Being Hospitable is Central to Following Jesus

Being hospitable is all about making space, a push to the jumble of our commitments, a pull of invitation for someone to enter despite the topsy-turvy evidence of messy, beautiful lives.

Whether having someone come to my place or meeting someone elsewhere, if you are like me, you have a mental, maybe physical, closet stash of hustled miscellany out of sight. These thoughts tumble into my mental space frequently, like ubiquitous dust bunnies floating about the space. Mental dustpan in hand, I sweep these distractions up again so that I can direct my attention to my friend.

This making space – temporal, mental and physical — is hard. I confess, as an introvert, it is all too easy to not rise to the challenge, choosing instead to let TV and books entertain me. It is easier to anesthetize the bunny thoughts, ignore the mess about me, and not interact.

Sometimes I have approached hospitality as an encroachment on my turf, something to be tolerated out of necessity, or a cost of following Jesus. It’s as if I see myself as a can of soda in God’s vending machine, out of which I am dispensed to be drunk dry in service to others. Can you see how fear-based this is? These are the times my decisions to be hospitable are not led by love, but are pushed by fear.

Usually, I am a decisive person. I get things done. I soldier file my thoughts and march them through my project-filled day like a general issuing complicated drills, so why do they trip over hospitality?

Because I haven’t been committed to it, not like I am other noble things, such as prayer, or making healthy meals, or completing jobs for work, or preparing to lead a meeting. Remember those dust bunny thoughts I have to corral to pay attention to someone else? They are the natural result of a life lived to produce, to find its satisfaction in getting things done. These are the thoughts I am committed to, and, because they rule, they demand to be given precedent. I am afraid to give up time to “shooting the breeze” because there is an internal general barking orders to “get things done. You can be hospitable when the work is done, when you are off duty.” Inherent in this attitude is that hospitality is “just play”, a luxurious activity undertaken only after the work is done.

I only truly notice my lack of commitment to hospitality when I find I am in need of someone else’s. Then, I wonder who to turn to. I consider who has turned to me for a bit of welcome, and the past stretches behind like a savannah with sudden mounds of shrubbery sparsely greening a patch, for my hospitality is, at best, unsteady. It has lacked commitment. Strange for one who takes commitments seriously! But the reason follows.

Tucked succinctly in a litany of best practices, Paul wrote to the Romans to “practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13b NIV) The Greek word for “practice” actually better translates as “pursue”, meaning to press on, strive, or make every effort. Most notable is that hospitality is to be pursued just like righteousness, godliness, faith, gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11), the good (1 Thess. 5:15), love (1 Cor. 14:1 NIV), and peace (1 Peter 3:11 NIV).

Even though I have followed Jesus for thirty years, I did not know this! Until Natasha Red pointed this out in her five-day devotional on hospitality, I had not known the absolute importance practicing hospitality is to following Jesus. I have been wrestling with this conviction ever since! I am going through a mindset reset about being hospitable. 

This is what I’ve understood so far.

Hospitality is not a luxurious activity. It is not a superfluous activity. It is not peripheral or optional. It is essential. It is central. It needs to be woven into the fiber of our characters and exuded in all interactions as we go about our duties and activities. It is an attitude our hearts inhabit. That’s why we are hospitable.

Jesus made space to be with his Father regularly (Luke 5:16 NIV). He made space for everyone, even for the woman with the bleeding problem who was considered untouchable (Mark 5:25-34). He makes space for us, awaiting our approach, our turning, with delight. If ever there was an icon for being hospitable, Jesus was it! Notice it’s his character that is hospitable, his hospitality didn’t depend on a place to carry out his welcome. He did it without home to call his own! Everywhere he went, he ministered as he welcomed.

Ministry of any kind is really practicing hospitality. In ministry we intentionally make space for someone. So, conversely, hospitality is really practicing ministry. And through it, I grow and the kingdom of God grows. My capacity increases. Jesus knew this, he knew the vitality that hospitality gives us.

And that’s just it, as I make space for someone, intentionally sharing a piece of life with her, what I thought would overwhelm instead enlarges me. My experience, my heart, my understanding is enlarged as I make space for another. What is mine is not being chipped away and eroded, leaving an emptiness, rather, that space grows as we receive one another. This is what CAN happen when I stop thinking of MY time, MY quiet, MY space, remembering and actively believing it is Jesus’s. He provides it, He is the author of all best practices, and He teaches me to share it.

Practicing hospitality is no longer about what I have to offer, or how much I can give, or how much it will “cost” me.  Rather, it’s about the grace of God inviting and calling me into something bigger, something eternal, something essential.

