I’ve got another hospitable friend I want to introduce to you: Charlotte Ennis. Charlotte is the wife of Pat Ennis, the Executive Director of Sovereign Grace Ministries, and her hospitality never ceases to amaze me. Even though she has three young children, Charlotte is often hosting people in her home—for an overnight or extended stay. And she does it with joy. Charlotte has the “show hospitality without grumbling” thing down! She doesn’t complain, but is always talking about the benefits that come from having people in her home.
I can’t come close to touching Charlotte’s joyfully hospitable example, but every time I’m around her, some of that love for hospitality rubs off on me. And I’ve asked her to share today, in case you’d like a little of her hospitality enthusiasm to rub off on you too!
I hope you enjoy this wise counsel and practical advice from Charlotte on hosting overnight guests:
(Pictured: Charlotte with her husband Pat, their three children, and a friend who used to live in their home.)
by Charlotte Ennis
Whew! We just said sad goodbyes to our ninth overnight visitor in ten days. Part of the privilege of my husband’s job is the opportunity to host visitors from all over the world in our home. Rarely does a month or two go by that we don’t have someone staying with us for a couple of days, a week, or even longer.
A great experience with overnight guests begins with thought and prayer. We need to be ready to serve without significant temptation, and that means anticipating the unexpected. Wedding guests may need emergency clothing alterations, help making hair appointments, and lots of maps or directions. International guests may have language difficulties, or feel lost in the new environment. Some guests need transportation. Others have dietary restrictions requiring all peanut butter or other foods to disappear from the living space for the duration of the visit. Do you have a pet? Guests need to know in advance as many people suffer pet allergies. There also may be laundry needs, computer needs, and personal needs. Prayerful preparation will help you find joy in inconvenience and grace for loving people.
We try to provide a private room for couples, single women, and older people. If a guest room isn’t available, one or more of our children move into our bedroom to free one up. Sometimes, though, there is “spillover.” Young college men have slept comfortably on couches in the basement, and kids seem fine on the floor in sleeping bags.
It will bless your guests if they have as much bathroom privacy as possible. Be especially considerate of the sexes and ages of people sharing the bathroom. Maybe your whole family can share one bathroom in order to free one up for your guests, or at least you can encourage family members to keep to a set bathroom schedule and tidy up promptly. Guests (especially those with time limitations) really appreciate being able to count on private bathroom time!
Our home is a bustling place, so as a whole it’s not often “squeaky clean”, but I try to make sure it is orderly and good-smelling when guests arrive. We want to provide a “squeaky clean” guest room and bathroom for guests, though. I wash guest room windows, vacuum or launder rugs, and dust before each guest arrives. I keep at least one extra pair of sheets always clean and ready for each bed. There are always extra hangers in the closet, unopened boxes of gentle bath soap in the bathroom, and plenty of tissues. Check the plastic shower curtains. They get really gross, so I replace ours often. I put out plenty of towels and washcloths, and replace them every few days. We provide a bedside table and lamp, a clock, and a comfortable chair for private devotions. There usually are interesting books and sometimes magazines in the room as well. I buy extra toothbrushes, sample tubes of toothpaste, and other toiletries and keep them in the medicine cabinet. They are used occasionally by grateful but forgetful guests. I even try to keep an extra box of feminine hygiene products around. Finally, I write a welcome note to first time guests inviting them to treat our home as theirs. A festive bag of Lindt truffles or other snack is a welcome treat too.
I used to bring out the best china and linens for everyone, but we’ve found over the years that most guests are more comfortable if we treat them like family. In fact, I often tell people that it actually serves me if they help themselves in the kitchen. We show them where things are, and invite them to help themselves to whatever is in the fridge. People usually relax visibly then. They may offer to help empty the dishwasher or take on other clean-up activities, too. Sometimes this means I can’t figure out where things have been put, but I’m grateful for the help, and many people seem grateful to help.
Food depends on the guest. We have had people in for conferences who don’t eat anything at our house at all, but we still make sure bagels, yogurt, and fruit are available for them in the mornings. My husband and I discuss whether I should prepare a meal, and how formal it should be. Often he grills out on our deck, laughing and talking with everyone the whole time! I keep frozen hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken breasts always ready. It’s easy then to pick up some rolls, chips, and a veggie plate. It’s fast and the clean up is minimal. Our experience is that most people don’t expect to share all of their meals with us, and we are careful to be sure they don’t feel obligated to do so.
Like Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, “People come and go so quickly here.” It can be easy to get caught up with practical needs and miss many blessings. To make sure that doesn’t happen, we try to share as a family at least one meal, dessert, or evening conversation with our guests. One of the things I am most grateful for is that my children have sat at the table with strong, committed Christians from every major continent in the world. They have learned that Christians come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and languages, but that God is the same everywhere. They listen to mature young men and women discuss their challenges in light of the gospel. They learn from older people. These times give them a unique view of many of the things God is doing in the church at large, both in the United States and elsewhere.
Not everyone who comes here is a Christian though. Family members and friends of friends sometimes aren’t and serving them gives us opportunities to share the love of Jesus Christ. Together our family watches and listens and learns and prays.
Is it all worth it? We believe it is.