Reimagining Hospitality, for a Pandemic
“Most of us don’t err on the side of radical generosity... Reimagining hospitality in the West requires cavorting with a God who delights in busting up our normalcy with divine creativity.”
—Leslie Verner in her book, “Invited”
As I looked around the house we had owned for just two years, and had only half-decorated, Leslie Verner’s words struck a deep chord. Her stories of hosting and being hosted, along with grapples with her pride, resonated hard...mostly because I recognized some of the same things in my own heart.
In my childhood home, the door was never, ever closed to guests. Missionaries on furlough, kids in foster care, high school and college students all stayed or rented for extended periods of time. A teenage mom and her baby stayed one Christmas. After marrying and spending almost a decade in Washington, DC (where ‘hosting’ most often means holding a lavish networking reception), my husband and I bought a home with a little more breathing room and started dreaming of how to put the guest room to use.
With Verner’s words still echoing in my head, and sweet memories of old boarders in my heart, we applied to host an international student in 2019. (Actually, we applied to be merely a backup host family for the families who needed a break.) In January 2020 she moved in, all of us expecting she would stay for about four months. Instead, she lived with us for most of the year, and most of that time did school virtually. In a year where inviting friends into homes has been tricky—if not impossible—we had a multicultural fifteen year old in our household nearly all the time.
Verner writes about research showing that humans can really only maintain about 150 relationships at once. Of these, we can really only know about 12 very intimately. Modern technology has frankly made us overconfident about the number of people we might actually be able to minister to, or even understand.
For us, the ministry network shrank rapidly and decidedly: from the usual bustle of church and community commitments, to...one person. While we can see how Lord brought us together with this student for this pandemic, it was also the most intense season of hospitality that I will probably ever have. Ministering to her, as well as caring for myself and my own household, meant practicing truly radical generosity...all in the midst of worldwide fear and national chaos. We had a new roommate, with new rhythms, and food preferences. (Actually, learning to make her favorite dishes was probably one of the best parts of quarantine.) But what wasn’t so easy was the constant call to quiet consistency… usually in the form of curfews, door knocks and gentle confrontations. And all of this without chance for her, or us, to get out of the house and blow off steam with friends.
There were moments of supreme relief, gratitude and joy. But we also had to learn to set and enforce boundaries, to deal with our own irritability, and to lean on the Lord for continual grace.
Verner goes on to talk in her book about releasing the guilt of not being intimate friends with your whole social media list. Social media also has a way of amplifying the ever-present temptation to veer off your own Jericho road onto someone else’s.
Here on this blog will be examples of many Jericho roads—situations rife with real people hurting because of injustice and disasters, both preventable and unforeseeable. Our goal is not to overwhelm or to add to a to-do list, but to help you see more clearly your own Jericho road. Who is on it? How might you use your vote, influence and buying power, not to mention your spiritual gifts or even just your dining room, to be an even Better Samaritan? How can you show love to those living right with you or next door, as well as those on the other side of the world so deeply affected by your choices?
Maybe this pandemic proves a season for our hearts to distinguish between our ideas of hospitality and the reality of hospitality. Ideas about hospitality, after all, often involve a lot of largely unimportant trappings, most of which have been stripped away this year. In our unique situation, we found the reality of hospitality much more earthy than we expected... more raw, more physical, and more crucially present.
Maybe you, or organization, have been on a new and truly exhausting road. Here’s a reminder that He knows, He sees, and He’s alongside you.
Our normalcy has been shattered… our road looks very different.
Open our eyes to the hurting people right in our path.
When we are hurting, make us bold and wise to seek help and nourishment.
Above all, let our grace be evident to all.
We know that you are near.
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