Hospitality has become a familiar thought. A perpetual ambition. A definitive personality trait. And this week I find myself asking--if that is my gifting, do I really even know what it is?
What is hospitality? What does it mean to experience it? How does one create a hospitable environment?
Hospitality is most often assimilated with homemaking. A sunny house, freshly baked bread, perpetually fresh coffee, a cozy chair in the corner. I don't deny that the two go hand in hand, but I don't think it's because homemaking is hospitality or hospitality is homemaking. Home is the place we most assimilate being cared for and having needs met. Needs for joy and laughter as well as sustenance and empathy. Most of us think of home, whether we've seen it modeled or it is still an idyllic Norman Rockwell, as a safe place. If that's the case, then maybe hospitality is so naturally paired with it because hospitality is the art of caring for people.
In my recent endeavors, I am finding the title of "hospitable" to ring a little empty in my heart. I don't feel hospitable, and as I'm questioning why, I am discovering it might be because I am not actually caring well for anyone.
I grew up a shy child. Shy, chubby and moderately obsolete in social circles. Thus, when I reached high school and started making friends, I was embracing those friendships with much deliberance and intention. I cared about them....maybe out of a selfish, needy heart, but I did care for them and their good more than anything. As I've grown older, I've still cared for the good of those I know, but my method has transformed. I've grown more confident and have been exposed to many more people. Chats have become more anecdotal and surface level as I've learned the art of being a conversationalist. And in turn, also picked up the poor habit of talking too much. I find myself listening to respond rather listening to learn people.
And I miss the learning. I miss the place that took relationships. The better place where I could care for their souls because I knew more than hobbies and general frustrations. There was a timeliness to relationships when I asked questions. It wasn't about entertaining but about developing.
Jesus is dissembling some of the falsehoods I've attached to my growth over the years. Which has lead me to this place to reconsider hospitality. Maybe this is such a Christian belief because it is so aptly connected to community. Hospitality says I will invite you into my mental capacity, my house, my realities. You get to take up residence within my personhood. Hospitality connects us to one another because it creates gravitational pull. When we listen well to others, hearing their joy, frustration, angst, confusion, teasing, etc. we are somehow able to also learn their needs. Do they need kind affirmation? Do they need an anecdote? Do they need space? Do they need attention? Do they need to eat? Do they need money? It transcends a physical space into being a holistic reality.
Hospitality is recognizing needs in others and pursuing them with our means. It's caring about others in ways that a clean house never can. To be hospitable we put effort into understanding one another. And that burden falls on everyone, not just house wives.
No wonder hospitality is a core value of my church. It says I have been freed from my need for affirmation from our relationship so that I can completely devote my means to providing for you. And Jesus is the one who freed me from that need, and let's be honest--is continually freeing me from that, because I care what you think.
It's funny that hospitality has become based around pretense, when in fact true hospitality is completely the opposite. Hospitality can be inviting people into your beautiful home for a savory meal or it can be listening to your cubical mate complain about her dogs snoring at night--just so she feels like she matters.
I am still going to enjoy home decor and cooking--because I do. But all of the sudden I'm realizing how little weight that actually carries in the world of care. My heart rests in beautiful places, but it moreover rests in feeling understood and known. I would choose that over a beautiful environment every time. When we take the time to slow down--to think about ourselves, become more self-aware, and pray for eyes to see our strengths and our flaws, something happens there. Something sweet and transformative, the presence of Jesus is there.
I read this poem by Wendell Berry tonight.
The frog with lichened back and golden thigh
Sits still, almost invisible
On leafed and lichened stem,
Its sign of being at home
There in its given place, and well.
The warbler with its quivering striped throat
Would live almost beyond my sight,
Almost beyond belief,
But for its double note--
Among high leaves a leaf,
At ease, at home in air and light
And I, though woods and fields, through fallen days
Am passing to where I belong:
At home, at ease, and well
In Sabbaths of this place
Toward which I go from song to song
We live in a society that makes us think we have to beg for attention--subtly and slyly of course. You have to demand attention by not demanding it. But as the lovely line from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty says, "beautiful things don't ask for attention". Hospitality is one of those beautiful things. It is more than internet worthy homes and Instagram worthy cookery (though I love them both). There is something Christian about the invisibility of being about the thing without ever noticing if someone notices. It's serene and undemanding. It's where the end satisfaction of joy in Jesus and His provision makes the most sense. Maybe instead of being a conversationalist, I would rather be almost invisible. Still talking to people, but really listening, making them feel seen and heard. Meeting their needs. Letting them matter. I have been given more than enough to do that.