“Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbor into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment. It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories, and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit… The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free… not a subtle invitation to adopt the life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen
Having grown up stateside, I’m always astounded by the stories of international hospitality that my friends on the other side of the world share with me– the willingness that people in other countries have to take strangers into their homes and serve them a cup of tea, a warm meal, or simply hear their stories after a long day of travel or work.
In countries all over the globe, this type of hospitality is the norm.
These people, Christians or not, understand Jesus’ commandment– “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
They feed the hungry, give tea to the thirsty, and provide company to the lonely (all within the walls of their own home– a place that is likely abounding in comfort and love).
While I mulled over this idea of international hospitality this week, it dawned on me that all of these things are slightly reminiscent of one of Jesus’ other teachings:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
Personally, I’ve found that when I allow Christ’s hospitable nature and love to flow through me by inviting others over for a meal or to stay in my house while they are in a period of transition, I learned to love without great or unhealthy expectation of others.
By no means do I have this whole “love thy neighbor” thing down pat; as my roommates and house guests can attest to, at times I am irritable and impatient. My brain starts to spin and smoke when things are not somewhat orderly. I’ve seen my silly attachments to my material possessions rear their ugly idolistic heads. Oh, and as an introvert, I get to see my selfishness magnified when my “me time” or my “Jesus time” is disrupted. All reallllly cute attributes of my self… Hashtag: sarcasm.
These last few months have taught me that hospitality comes at a cost and that cost is different for everyone. It can be something as simple as sacrificing your “me time” to make your home welcoming to others, or something as big as overcoming self-established boundaries of intimacy with strangers or acquaintences. It simply depends on where God has you.
Hospitality can be uncomfortable and it should be because it is sanctifying.
In those moments when we are being called to be hospitable, we are called to put the comfort of others over ours, to listen, to meet needs, and to pray for and with those whom God has entrusted us with, even if it’s just for one meal or one short season of life.
What would happen this week and this holiday season if we put aside our anxieties and selfishness and opened our homes to the people around us?
Yeah, I’m talking about the crazy neighbor who lives next door and can be heard screaming at her children until all hours of the night. Mhmm, even the cranky old man who lives alone and complains about your lawn being too long in the summer. And yes, who could forget the co-worker who drives you absolutely bananas with their stories drenched in hyperbole and laced with hidden pain.
What would happen if we invited them over for a Thanksgiving meal, free of expectation but full of Christs’ love? Think of the conversations that could happen and the relationships that could begin if only we lowered our Westernized walls and allowed people to discover themselves as created free and beautiful by a loving God within our homes.
Think of the possibilities.
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.“Hebrews 13:2