Monday, March 31, 2014

Christian Hospitality

I used to be a painfully uncomfortable, inadequate hostess. For one thing I rarely offered hospitality, and when I did stress took over my life in the days leading up to the event. I spent so much time cleaning that things like having ice and enough drinks to serve, were overlooked. The food I'd hoped to prepare mostly ahead of time, allowing leisurely fellowship, was barely getting started when guest walked in. My husband would busy himself preparing a salad while I did the main dish, and the kids entertained the guests.

I tried so hard to relax, but it never happened.

Growing up, I can't remember a single dinner party happening in my secular, alcohol-dysfunction home, so I had no model for hospitality and no memory of its blessings. I didn't even bother inviting childhood friends over, partially because we were a military family who moved frequently.

Enter the Lord Jesus Christ, who never leaves us where we're at.

Do you remember the "Do You Have a Good Story" posts I wrote? We talked about the hurting Body of Christ and how lonely and painful life can get, even as a Christian. Hospitality is one of the answers. Besides prayer, I'd say hospitality is the main answer.

Opening our homes and hearts so prayer and the breaking of bread and the sharing of burdens can occur is a manifestation of Christ's mercy and grace. And I know it is inconvenient.

My 70-year-old friend from church is going through such a trial. Her 73-year-old husband fell on the ice two months ago and he's been in the hospital ever since. She visits him often until midnight, caring for him and comforting him during the depression that's developed from the extended hospital stay. Not to mention, they don't know how they'll pay the medical bills.

We were on spring break from AWANA and it was supposed to be a Sunday to relax, but as I talked with my friend on Saturday night I knew she needed the Body of Christ badly. While she has parents still alive in their nineties and a twin sister, she is estranged from both. Loneliness is a regular companion for this childless couple and along with the extended hospital stay, life feels so heavy for them right now.

The words "Do you want to come over for dinner tomorrow night" were on my lips, and while in the past I would have squashed them due to my own selfishness and feelings of inadequacy, I uttered them this time and my friend was thrilled.

It was a rushed Sunday morning because my husband was doing snow and ice removal at the church he's employed at, and I was teaching preschool in the children's ministry. Husband wasn't due back until about the time I had to leave for church. He arrives to our church late on these mornings, using his own car. Preparing four children for church as well as myself and gathering my lesson props, was anything but a relaxing beginning.

Coming home to five hours of preparation for a dinner party felt anything but convenient, but I knew God was in it and the outcome would be good. I could feel that this is what dying to ourselves means. This is being the hands and feet of Christ. I could feel it and it wasn't so hard after all.

But at first it feels hard, as our hearts reform and become more suited for servanthood. It feels hard to teach at church or work the nursery week after week instead of enjoying the music and relaxing in a chair for 90 minutes. It feels hard to have Bible studies in my busy home; it feels hard to make the time to call people when my to-do list is never ending...especially those who talk for forty minutes if left unchecked.

But this is what's missing in the Body of Christ. This inconveniencing ourselves to carry each other's burdens. Life this side of heaven could be better than all the loneliness and despair going on if we could only go beyond our comfort zone. If we could only get beyond the me-first mentality.

Our impromptu dinner party included a pot of 13-potato soup, turkey bacon cooked for a topper, bakery wheat french bread, and a batch of chocolate chip cookie bars, which I made while the potatoes boiled. I still forgot to make ice but she doesn't use it anyway, and I still only had milk and Country Time Lemonade on hand. I didn't go to the store for salad fixings or anything, but used only what I had on hand.

And do you know what? My friend--who has lost 15 pounds during her ordeal--ate two large bowls of soup topped with turkey bacon and cheese, and three pieces of french bread with butter, along with two cookie bars. I was so tickled.

I have plain dishes and few of my silverware match. My tabletop is veneer and it's deteriorating fast. Only recently do my glasses match and at the rate they're breaking, they won't much longer. I'm an unlikely hostess, but afterward my friend gave me a teary hug and said, "Thank you for being my family. It's been so long since I've felt part of a family. I can't thank you enough."

My Beth wore her ill-fitting princess dress and the hand-me-down ballet shoes a friend sent her, and she danced her graceful made-up dances and sang about Jesus to my friend. We watched a delightful old movie and Beth told my friend how nice she was, and could she cuddle next to her during the movie?

I was so proud of my family, who became this woman's family for four wonderful hours.

No, let me rephrase that to reflect more of the truth. I was so happy with my Jesus, who did many things in my heart and in my family's hearts in the past 18 months, making it possible for our family to become the hands and feet of Christ to a hurting church, on a Sunday we thought was for us.

It turned out to be a Sunday for Jesus and it was so much better than anything we could have put together ourselves. We did relax. We did rejuvenate. We did feel joy. All the things we wanted to happen on our Sunday off AWANA, happened, but not the way we planned.

Jesus never leaves us where we're at, and that's reason enough for joy. He has taught me so much and they have been gentle, incremental lessons, starting with the idea 18 months ago of starting a neighborhood Bible study in our home. That was the first step of obedience, and at the time I didn't know how I would manage. Life was already messy and it just didn't seem like the right time.

Honestly, is it ever the right time?

I don't know where you are in your hospitality and being-the-hands-and-feet-of Jesus journey. Most of you are probably farther along than me and have been hostesses for years. But for those of you for whom this is new ground, I want to say, jump in.

The Lord is gentle and his lessons are life-changing. Our only part, really, is obedience. And I know that's hard, believe me. In return we get to share in God's glory and that is better than anything we can put together ourselves. Nothing is more satisfying or fulfilling than God's glory shining through you...your family...your heart and home.

Open it and feel God's goodness. Open it and be His goodness.

1 Peter 4:9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.   

Romans 12:13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Titus 1:8 But hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.

Proverbs 31:20 She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy

Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another

Need a Getaway? {Welcome Home Wednesday Homemaking Link Up on Raising Arrows}


Tesha Papik said...

Oh yes I so agree, hospitality is SO important! Since the New Year we have invited over lots of people and I love it! Like you I have no matching dishes or glasses and had no model growing up, but I have found people don't care in the least they just want to feel loved! We are having our whole church over on Sunday (something we try to do once a month). I was feeling really bummed about all the prep work until I read this and was reminded how fun and refreshing fellowship is! Thanks for the encouragement:)

Christine said...

That's exciting, Tesha! I know your church family will be so blessed by your beautiful, sweet family. Holding your precious baby will be a balm to many a soul there, I am sure. Praying right now that you have some help with it and that you are blessed the whole time!