As I commit to pursuing hospitality by allowing this attitude into my activities, infusing everything them, and shaping my character in the process, I expect I will find a rich and spacious world of blessing. I will be living in the kingdom of God on earth. It is described as a living, EXPANDING thing (Luke 13:19-21 NIV), not as God purchasing and dispensing with me to whomever needs me. I need not be concerned with running dry, because at the table of hospitality He is providing for me and my guest. Not only the guest eats at the table, but the host as well. We are both nourished. These are the transactions of God. We give, thinking we will be depleted, only to find that there is a filling in the giving, and we come away satiated. At least, that is how it is meant to be, how it can be when we pursue the things of God: righteousness, godliness, faith, gentleness, the good, love, peace and hospitality.

Recovering a Hospitable Heart

The reason I chose the word “hospitable” for April’s focus, and not “hospitality,” is that I wanted to focus on being, not doing. We are hospitable; we practice or do hospitality. Hospitable is the intention and attitude, whereas hospitality is the action that springs from the intention. However, we frequently start with good intentions, but as we carry out the multitude of actions, we often end exasperated and empty. As with many things, we become good at the executions and tasks required and lose the heart and intention of it.

Are you excellent, or strive to be excellent, at all the little things to welcome someone into your space? Is it easy, even fun, to make sure all the fresh freesias are displayed beautifully in the mason jar, or every book and shoe is in its rightful place? Wonderful! These are welcoming touches.

freesias

 

But when you are done, are you so tired you have a hard time paying attention to the guests? Or do you find that, even as they tell their travel stories, you are thinking about the smudge on the window you missed? If so, your hospitable heart has swept out of the room with all your cleaning. I confess, sometimes this is so for me!

 

So, how do we recover a hospitable heart?

This is what I do:

  1. Practice hospitality to Jesus first. This is foremost because no other guest to my heart can make it bigger and more welcoming. Jesus always fills and fuels. As I let go of my ‘stuff’, He makes that heart-space in me spacious and able to welcome. I consciously spend five to fifteen minutes with open hands, focused on Jesus’ presence right in the moment – not asking questions, not thinking about what needs to be done, just welcoming Him and worshipping. Music can help, as can a short piece of Scripture beforehand if concentration is challenged! When I do this, I am remembering that Jesus is hospitable to me, and I walk into his welcome. I am so much better at welcoming others after I have been welcomed by the great Host himself!
  2. Before I get started on the actions of hospitality (cleaning, arranging, cooking, etc.), I think about my intentions in my hospitality. I want these lovely people in my home because I want to spend time with them. Do I need energy for visiting when they arrive to pay attention? Then I must set a schedule beforehand for how much I can realistically accomplish so I’m not worn out. Which is more important — making sure every smudge is off every window, or having the energy to see my guest’s needs? Is my intention in this action to make myself feel more comfortable (presentable), or make my guests feel more welcome to be themselves?
  3. I focus on listening to my guests. This is the biggest difference between being hospitable and practicing hospitality. In the hospitality industry, the best companies are the ones which have employees that really pay attention to the guests, even to the point of preemptively meeting a need. But in most hotels and restaurants, hospitality is relegated to good service, not good conversation. Need a bed? Check. Need toothpaste? Check. Need a napkin? Here it is. That’s hospitality. But hospitable goes so much deeper because it’s an investment in a relationship. When I have guests at home, I make space in my activities to listen to them, and when I am doing that, I try to do nothing else (not even in my head!) I try to invite them into sharing their lives, and not always be talking about my life. Listening is the best way to show your hospitable heart.
  4. Recognize that I have a limit to my listening abilities, and be okay with that. Generally speaking, I do not have the capacity to listen and converse for a long time. I shoot for quality over quantity because of this. Some of you are different, so find what works for you. I like to invest in a deep conversation, then retreat to do something else quietly. If I don’t I find that my attention to my guest is about as good as if I weren’t there anyway! This way, we can re-enter conversation later, after I’ve rebooted. I used to think I had to drop everything and always be present, but this only drained me, making me a grudging, zoned out host, and I’m sure my guests felt caged and forced to engage. Take breaks!
  5. Recognize that your guest has limits, too, and be okay with that. I choose not to take offense if a guest goes off by herself, or chooses to help with the dishes (believe it or not, I did take that as a criticism of my hosting abilities at one point!!), or wants to watch TV instead of talk. I want them to feel welcomed, but not feel forced to engage.

Recovering a hospitable heart can only happen when we are first welcomed into Jesus’ presence because He takes all the things that are burdening us: tasks, problems at work, illness, deadlines looming, etc. The more we can find peace in knowing His care for all these things, the more we will have space within ourselves to pay attention to someone else. So start by entering the presence of the hospitable one, Jesus, then proceed to stick with your intentions rather than your “to do” list, recognize your limits, and recognize your guest’s limits. It takes practice and intention to keep a hospitable heart. I do not do this perfectly by any measure, but I am learning how to regain a hospitable heart when I lose it.

 

When your heart is weary and over-burdened, cluttered and overwhelmed, unable to welcome another,

May you find grace’s space, the gentle unpacking and strong uplifting, of the One who welcomes you as you are.

And in His space, may your heart regain its shape and capacity

To love and to welcome another.

 

 

Be Hospitable to Your Own Soul

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!