This is for the caretakers, the ones who always volunteer, the ones who say, “Someone has to do it, so I guess I will.” This is for the weary leader so busy caring for others that her own needs groan into a stifled discomfort and disillusionment. This is for the one always bending to accommodate another’s dilemmas, demands, or desires. The one who others count on to be hospitable, always.
Is there space at your table for you?
Do you find it easier to see how Jesus loves the other, but not so easy to see how he cares for you?
Does it feel luxurious, even selfish, to be hospitable to yourself – because it means saying no to someone else?
This is how I felt for a long time, especially when I tried to balance leading at church and mothering my three children through their first six years. And although I’ve never really wanted, deep down, to disconnect from the church, I was tempted to because of my desperation. There is an unequivocal absolute about mothering, so if that took all my energy, so be it.
But I felt, oh, so guilty!
Grace came through gentle permission to step out of leading for a season, and into community, to be hospitable to my own soul in their presence.
I learned what it was to be welcomed at the table as me and not for my leadership or my abilities. I learned it was good, and deeply necessary, to spend time with my soul in God’s presence. Even more, the community I was in practiced a new hospitality towards me, one that warmly, quietly, cherished what was going on between me and God. I learned what it was to receive grace, to be one of the group relying on others and God – just as much in need of grace and hospitality as the next. Once driven by all the shoulds of good Christian living, I found I couldn’t do it all, and now I know, I shouldn’t.
Three days ago I remembered this lesson.
I went for a walk in the world turned fluffy, as if the bare black branches had bloomed a profusion of double-petalled white hydrangeas overnight, so that the morning dawned so brightly we thought we had slept in. Everything gently curved in cotton-ball whites, taking the muster of gray wood and dressing it up like scrappy Cinderella in her shimmering, glorious ball gown. This April snow would only last an hour or two, and so I roused my sleepy, overwrought self to find its peace in this fine fairy forest.
For two months I have been gunning it. Surpassing milestones before expected, churning out thoughts and plans as from a factory at full operation. And it’s been good. Exciting. Worth it.
But I’ve noticed my deteriorating patience, my mental freeze at simple requests turned difficult by the fog. What once felt easy, now is uphill.
As I walked uphill on my return trail, now watching the sloppy, slippery, muddy morass at my feet with less light-heartedness and more measured determination, I realized I was no longer looking at the trees and the snow and feeling the tingling breeze. I was tiring and the thrill was gone despite the beauty surrounding me. I thought of those benches sometimes installed at perfect outlooks for people to catch their breath, simultaneously in wonder and relief. Where was one of those?
I also thought how fitting it was that what had drawn me forward this morning was the fleeting beauty, how it invigorated my lagging body, and gave me purpose. My purpose was to enjoy. Just like two months ago when I embarked on new paths for my life. They were beautiful in hope, invigorating in promise, and gave me purpose. They still do; however, I am tiring of my walk and I need a bench for this day, at least. Somewhere to catch my breath in the exertion of living out my calling, somewhere to just enjoy the view with Jesus, and not be making or planning anything.
I can tell when I haven’t been hospitable to my soul. I get tense. I get short and become inhospitable to my husband and my kids. Instead of delighting in the care of these precious ones, every innocent request I interpret as a demand. I grudgingly help find whatever was misplaced, I go through the motions of care, but gone is the heart of care. All this dimming of life, trudging into drudgery, just because I walked passed my built-in bench.
My built-in bench is Sunday, when I typically observe the Sabbath with worship, rest and joyful activity. But sometimes I need more, or a Sabbath is pulled out of shape by sickness or strange schedules or just lots of people. I love people, but I also love my quiet.
We hosted friends for Easter, after a week of having neighbor kids over, spending two days being hosted by other friends, and the intervening times filled with fun and errands and my kids. All delightful, all a blessing, and I treasure every connection and laugh and joy we had.
But I needed my built-in bench. I needed a place to be with my own soul and no one else’s, to be with Jesus, and no one else. A place to be hospitable to just the two of us. I am so glad that Jesus finds quiet a hospitable place. He knows how to hold silence and make it special, how to fill the quiet with presence, and in so doing, warm my heart into relaxation and acceptance, into creativity and gentleness.
“But Jesus himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Luke 5:16 (NASB)
Jesus took to the silence to find the presence of His Father. This warmed his heart, and made him creatively focused. When he returned to the crowds, he never appeared torn about what to do for whom, aggravated by the magnitude of the needs before him, or capitulated to another’s plans. Instead, with daring directness, he did only what the Father told him. He healed many, but not all. He taught many, but not all.
Jesus did not go through his life saying, “Someone has to do it, I guess I should.” He delegated like crazy, sending people to do things easy, and impossible. He relied on others! He empowered them by asking them to do things like find donkeys, feed five thousand, and steer boats.
We get so caught up in ministering, in what needs to be done, that we stop hearing the particulars that God is leading us to. In our over-serving we inch slowly away from the table. We give up our chair, and like a servant at royalty’s table, stand ramrod straight and proper against the wall hiding our fatigue under our starched uniform and pasted smile, as we serve those at the table.
But our King invited us to his table, to sit, be fed, listen to him. When Jesus said, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all,” (Mark 10:43-44) he is not speaking about who gets a seat at the table, for we all do, but to use your guest status to welcome others to the table.
So, come back to the table, draw up a chair, pass the food around, and eat!
And, when you get up to walk again, make sure you enjoy the view at your built-in benches!