Several months ago, a friend whom I had not seen in years emailed me. “My friends and I are taking a road-trip to Colorado,” she wrote, “and would like to see you. Could we stop by your house for an evening and overnight?”
I was delighted at the idea–I hadn’t forgotten my bright and interesting friend from so long ago. “Please come!” I said.
As the days passed, I shifted into uncertainty. I wanted them to come, but how was I going to entertain these three snazzy Pennsylvania ladies in my hillbilly town where we have almost nothing to do? The weather was too hot for a nice walk around the lake. Our town has no coffee shops (but bars a’plenty, and that was out of the question). Will was taking our kids plus several others to an evangelistic camp that weekend, so I wouldn’t even have him around.
“I’m no good at hospitality!” I groaned to Will. “My sisters are so good at it, but not me!”
My guests were easy to please, and I need not have worried. We ate in a tiny pizza shop on Main Street, and talked the evening away. Even though I had never met two of them and hadn’t seen one for probably 14 years, we connected instantly. When God is a common denominator, and not just God in a general sense, but God as a real and living Presence that infuses your whole life, connection is easy.
I came away from that experience with a glow in my heart. I couldn’t remember the last time I ate pizza with a couple girlfriends! And to engage in a shared experience of God made the evening so much richer.
They left, and my old-time friend handed me a book. If God wanted to teach me something about hospitality, He was making it loud and clear. The book was The Gospel Comes With a House Key, Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World by Rosaria Butterfield.
In Butterfield’s book, she describes a lifestyle of an open home and open table. Neighbors and guests sat around her table almost daily, and she fed them beans and bread and a taste of Jesus.
Their family engaged with neighbors and walked dogs with social outcasts. They fostered and adopted children who needed a home. Always, people were welcome, regardless of their questions or beliefs.
The last chapter of The Gospel Comes with a House Key describes Jesus on the Emmaus Road with his disciples following the crucifixion, and how that patterns a path for us to follow in engaging with people around us.
Jesus does not hurry them. He does not jolly them. He doesn’t fear their pain, or even their wrong-minded notions of who the Christ should be or is. He knows that the process is important. He knows that grief and lamentation are vital to the soul. The Christian life isn’t a math test. A whole lot more than the answer matters a whole lot more. So he accompanies them in their suffering. And we need to do the same.
The Gospel Comes with a House Key, page 200.
Hospitality is central to sharing the love of Jesus, but it is not natural to me. This book brought me both inspiration and longing.
I love eating apple pie and discussing a bizzare Scripture passage from Ezekiel with a couple friends from town, or standing in our kitchen and holding hands and praying spontaneously with someone who needs it, or feeding a couple hungry neighbor kids. Yet I always feel clumsy and a little exposed and not quite up to par with what hospitality should look like.
Recently after a particularly chaotic evening of hosting, with children running everywhere and shouting gleefully while the adults chattered and laughed, I felt exhausted and deflated. Our guests had a wonderful time, by all appearances. But I was so busy filling plates and wiping water spills and finding bandaids for little ouchies that I missed nearly all of the conversation.
“What do people want when they come to our house?” I asked Will. “Do they want my food, or do they want me? I can’t give them both.”
I can’t multitask very well when it comes to working and conversing with a group, because I need to lipread (especially in a noisy environment). When I’m slicing cheese or chopping tomatoes on the kitchen counter, my back is turned to the group and I disappear into isolation. Hence the question, do my guests want food or do they want me?
Perhaps I need to think beyond my assumed definition of hospitality.
My perimeters have already been stretched by moving outside my culture. A sit-down Sunday lunch with friends is a thing of the past, because its too strange and threatening to many of my friends here. I’ve had to look for other ways to extend food and welcome until people feel safe at my house.
But now I’m pondering what hospitality can and should look like, and if our individual gifts ought to shape our expression of it. Butterfield is honest about the challenges of hosting as an introvert; she found ways to restore her soul even with her daily hosting.
Maybe more than offering food and a roof, hospitality is about saying “you are safe and welcome here” and showing that in concrete ways. Maybe hospitality is not confined to a particular space, but is an attitude of welcome and compassion that follows us if we are willing. Maybe any of us can be an island of safety for a hurting and lonely soul. This might mean an elaborate meal in our home, or it might mean a listening ear at the grocery store.
Jesus is all about gathering people into a circle of care, and sharing His best with them. That’s the kind of person I want to be, inviting others into the goodness of the Gospel.
For my third blog birthday, I’m giving away a copy of The Gospel Comes with a House Key. To enter the giveaway, comment about either a). how hospitality has blessed you or b). how to engage in hospitality in a way that is life-giving to both you and your guests. I’d love to hear your ideas!
Giveaway closes in one week.