This morning in church during the sermon my pastor talked briefly about the news continuing to come out of Aleppo. He talked about the terrible videos and shocking goodbyes some of the people under attack were sharing via social media in their last hours. It broke my heart, and it made me feel helpless to do anything that could change the situation.
The other day I had a conversation with a friend about the layers-deep struggles that remain in this country regarding racism, human rights, refugees and other difficult issues we watched explode during 2016. It was as challenging a conversation as you might imagine it to be, further complicated by our own generational lenses, varied perspectives, and interpretations of scripture. What we could agree on, was the feeling of helplessness that often overshadows conversations like this.
Before Christmas I had a conversation with GraceTable’s managing editor, Grace, and I told her that I felt like a fraud because I couldn’t currently talk about what practicing hospitality looks like in my life. I confessed that I felt like my own hospitality was hidden and small. The people God has me intersecting with these days aren’t projects, they are friends. Neighbors. Family. And the ways God is choosing to connect our hearts isn’t for public consumption but rather for private. And it’s a privilege.
In all of these various conversations one of the issues that continues to surface is the challenge of participation. Most of us cannot have any impact on a global scale and that can make the whole practice of hospitality feel small, unworthy. Pointless, even. But what I keep coming back to is that while we can’t solve the world’s problems, we can love those God puts in our paths. We can make space for those right here around us.
How simple that is, when you consider it. And how challenging it is.
We spent the whole of 2016 sharing imperfect stories of hospitality here. The thing that all of them have in common is that the acts we write about here are what the world would call “small.” We aren’t making the evening news with the quiet ways we live out the command to practice hospitality. No one here has won the blue ribbon for the ways she opens her door, or her heart to those around her. But every act matters, because people matter. Because love matters. Because Jesus matters. And because ultimately, hospitality isn’t about showing off, but rather, showing up.
No one here will dare tell you that showing up and practicing hospitality is easy or painless. If you’ve opened your door to a friend, neighbor or stranger in need, you know that’s complete bunk. Hospitality is the hard love that recognizes the requirement to lay down its own wants, desires and resources, to make space, to lift up, to carry someone else’s need. Hospitality is sacrificial. Our friend Ann Voskamp would call it “cruciform”–taking the form of the cross.
We don’t expect to change the world in 2017–not directly, anyway. God’s not asking us to solve all of the problems in all of the land. But we can show up. We can start right where we are. We can love big in small, unseen ways, knowing that God uses all of it.
With the New Year upon us we’re re-committing ourselves to the hard work of hospitality. To honor this re-commitment, I’ve got a few quiet, simple, completely do-able ways you can practice hospitality in the new year.
Practical ways to love your neighbor
- Commit to serving those right there around you. You don’t have to look hard for someone to love or make space for. If you leave your house ever during the day, you are encountering people who could use some love.
- Meet your neighbors. If you haven’t met them yet, make an effort this year to meet them. Take them a plate of cookies, invite them to dinner, spend time outside with the intention of catching their eye or ear for a conversation. Don’t be weird about it, just say “hello.”
- Volunteer. Research community outreach opportunities in your area and get involved. You don’t have to do it every day. Maybe it’s once a month. Maybe it’s less. But find a hole and fill it.
- Donate. Give clothes, food, money, time, whatever you’ve got–share it with someone who needs it.
- Practice presence. The next time you’re with someone, be WITH them. Put your phone away, look them in the eyes and be all in.
These are just a small handful of practical ways you can practice hospitality.
What does hospitality look like in your life right now? Leave a note in the comments and share your ideas and practices with us.