On Hospitality

I don’t often write about the Biblical virtue of hospitality, unless I’m analyzing a masculinist approach to it that makes it not a manifestation of spiritual fruit all believers should demonstrate, but a specifically female practice that, indeed, is often seen as a woman’s highest calling.  That’s not “hospitality.”  It may share many similarities in its appearance, but too often what passes for hospitality in traditional evangelical circles is merely an exhaustive, if not exhausting, iteration of expectations for women whose men have decided have nothing to offer from the pulpit, the pews, or the conference table during elders’ meetings.

Hospitality — the act of opening one’s home to others and freely offering one’s resources for their comfort — is both a Biblical command and a spiritual gift.  And for those so called and gifted it’s a safe endeavor (unless abused), however un-Biblical in its evangelical positioning as a female-particular aspiration, because the very act of offering hospitality marks you, in other people’s eyes, as a nice person.  The saint gifted with a prophetic voice isn’t generally thought of as terribly “nice;” the Spirit-gifted administrator or overseer, while expected to be kind, risks having the exercise of her gifts seen as purely efficient, if noticed at all.  And the generous giver’s works, however wonderful and gracious, are not to be seen at all — ideally, you would be in the presence of a startlingly generous giver and not even know it.

But you know the congregant or neighbor who practices faithfully the gift of hospitality, because by its very definition it involves “public works,” ministrations offered to those in need of them; the act of opening one’s home to others involves a public “opening up” not just of one’s home and privacy to others, but it’s a visible action that reveals the openness of heart behind it.  There’s no “keeping my gift of hospitality to myself,” as is the case with extending anonymous generosity to others. And while I think I please the Lord Jesus with my giving and my ministry, I also know that hospitality is not the are of my greatest giftedness.  I also am well aware that what I’ve sometimes ascribed to the Spirit’s distribution of gifts and giftedness — “well, the Spirit hasn’t gifted me that way” — has too often been a dodge that ensures that my home stays tidy and private . . . for my convenience.

During this last week, though, God has shown me a few things about hospitality.  We have had some friends of our son’s with us since the weekend; they had some sudden rotten luck and we had a spare bedroom.  It’s only for a week, and, as recent, permanent empty-nesters, it’s been nice to cook for other people and get to know an interesting, talented young couple who this time drew the short straw.

But it’s as recent, confirmed, permanent empty-nesters since June, when our youngest son moved to Bellingham, Washington, that we struggled a bit with taking them in.  Our sons both took places in Moscow a few years ago — but they were still around, and it still felt like they were tethered not just to our hearts but to our home. Now, they both live, and want to forever live, outside of Idaho.  It’s official:  Our kids have left the nest, and it’s just us now.  And while our hearts are sad, it turns out that we kind of like the idea. 

Kinda a lot, actually.  And I think maybe it was becoming a goal in our lives to embrace it.

So while I am not arguing that a sovereign God struck down our young friends in order to graciously invite Jeff and me to explore opening up our home to others once again, I will say that this week has been an unadulterated joy and blessing.  To us.  I’m pretty sure that J and M have benefited, and that’s good — that certainly was our intention.  But not being able to clean as freely as I normally do, or use the washing machine whenever I want, or needing to keep my voice down in the mornings because they’re late risers, or wincing when they come in late and set the dogs barking, or even trying to draw them out as we tentatively explore cultural touchstones we might have in common, has been good, really good, for us.  We’ve tried to show two young people we love that we do love them, and we’ve been a little inconvenienced in the process. 

And it’s been absolutely wonderful.  

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