presence

When We Are Separated: Hope in the Waiting

My Dad sat in the white wicker chair facing east, slouched with leg hung loosely over the other, white tuft of hair rising like a wave at its crest. In his hands rested the book, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, and on the mint green carpet lay his Bible. Usually I quietly tiptoed by the sunroom to not disturb his quiet with God, but when I ventured in, he welcomed me with a smile. Occasionally, I’d sit on the step leading into the room and ask what he’d read. He’d share a nugget of thought for us to mull in the dawning of the day. Nearly every morning I could find him like this—twenty-five years ago. Death has separated us for over twenty years.

This Easter weekend, we situate ourselves deeply in the remembrance of separation—the confusion of the not yet. We live in the shock of our hope disappearing, the bottom falling out of our expectations, and the darkness of being separated from the One we love. We take our place alongside the disciples standing at a distance, powerless to stop the horror of Him who we love being crucified and gone.

This year, we may be feeling this with more emotion because we find ourselves separated from each other as well. For some of us, we are facing an abyss of isolation and loneliness. Perhaps we are longing to be with a friend who, like you, is home alone. Or you are longing for someone who has died. Or you are longing for God. These absences reveal our longings and they are invitations—to remember and find what we need in our memories and allow them to inform our present and future.

During the stay-at-home orders of this pandemic, I know many who are separated from their grown children, some who have ailing parents who cannot be visited, multitudes who cannot be with co-workers, others who lead and care for unreachable populations. This is deeply painful. We are in some degree of grief. Like the devastated disciples who hid after Jesus’ execution (John 20:19-20), cut to the heart and unsure of what is next, we are afraid for each other’s lives in the turmoil. Perhaps it would be helpful to stop a moment and drop into how this is true for you.

Who are you longing for?

How are you experiencing separation and grief?

Where is it in your body?

What love or care is it revealing in you?

Talk to God about this person—your memories, what you are thankful for, what you miss, and what their life means to you now?

A friend told me that one of the most poignant sadnesses he is carrying is the sudden separation from his cherished students. The state-mandated stay-at-home order descended before he could bless and encourage them. He cannot visit or call them. So he talks with God about them. My friend is genuinely caring for whomever he is with. He is a person who is wholeheartedly present.  Much like Jesus. For those who loved him, his presence was profoundly welcoming, like coming home.  When he died, I imagine the disciples were in excruciating pain.

But Jesus had said, “It is for your own good that I am going, because unless I go, the Advocate will not come to you.” (John 16:7)

We do not know yet what good may come of our present-day separations, but we can be sure that God is “working all things together for good for those who love him.” (Romans 8:28) It may seem impossible that this severance from adult children, ailing parents, students, church members, and co-workers could result in good because we are suddenly stripped of many of our powers of helping and being helped.  Just like the disciples, we feel powerless in this tragedy, orphaned. Where is the goodness? We must wait in our abandonment, allowing this strange space to sharpen our senses, our desires for what’s really important. God is working, making a way to become better known.

When I revisit my Dad in my memory of our Florida room talks, I feel welcomed to wonder, to ask questions, to open my heart, and to encounter God. My Dad’s presence, way of being, and love encourages and steadies me even in our separation. In the waiting, we reach back for our anchors so that we can chart our course forward, under the counsel of him who has been released to us by Jesus’ great faith to step out of our lives. His stepping in and stepping out tore the curtain of separation and made the way for us to be forever adopted. That is worth remembering. That is an anchor that holds us fast for whatever the future holds.

Posted by k2mulder in Encouragement, 0 comments

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.

 

 

Posted by k2mulder in Attitudes, Hospitality, 0 comments