|"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." -- Hebrews 13:2|
Cheryl at Thinking About Home has been writing a series, 31 Days of Hospitality. Today she is making it a linkup, which allows others to contribute to the subject, so I'm throwing in my two cents. I have desired to write on hospitality for a long time, but couldn't quite get my thoughts together. It is a central value of my life. Perhaps that is why it has been so difficult for me to write about it.
A lot of my convictions about hospitality began with my maternal grandparents, who were strong influences on me from an early age (you can get a little flavor of this from my Easter post). My grandmother had NOTHING fancy, she never drove, she hardly got to go to the grocery store herself (my grandfather would go), they were not perfect people at all, BUT throughout their long lives they sheltered, fed and comforted many, many people. They were a stabilizing presence in their rural community. This made a deep impression on me.
Then, when I was around 12 or 13, I read an interview with Mother Teresa that was published in McCall's magazine (this would have been late 1970s). In that interview she told a story of a young nun who was washing some very repulsive wounds on a patient. The young nun was doing a deed of mercy, but with an attitude of distaste. Mother Teresa said no, no -- like this: and then she lovingly and with grace washed those same wounds in a way that preserved the dignity and worth of the patient. Her message was 'Do it like it was unto Jesus.' That article has always stayed with me, and I have pulled it out of my memory to ponder over the years.
Then, early on in my marriage, I read a book by Karen Mains called Open Heart, Open Home that was a major influence in my thinking on home. Other things I read by Edith Schaeffer (for example, Tapestry, The Hidden Art of Homemaking) and Elisabeth Elliot reinforced some of the ideas or fleshed them out. Basically I believe that our homes are gifts from God for our personal shelter but are also to be used to minister to others.
My home has looked very different over the years. I've lived in apartments, rental homes, owner homes, big cities, small towns. I've lived in different parts of the country. I've really never been flush with cash. I don't have someone clean or decorate my home, and every part of my home is lived in. I've had no children, lots of small children, and now lots of older children. When they all leave the nest my husband and I will be back to no children. The hospitality we are able to offer looks different, too. Many, many people have been through my house for meals, hanging out, spending the night, and a few have even stayed for an extended period. These people themselves have all been different: friends, college students, people from other countries, family (although far rarer than I would like), troubled people. Some people are repeat guests while others are one-time visitors.
If you mistakenly think I'm 'the hostess with the mostest', think again. I am not the kind of person who does anything formal. I have friends who are great at planning elaborate brunches or dinners, and I thoroughly enjoy being invited to one, but that is not my forte. My house/yard is never all the way clean or decorated. In fact if you come over you may immediately feel better about your own housekeeping, or parenting, or cooking;) However, I do think my particular gift is to make people feel welcome, to give them a safe spot in which to BE for a little while. A friend of mine stopped by one day unannounced, and she said she had never done that before in her life but somehow she thought I was the kind of person that it would be okay (it was). I was pleased that she said that because I do aspire to be that kind of person.
Through your home, no matter how humble, you can offer a refuge even if it is just a drink of water (Matthew 10:42). This is part of our mission as Christians in this world. If you are lonely or are new somewhere, don't wait for others to extend hospitality to you. You go ahead and extend hospitality to others. It can be very simple -- most people would be delighted just to be asked. And remember the types of people Jesus asks to his wedding feast (Luke 14:15-24) and do likewise.
Hospitality is not easy or convenient (as Cheryl says so eloquently in her series). It is not designed to bring you glory or praise. Hospitality is challenging. It's a lot of work. It requires you to spread your food further than you thought it would go. It inflates your grocery budget. It makes for a lot more dishes. It infringes on your privacy. It exposes your dirty laundry (both figuratively and literally). It can sometimes make you feel taken advantage of, or at least resentful that YOU don't get invited anywhere. Sometimes guests are awkward or are in very serious trouble and you feel in over your head.
But we are not required to have all the answers. Hospitality just asks us to give a cup of cold water in Jesus' name, to share a meal together with someone in Jesus' name, to offer them a safe place just to sit or maybe even to sleep in Jesus' name. Hospitality does not solve the problems of the world, but it does give rest to the weary soul and buoys up the downhearted. We will never know in this lifetime what good it may do; we must trust God Himself to bless our efforts to be lights in a dark place.
The plaque at the top of my post was made and given to us by a young woman who once was a frequent guest at our house. She now has her own house of hospitality. I hang the plaque by my front entrance as a reminder. Who knows but we too may have entertained an "angel unawares"?
To read some other thoughts on hospitality go here.