Who you are when no one's looking

(I have completely stolen this post's title from Bill Hybels' book of the same name.)

We hare heading into our fourth week of hosting the two young children and their mother. While I can't write about that situation specifically, I have been thinking about the act offering hospitality in general. It's something that is listed as one of the hallmarks of following Jesus; one of the ways we pour out the love that Jesus has poured into us. Paul writes in Romans, "Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to waht is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality." (Romans 12: 9 - 13, ESV) In Hebrews we read, "Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." (Heb. 13: 1 -2, ESV).

But what was hospitality in the ancient world? According to Baker's Evangelical Dictionary it is:

Hospitality in the ancient world focused on the alien or stranger in need. The plight of aliens was desperate. They lacked membership in the community, be it tribe, city-state, or nation. As an alienated person, the traveler often needed immediate food and lodging. Widows, orphans, the poor, or sojourners from other lands lacked the familial or community status that provided a landed inheritance, the means of making a living, and protection. In the ancient world the practice of hospitality meant graciously receiving an alienated person into one's land, home, or community and providing directly for that person's needs.

I'm pretty sure that this isn't what we think of when we read hospitality. Hospitality usually means inviting someone over for a meal or having a party or offering a friend a place to sleep for the night, but it doesn't usually involved long-term guests. That can be hard or scary or overwhelming. And I get that, but it is also doable. But I've been thinking about what is so hard about it and why.

Well, the scary is obvious, especially if you do not know the person you are inviting into your home. What if you don't like the person or they are difficult to get along with? Adding another person to your home can also be inconvenient. If you don't have a dedicated guest room, a place to sleep and have a little space and privacy must be created. A new person in the home doesn't know the unspoken assumptions and ways of doing things that a family has. Anytime another person joins or leaves a family, the dynamics change. Edith Schaeffer in her book What is a Family? likened the family to a mobile and I think it's genius. Each person in the family represents an item hanging on the mobile. When a person is added or subtracted the balance of the entire mobile is in flux and takes a while for the mobile to reach stability again. This is not always a comfortable process. These things, while they can be a little uncomfortable at first, can be overcome, especially if there is an awareness of their presence in the process.

But there is something else that I think is at the crux of people's difficulties with long-term hosting as I have been thinking about this process over the past few weeks and as I think about our previous experiences. And that would be how a house guest acts as a permanent audience for the people living in the home, or at least that is how it can feel. With your immediate family, everyone really knows one another, quirks and all. No one is out to impress and (usually) feels free to be themselves. There is the freedom to show one's true colors. Things you let your family see about yourself are not necessarily things that you want the general public to know. (This is also why having young, verbal children can be such an embarrassment. They haven't learned the tacit rules about what is appropriate to share and what is just not mentioned. Every parent has at least one story of their child sharing information that is embarrassing.) With a house guest, there feels the need to be your public persona all the time. It can be exhausting.

As I have thought about this and had many house guests over the years, I have discovered that the closer your public persona and your private one align, the less exhausting it is to have guests. There is less to keep track of because you don't have to think about who you are trying to be. Of course, this also means that some appearance-things that you thought were important to keep up, fall by the wayside. I can't even pretend that my house is as clean and tidy and I can make it appear for a short visit. I can't pretend that I am always kind and patient as I would like to be all the time. I can't pretend that I don't waste time. I can't pretend that my children are always polite and well-behaved. There just isn't a lot of room for pretending. It is humbling and freeing all at the same time. This doesn't mean I don't continue to try to work on those character flaws that I wish weren't there, but I do have to accept the fact that they are there and that others are going to see them.

Knowing this about ourselves can allow us to offer grace to our guests as well, because they will experience all of these same feelings, yet be at the disadvantage of being the guest as well. Everyone is off balance and sometimes just holding on while the mobile that feels as thought it sometimes lurches about settles down to a new stability.

Once again, I think God has a bigger purpose in mind when He directs us to practice hospitality. Yes, we are providing a place of security for a person in need, but there is much more happening than that. We are being transformed into something better than we were before because of the experience.


Carla said…
Well said. We don't have the accommodations for hospitality to the point that you are currently doing, but I've avoided almost all hospitality for the reasons you mentioned. This post encourages me to be more "real" in my public life and a bit more public in my real life. The closer they get to each other, the easier it will be to invite others into my home.
Rebecca said…
I think this is genius - you've hit the nail on the head re the exhaustion that comes from the public/private persona not aligning. It's the wasting time and messiness of my home that (directly related, of course!) makes me not want anyone in. How could anyone love me if they knew who I really was??? :) We are hosting a high school exchange student for 5 months soon and I'm wondering if the pain of it will force some movement in this area - part of the reason we're hosting her in the first place. :) - Rebecca G.

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