welcome

A Story for the Overwhelmed Leader in Today’s Crisis

A sharp snap and the water washed into my face with the force of a summer hose. Stepping back, through unfocused eyes I saw the showerhead idling in the basket underneath, broken off. Turning the water off with an unsavory word, I commenced to redress and look for an extra showerhead I’d seen somewhere in the house. I punctuated my internal self-condemnation with stomps. Ashamed, I hoped my husband wouldn’t notice, but knew I’d have to tell him anyway. Avoiding the others in the house, I found and installed the new head then turned the water on to resume my escape to the privacy of the shower. Frustratingly, this one offered a weak stream that hardly tickled. I longed for the flagellating force of the old one. It would match my mood of recrimination better. Soon my tears flowed with the rivulets of water, and I faced the anger that was roiling inside.

I’d only made it to day twelve of the lockdown due to the threat of COVID19.

I was heartily disappointed with myself, angry that I couldn’t keep my peace longer. I’d increasingly felt trapped and imprisoned, not by the walls of my house (I took lots of walks and bike rides) but by the needs and anxieties of my family.

The first week I expended an enormous amount of energy to set and maintain a rhythm that would work for all of us, while being the constant, trustworthy presence for my daughter who was in the throes of anxiety-driven fury. Yesterday, I discovered that while I was immersed in one child’s needs, I’d missed guiding my quiet one through this turbulence and now she was suffering.

Noise was increasingly becoming intolerable for me, so when my mom started putting away the dishes I had to leave the room. I went up to my bedroom and found my husband there. I glared because I assumed he was going to take a nap, and I’d have to move again.

He was only putting on his socks.

Chagrined and dismayed with myself, I flopped into my chair, too riled to work. That’s when I thought a shower might help calm me.

As I sat in the shower, feeling all the pent up anger, voicing it in colorful language and hot breath to myself and God, I finally owned it. For a while, it was just raw and ugly. I was breathing hard, fierce and tense, my voice hoarse and vehement. All the energy inside me punctuated the air like shrapnel as the shower water washed it down the drain. But as the ferocity of feeling ebbed lower, I could start to listen for God.

In tandem we looked at my desires fueling my anger. I desperately wanted to have some space, to not be responsible for anyone else, and to live as I wished. The demands on me felt like too much. I felt selfish, a wimp, and sorely limited. I hated that such a small amount (in my estimation) overwhelmed me, and disappointed in my inability to remain positive and calm.

A huge desire rose in me to push everyone away so I could have space, even though I had carefully been taking breaks, getting exercise, spending time in prayer, practicing mindfulness, doing things I enjoy—all the things that help me take care of myself. Still I was sobbing on the floor of my shower after having broken the showerhead in anger! What was wrong with me?!

What’s wrong is that I want to be God. I want to be able to do it all—in this case it meant not devolving into the anxieties I felt around me (because I’m better than that, right?) I could accommodate my limitations to others and not bump up against my frailties. I could remain calm and balanced always, a constant supply of help to everyone. Truthfully, I was proud that I was not anxious like everyone else while dealing patiently and equitably with the tempers and whines of the kids.

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

I did feel humiliated, but only before my ego, not God. He warmly and readily welcomed me, as if my shame, nakedness and disappointment were not cause for separation. I experienced Romans 8:39 personally:

Absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

I very much felt like he was opening his arm with a broad smile as he said, “There you are! I’ve been waiting for you!” Not a hint of recrimination, condemnation, or vengeance—he was not like a vengeful teenager wanting to bring an arrogant classmate down a peg or two. Rather, his was the glad welcome of a dear friend from whom I’d been separated. And only a dear friend is willing to meet you where you wallow.

As I sat in my vulnerability with him, he gently reminded me of various truths. The first was regarding how he’s put me together: I am steady during a crisis for everyone else, then fall apart once they’re all okay. This was part of what was happening.

He also gave me the experience of the truth of forgiveness. It washed over me like the soft rain from the showerhead as I confessed my desire and efforts to be god. Confessing my dislike and rejection of my own limitations and needs, I ended with deep, glad breaths for who God is and who I am with him. I felt resurrected, and the rest of my day evidenced this. The Kimberley who stalked into the shower to hide came out a truer Kimberley ready to give.

I tell my story because perhaps the toll of leading and caring for others has taxed you beyond what you can bear. Maybe you are hitting, or are past, your limits, and the you who is showing up is not who you wish to be sharing. She keeps threatening to take center stage, and it’s harder to push her off to the wings. She refuses to remain the understudy. Her tenacity is flummoxing you more and more.

It’s time to look her square in the eyes and take her seriously. God does. He’s already there with her in the wings, waiting for you.

This is the astonishing welcome of the good news of Jesus. Not that we welcomed him, but that he welcomes us. Every actor within—the ones we approve of and the ones we don’t—is held in his embrace as one. He brings our wholeness to us. And in our limited, but wholehearted, ways, we can then collaborate with him in welcoming wholeness in our world.

 

Posted by k2mulder in Encouragement, 4 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