I hesitated, as I stood over the trash can, and took a deep breath. It seemed sacrilegious to throw away a perfectly good book. I caressed the elegant cover and flipped through the pages one more time. I re-read the title, so full of promise, so beautiful, so appealing. Then I reminded myself:
“It’s this, or you’re going to end up in therapy…”
I pictured hospital orderlies dragging me away in a strait jacket. And I tossed the book in.
I’d have to find a different devotional for my morning Bible study next week. I bought the book after hearing the author speak at a women’s retreat a few years earlier. If ever someone had the gift of hospitality…
She talked about using our individual gifts and talents, our own artistic flair, our personal sense of style to create a home environment that embodied “the spirit of loveliness.” A place that was comfortable and homey, but at the same time reflected the beauty and artistry of our Creator God. She insisted that regardless of our budget or time constraints, there were simple things we could do to express the kind of thoughtfulness, the care and concern for others, that would make them feel welcome and loved and cherished in our presence.
It resonated with me on so many levels… I bought several of her books and read them eagerly. And at first, they were so uplifting and inspiring. But the daily devotional turned out to be a terrible idea – at least for me. Here’s why:
At the end of each day’s reading, after sharing a Bible story or a poignant lesson she’d learned in her own life, the author included a series of action steps – creative home-making type things you could do to bless husband or your children, or practical tips for organizing and decorating your home. Or ways you could extend hospitality to your neighbors or your church family that week.
I didn’t have a husband. I didn’t have children. I didn’t have a house. I was renting a room with a coffeemaker and hotplate. (This was not, by the way, how I’d ever imagined my life turning out.) Every time I got to the end of the devotional, I’d be hit by a wave of loneliness, emptiness, desperation, desolation. I’d end up curled up in a fetal position, in gut-wrenching sobs. How I longed to have a family to love and care for… how I wished I could do for them all the things the book said to do.
Or I’d find myself raging at God, at the unfairness of it all, consumed with anger and envy and jealousy, thinking of all the women who were getting up that morning grumbling and complaining about having to take care of their husbands or their children, when I would give anything, ANYTHING…
Or I’d just get frustrated and yell back at the author: “Easy for you to say!” No matter how low-budget or simple the recipe, you can’t invite your Sunday School class to your bedroom for dinner on a Saturday.
On a good day, I’d read another perfectly brilliant suggestion I had absolutely no way to apply to my own life, and sigh and think, “Maybe someday…”
It’s been twenty years, and a lot of things have changed – but I have never yet had the kind of life I once envisioned for myself. I have a wonderful life, a full life, a busy career and ministry. But it’s not the kind of life that seems to be many people’s reality. The kind of life where I could put all those wonderful homemaking ideas and tips and tools into practice. The life where I would get to practice that “gracious living” kind of hospitality.
At least not in the traditional sense. Not in the “come to my beautiful home and let me cook for you” sense. Not even in the “come to my humble home and let me order in for you” sense.
I realize I’m not exempt from the Biblical command to practice hospitality. None of us are.
But what if you’re single – if you don’t have a traditional family lifestyle and schedule? What if you don’t have a home you can invite other people to? What if you’re never there, because you travel constantly – or because you work two jobs — or three? What if you have financial problems or chronic health issues? What if you share your home with family members who just can’t (or won’t) deal with “company”?
I know it’s not just me.
It’s taken me a while to figure it out, but if you asked me for the definition of hospitality, I’d tell you that in essence, it’s making people feel welcome. Wanted. Loved. Cherished. And that’s something I can do anywhere. It doesn’t have to take place in my living space. It’s not determined by my health or finances or the busy-ness of my career and ministry. Or even my personality. (Introverts unite! In our own homes! Separately!)
I can listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and reach out to the people He directs me to… friends and family or strangers on the street. I can be warm and friendly and kind. I can make time to talk, time to listen, time to get together for dinner or coffee.
As someone who knows what it feels like to be shy, to be on the outside, wherever I am, I can look for people who seem lonely or afraid, and make a special point of drawing them in.
I’ll be honest. It’s not the same as decorating your house in a cozy country cottage theme or inviting all the neighbors over for a six-course dinner party.
Sometimes I still feel a twinge or two, when I read yet another great article full of creative ideas and suggestions – none of which I can do. It’s not the same. But it’s something.