The last five months have been about loss, and loss on multiple levels. At the base, visible, physical level, we’ve experienced the loss of income, the loss of restaurants, the loss of sports. But the loss also goes deeper than that, because the last five months have, among other things, brought illusions we have long held about ourselves and our lives crashing down around us. And in that crashing we have seen the loss of security, of confidence, of stability. It’s difficult to know which of these losses is the most painful.
To add to both of these lists is yet another loss – the loss of hospitality. The reason it’s on both lists is because hospitality is both a matter of philosophy and of action, of the heart and the hands. It is something believed in and practiced at the same time.
But what does hospitality look like when you can’t physically touch another person? What does it look like when you aren’t supposed to welcome people into your home? What does it look like when we continue to live life at a distance? Perhaps hospitality is just another casualty of these days, something put on hold until we at long last move into times when we can interact more closely with each other.
Perhaps. Unless, of course, that this is an opportunity to be reminded of a few truths regarding hospitality. So before we put hospitality on the shelf, let’s remember at least these three things:
1. Remember what hospitality really is.
While there are certain acts, like making the casserole or opening your home, that are indicative of hospitality, the characteristic itself has a deeper meaning and implication than these actions. The word hospitality comes from the combination of two words: “love” and “stranger.” Literally, then, hospitality is the love of strangers.
This is a good time to remember that because there are all kinds of ways in which we can practice this love of the stranger if we start to really think about it. Of course, practicing that love of strangers is going to mean acting much differently than many of us are right now in which we seem to be assuming that anyone who might have a different opinion than we are is out to get us.
2. Remember hospitality is a posture.
If hospitality is literally the love of strangers, then hospitality is centered on the gospel. When we were strangers and aliens, God took us in. When we were without a home and family, God brought us into His. When we were without hope in the world, God adopted us as His children. In the ultimate act of hospitality, God provided a way to welcome us through the death of Jesus Christ. God is ultimately hospitable, and therefore hospitality is a characteristic built into the spiritual DNA of all those who have experienced this divine hospitality.
Hospitality, then, is that characteristic that compels us to put aside our own interests, to lay down our own desires, and to welcome the needs of others ahead of our own, just as Jesus did with His life and death. Jesus, during His life, epitomized hospitality though He had no home. Though He did not have physical resources. Though He didn’t have an oven or a cookie sheet or a casserole dish. Jesus practiced the core of hospitality, which is sacrificing something of your own to welcome others in. This is why hospitality is not merely a set of actions; it’s a posture of living.
3. Remember hospitality is a choice made by faith.
Exercising hospitality will cost us something. It will cost us time, energy, resources, privacy – all kinds of things. Any time there is a personal cost, the temptation for us is to focus on what we are giving up in order to welcome someone else in some way. Hospitality requires us to share with others, and if we are going to share with others, it means that we will have to do with less ourselves. We will have less personal time, less personal space, less personal comfort.
That’s why hospitality is not so much a question of means as it is a question of faith. When we make ourselves willing to be used by God in order to practice hospitality, we are testifying that we believe God to be our great provider. He will take care of our needs as we are willing to sacrifice for the sake of another.
Is hospitality different right now? Sure. Is it perhaps more difficult? Indeed it is. But perhaps there is an opportunity here not to be less hospitable, but more, as we remember the core of what we are really doing in welcoming someone else in.