Our MOPS group is making housewarming kits for women who are setting up their new homes after leaving the battered women’s shelter. Here are some pictures of watercolors I made for them so that they would have something to put on their walls.
So… relationships can be hard for me. It takes me a long time to warm up to people, and really let them in. I will let pretty much anyone know facts about my life, but to see the real emotion and vulnerability behind those facts, that takes time. Time measured in months and years, not minutes. This is not something I particularly like about my personality, but I don’t know how to change it.
I’ve been hurt by friends over the years, and it has caused me to develop a coping mechanism I call ‘flipping the switch.’ If I perceive that a friend is checking out of the relationship, or that I am bothering them, I’m gone. I emotionally flip the switch. I’m still nice, present, pleasant… the friend may not even notice the difference. But I do. I’m out. This is NOT how Christ calls me to live. I think about Judas, at the Last Supper, in the days and months before that. Jesus still allows him to be one of his circle. He still invites him to the table. Judas hears the same words, feels the same blessing as the others, even though Jesus knows what he will do. Let’s be honest, no slight or hurt from my friends can compare to being sent to your death on the testimony of on of your best buddies.
Flipping the switch may keep me safe, but it also keeps me alone. I am not practicing hospitality, not investing in community, when I intentionally hold myself back from a friendship. I have noticed another thing too- if I know a relationship is time limited, I never even consider investing in it. If I know a friend is moving away, leaving my bubble, or in my life for just a season, I don’t want to let them into my inner world. I don’t want to risk the inevitable hurt and heartache of goodbye. So instead, I cheat myself out of a chance to be known, to truly know someone else. All because I am afraid of the goodbye. This, I am certain, is not what God wants. This is my hidden sin. Because here is the truth: we cannot be held accountable unless we allow people to see us. See the real us, our hearts, our hopes, and our faults.
A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need Proverbs 17:17
I think that when God calls us to live a life of hospitality, he is asking us to let people in, not only to our homes and our lives, but to our hearts. For our good, and for theirs. We must risk pain, risk rejection, risk loss, in order to gain the companionship and the accountability we need. When I feel the knee jerk impulse to check out of a friendship, I need to notice. To examine the situation. To fight it, and to lean in deeper.
But how do you do that? How do you keep the switch from flipping?
I talked a few days ago about how the concept of hospitality brings up images of dinner parties in today’s culture. But in the Bible, hospitality didn’t refer to hosting with style. In fact, Christians were admonished for only inviting friends over to dinner. Luke 14:12-14 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
And yet, we are afraid of having even our friends over. We stay closed off in our little houses, a city full of fortresses, afraid to share life with each other.
I was asking the youth I work with at church how she would define hospitality, and her answer floored me. “Treat strangers as if you knew them already.”
Now maybe that is not as revolutionary for you as it is for me, but it shook me up. For you see, I have a hard time getting to know people. It takes a lot for someone to break through my shell. I frequently get described as ‘intimidating’. And I hate this about myself. No matter how hard I try to let others in, I have this inner switch that I can’t seem to figure out how to flip until I feel comfortable around someone.
How does this keep me from showing hospitality to others? How does it hinder me from sharing life with them? Learning and benefitting from them, and vice versa?
How does one make friends? How do you teach yourself to treat strangers as if you already knew them?
I think our society is paralyzed by fear… we view all people we don’t know (especially if they are of a different race or socioeconomic status) with suspicion. We glance around nervously in poorly lit parking lots. We stay in our familiar side of town. We don’t initiate with strangers, and when strangers approach us, we focus on only how to disengage from conversation.
This is not without good reason. Crime statistics are up. We hear over and over about how people are praying on the weak, the vulnerable, the foolish. But what is this doing to our ministry?
How can we treat strangers as if we already knew them as a part of our daily existence? How can we resurrect the concept of Christian hospitality?
