Why being hospitable is more about trust than being nice.
This summer I travelled to three different states, flew to and from eight different airports, stayed in five homes, and slept on five beds and two couches. During my vacation, I discovered that some people use shampoo just like I read books: acquire a new one and begin it before the old one is finished. I also discovered that some people read books the way I use shampoo: only one at a time until it’s finished, no exceptions.
Some people use sponges to clean their dishes, and some people fill their dishwashers until they explode. Some people don’t bother wiping their counters. Others douse everything in Lysol until their home permanently smells of clean. I found out that Folgers is completely acceptable and normal for early mornings, yet in some households, coffee is a completely foreign substance. Others delicately prepare a perfect blend of three different types of coffee, ground to perfection to use in their French Press each morning.
Everywhere I travelled, I found friends. And every home I stayed in, I found new ways of doing simple things.
I experienced hospitality in every sense of the term. Part of me loved being there, and the other part felt guilty. Did they actually love having me there, or were they just saying so? I had a hard time believing I wasn’t a nuisance. I tried my very best not to disrupt the routines of the house where I was staying. I snuck around and tried to make myself as invisible as possible.
It wasn’t until the very end of the trip that I realized they did indeed mean it when they said they were happy to have me. I wasn’t a hassle. I wasn’t an intruder. They purposely opened up their homes and asked me to stay with them. They wanted me there, and didn’t mind if I interrupted them a little. They were hospitable because they wanted to be, they weren’t doing it out of obligation.
Hospitality isn’t convenient. Far from it, in fact. But it’s good for us. It’s good for us to give up our little slices of peace and sanity. It’s good for us to trust in the unknown. It’s good for us to fling open our doors and welcome a little upset once and a while.
So often I feel the stress rise up inside of me over tiny, silly things. Because I’m not used to being interrupted. I don’t like it. I like the way I do things. I’m used to living my life in a way that doesn’t really bother anyone but myself. Sure, I have friends and family who love me and help me when they see that I need help. But I’m still hesitant to ask people for things because I wouldn’t want to make anyone do extra work on my behalf. I don’t like being an unnecessary burden.
Maybe the people who invited me into their homes this summer know something that I haven’t learned yet. Maybe they realize that giving up control of the small, predictable details of life prepares them for the big upsets in life. Maybe their giving up a bed for me is more about the gospel than I realize. The surrender of tiny things leads to the willingness to give up bigger things.
Perhaps hospitality is more about trust than it is about being nice.
I’m slowly learning to surrender the silly bits of my life. It may seem insignificant to even think about, but it’s a step I need to take before I can surrender the big stuff. I’m learning to let go of the parts that I cling to that won’t really matter in the long run. I’m trying to find more peace in the limbo than I have before.
Something so simple — the shampoo in the shower or the sponge in the kitchen sink — reminds me that I’ve been doing a terrible job of letting my life interrupt other lives around me. I’m making myself invisible so I don’t inconvenience anyone. I’m not really bothering anyone, but I’m not really helping anyone either. I don’t want to do that anymore.
I’m learning to be OK with letting people help me and love me in ways I need to be loved. I’m learning to quit tiptoeing around, praying that I don’t mess anyone’s life up.
Striving for invisibility is foolish. I’m meant to live my life in a way that interrupts and puts other lives on a different course, for better or for worse. We are meant to share our lives — even the silly little bits of them — with the people around us. Because of the hospitality of the people I encountered this summer, I realize that I need the inconvenience of others more than I think I do.
So please. Let your life bump into mine. Inconvenience me. Disrupt my life for a little bit for the sake of yours.
Help me be hospitable.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Elena Signorin.