough energy and peace and time to go around after the guests have been served and seen.

Hospitality leads to a life of relational adventures with our God, even if it doesn’t take us far from home like our reluctantly-hospitable hobbit friend. Through hospitality, new worlds are opened up to us. We are led to new territories emotionally and spiritually through hosting strangers who become friends. Our worlds broaden and stretch as we stretch our schedules and souls to fit new friends.

May God mark your doors, my friends, as Gandalf marked Bilbo’s. May obedience to God’s commands become the beginnings of grand adventures.

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:1-2).

“The end of all things is at hand: therefore, be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:7-9). 

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