You know what matters? Words. Words matter. You know what else matters? Presence. If you have a person in your life who is hurting, just show up. Use your mouth to make words. Pretty much any words will do- and they will be a blessing.
I remember who visited me in the hospital and at home when I had my babies. I remember who came to my father’s funeral. I remember every time someone has dropped off a gift when I feel discouraged, sent a text at a time when I felt alone… these things matter. We crave to feel known, to feel seen.
There is a huge battle fought every time we have an impulse to show up in someone’s life. When we feel a tug on our hearts to be there for a friend in a time of need, the items on our to-do list seem to start screaming louder. You suddenly notice the kitchen counter is covered in dirty dishes. The washing machine is overflowing. The work deadline looms larger, and you remember a dozen errands you have been putting off. We worry that we are intruding, that the person isn’t up for a visit, that it will feel awkward. But still… isn’t it worth a try?
We hear time and again that time is the most valuable commodity in today’s society. The way we invest that time is significant. It tells us about our values. It gives us clues to our idols. It is a resource we can invest, either in God’s kingdom, or in our own agendas. Investing in relationships is a difficult thing to do, because that time is… squishy. It doesn’t feel like you are doing something with your time when you are spending it with a friend. It gets you no closer to your goals, to feeling in control of your life. Or does it?
Guard against the tyranny of the urgent. The most important things will seldom scream for your attention, they will simply wait for you to discover them. Things like prayer, Scripture study, cultivating friendships, thinking, enjoying art. The loud and demanding are rarely as important as these.”
Investing in people pays dividends over time. We are not built to be alone. We need people in our lives, people to show up when WE need them. Not only that, we need to cultivate the discipline of investing in others. In being hospitable with our time. I am guilty of neglecting this. I frequently let the fear of awkwardness or the pressure of busyness override my urge to reach out. But I am trying to fight it.
Here are my resolutions (for now):
When I am asked to pray for someone really pray for them. And follow up later.
Send that text. Write that letter.
Show up. In hospitals. At sickbeds. When it matters.
When I am with someone… listen. not just talk. Ask questions about them.
Any other suggestions?
I have been thinking a lot about hospitality lately. It was something that was pretty important in the Bible. And a concept whose meaning has become distorted and lost in today’s culture. When I think of hospitality these days, the first thing that comes to mind is pictures from Pinterest. Mason jars, burlap, candlesticks. Perfect houses serving pretty food. Bonus points if it is made from items from your own garden or contains quinoa. We are afraid to have people over in our homes, unless we have spent days cleaning. We are afraid to let people be at home in our lives because we can’t seem to rid ourselves of our pesky flaws. We think that we should be as perfect inside as we strive to be on the outside.
The Bible calls us to practice hospitality. To entertain strangers in our home. And yet, we are afraid of having even our friends over. We stay closed off in our little houses, a city full of fortresses, afraid to share life with each other. Why?
What does hospitality mean in today’s culture? How do we as Christians practice hospitality, koinonia community? How do we break that social more, the one that makes us afraid to open up our lives and hearts to one another?
I was meeting with my couples small group last week, and we were talking about this very thing. How we are afraid of allowing people to see our real houses, our real lives. How we feel the need to pretty things up before we invite others in. How we feel like the Pinterest inspired urges to do home canning and CrockPot creations are at their core a cry for connection. Connection to the past, recapturing our heritage, connecting with others, figuring out how to do life ‘right.’
God calls us to be known. The book of Acts is about a community, a group of friends that become family. This is a vital ingredient in our Christian development. Yes. Of course it’s scary. Yes, it will be awkward, and heartbreaking, and annoying at times. But it’s vital.
So how do we get there?
Well… I’m inviting my small group over for dinner tomorrow night. And I am not cleaning up before. And then we are having other people over on Friday. Once again, no clean up. No pinterest. No perfect. I am going on a walk with my friend tonight. And another friend Thursday. This little introvert is breaking out of her shell.
I’ll let you know how it goes.