I have a friend who is always talking about God’s classroom — the place where we are chiseled and hammered for the purpose of better reflecting His love and character in our own lives.
This year He led me into the classroom of hospitality.
I had plenty of time to prepare for what was ahead. I knew our cross-country move would include a month “gap” between homes — living at the generosity and goodwill of friends as they opened their home to myself and my four children. I knew that as soon as we rejoined with my husband, we’d decided to open our own home to a family of four who was moving to serve at a new church alongside us. I knew that this was gospel-living — the sharing of resources for the benefit of the kingdom. It was ministry. Real life. Shared life. And yet, by the end of October, I was failing. When our friends had finally secured their own apartment and moved out in November, I had exited the classroom of hospitality with a glaring “F.”
During a time when I was supposed to give of myself to a family who needed to be loved during their own transition, I panicked and shutdown.
I went neurotic on house rules and drove myself crazy chasing six children with a wash cloth, yelling something about dirty hands and faces and white walls. I stewed over high electric bills and insane water usage. I analyzed their spending habits and complained to my husband about fiscal responsibility. It was the antithesis of love that festered in my soul and it was in direct contradiction to the classroom of hospitality which God had designed just for me.
Where did I go wrong? Had I defined hospitality all wrong? Was it supposed to be this hard? What does Scripture really say about biblical hospitality and just how often are we supposed to practice this? Acts 2 and 4 speak of the early Church’s willingness to share all they had with each other, but did that include personal space?
Just how much was American individualism dominating my lesson in hospitality?
Looking backwards, there are some important principles I should have pieced together before the chaos of packing our family of six commenced.
Principle #1: Embrace the opportunity to give as tightly as I embrace the gifts I am given.
Dear friends, you are showing faithfulness by whatever you do for the brothers, especially when strangers…Therefore, we ought to support such men so that we can be coworkers with the truth.” (3 John 5-8)
My husband is a pastor and I am his partner in ministry. We are the recipients of hospitality and care on a regular basis. When the opportunity arises for us to care for another pastor or kingdom-minded person or family, I should prayerfully consider how I can do this. This may or may not include what someone asks of me, but rather is focused on how God leads. For example, based upon the second principle below, I might have chosen different timing or even a different season to invest in this family whom I believe in so much. The investment in others is a no-brainer. It’s a principle I desire to live by. But I must still approach the opportunity in prayer.
Principle #2: Just because God is leading doesn’t always mean He’s saying “now.” His pace and stride vary from my own. I am inclined to sprint ahead while He’s still writing out directions or vice versa.
There is an occasion for everything.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
This move caught me pregnant with our fifth child, enrolled full-time in school as I finish my senior year in Biblical Studies, and homeschooling three of our children. I had an adopted child who was about to be uprooted from the only home she’s known since joining our family and that transition was going to rock her world and her behavior. It was a season where I needed to pour into my children first, making sure their spirits were secured in the transition. I neglected that need and the physical, and emotional turmoil, exhibited by them would require another article on parenting! Our month of “homelessness” apart from their dad was more than they were anticipating.
Another shock to their system came when, a week after moving into our new home, others moved in. Their lives (and mine) had been upside down for four months in anticipation of moving and there wasn’t an establishment of a “new normal.” Timing was everything. If I could do it again, I would have advocated for their needs and pushed off the blending of families for a couple months so that “normalcy” could be defined once again.
Principle #3: Communication is necessary when welcoming another into one’s home.
If I speak but don’t have love…I am a sounding gong or clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1)
For whatever reason, the wife of the new associate pastor and I kept up great communication until the month it mattered most. We were both overwhelmed by our husbands’ career changes. She handled her stress by shutting down; I handled mine with overbearing emails. I was worried about my school schedule and homework time. I was nervous about bedtimes and grocery budgets. If it could be worried over, I worried it. If it could be ignored, she stayed silent. What we successfully accomplished was nothing. After they moved in, small talk was easier and made life enjoyable, but the bigger matters such as house rules or children’s schedules created tension in both our families. Clearly communicating prior to their moving-in would have helped.
Principle #4: Generosity is more than action — it’s a heart condition.
Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God.” (1 Peter 4:8-10)
It’s one thing to make copies of a house key, it’s another to make someone feel welcome. Athletes train and condition through repeated practice and a mindset that stands back up when they fall. Some mornings, my heart was full of joy and peace and my attitude was Spirit-led. Other mornings, when six pairs of little feet hit the stairs and patience waned, my silence spoke loudly of my frustration and impatience. Do I love my friends and partners in ministry? Immensely. But fortunately for me, it is their love that will cover the multitude of sin uncovered in my attitude during their time with us.
So what’s next? I failed in more areas than I succeeded. I made the house key and then struggled to make my house feel like their home. Do I strike the gift of hospitality from my list?
The week our friends moved into their own place was the week before Thanksgiving. I was cleaning fingerprints off windows and urine off toilets when I realized I wanted to do it again. So I called our friends with four kids (instead of two) and asked if they wanted to make a road trip for the holidays. Eight pairs of feet danced a wake-up call each morning at 6 a.m. Streaks of turkey grease decorated the new mirror in the foyer. Popcorn adorned my floors instead of the tree. But I had the best holiday ever. I could tell that His work on me hadn’t totally been lost. Some of that selfish desire for quiet had been chiseled away and I genuinely enjoyed their presence.
For some, hospitality is a natural extension of personality. For others, it is a skill that must be practiced and refined. Yet we are all asked to love each other through the act of “making welcome.” Hospitality is a universal classroom — one that should be sought rather than averted.
The blending of two families into one house is definitely a more challenging assignment in hospitality, so perhaps I wouldn’t start there. Maybe you can start with a community meal or a free night of childcare in your home for a couple who needs a date. Something small, something simple, something loving — the classroom of hospitality can reflect Jesus into the lives of others.