How is it that there are so many people within church communities who would describe themselves as lonely?
Do you have an answer for that one? Me neither, but I think I have a solution. That might sound a bit conceited and maybe it is, but I think I’m on to something so bear with me!!
Do you include yourself as one of the many lonely people within our church communities? Surrounded by sometimes hundreds of people, you can feel so utterly alone and unseen? Encircled by other Christians you can still feel so isolated? So here’s my solution…
A number of years ago I worked for a Catholic organisation that was under the “order of hospitality”. I learnt many good things from working there. Being a Catholic organisation I learnt to light a candle when more than two people meet. Still to this day I’m not sure why exactly, but it was cosy, and created a nice space that felt comfortable and welcoming. The other thing I learnt was that offering and accepting something and sharing it together was priceless for building a relationship. My employment was based around working with the homeless and marginalised and there were on certain occasions, times when I did not wish to be part of the hospitality I was being offered. To be given a cuppa in a filthy teacup with clear indications of the previous beverage still visible, lets just say it took fear factor courage to drink it. Yet to see their sense of acceptance as I showed appreciation rather than disgust went a long way to building the relationship, which probably shouldn’t be a surprise should it?
Working for a Catholic order was not my first taste of hospitality. When I was growing up I remember we often had other families over for meals. There’s a joke in our family that whenever my Mum is cooking for people, she will put on a 1kg of peas. It may not surprise you that there are always peas left over. Any family event, birthday, Christmas, whatever the occasion, on goes the 1kg of peas. What that 1kg of peas taught me is that when visitors are coming, food makes them feel welcome. The Bible is full of food stories; manna from heaven, feasts, feeding the multitudes, the last supper and on the list goes. I’m sure you could think of more. Sharing together is important, not just culturally, but spiritually as well.
How is your church doing in the area of hospitality? Hard to answer for all those around you, so I’m going to zoom in a little more; how are you going with hospitality? Instantly you’ve got a number of reasons jump into your mind as to why you can’t? Here’s one very good reason why you can.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace”. 1 Peter 4:8-10
Welcoming someone in to share your time and company doesn’t require you to have a nice house that’s presented in pristine condition. People won’t be bothered by that, anything like as much as you are, but if it’s a stress, you could invite them to meet you at the park or beach. Welcoming people doesn’t require you to cook dinner parties, with 7 courses. There is nothing wrong with a barbecued sausage in a piece of bread, or even a cup of tea.
What about the biggest excuse of all. “I’m so busy and I haven’t got time”! Palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware wrote of the top 5 regrets of the dying and number 2 was; “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard”. As mothers we may not have a place to ‘clock in’, but we can certainly get ourselves working overtime in a hurry without any benefits. Do you know what I mean? Being involved in this and that, booking our children in to do sport, dance, and hobbies – and who drives them there and back? Are we as mothers going to look back and wish we hadn’t worked so hard too?
What other excuses pop into your mind. “I’m not really a people person”. Well coming from a family of introverts, bar one very clear extrovert, I can understand where you are coming from, but what better way to get to know small groups of people is there, than by sharing a meal and some time with them. It sounds sensible to me. Obviously because we are all different you will need to create something that works for you and your family.
In our house we write lists of people we would love to share our time and home with and then we sit down together and work out dates that work for us and then send out an invitation. Sometimes we work these out months in advance. I’ll be honest with you and say this is a new thing for us. We moved countries a number of years ago and quickly noticed that the best way to be involved socially was to be proactive and do the asking. I feel quite sad as I write this, because there is so much we enjoy about our faith family, but the kind of hospitality I’m talking about just doesn’t seem to be its forte. Other needs are met through practical acts of kindness and yet somehow we don’t seem to place enough value on the expressions of love that come with hospitality. I wonder if you're faith family is the same.
Has this got you defensive or convicted? To the defensive, I simply want to love you enough for you to know you don’t have to defend yourself. Be honest before God, because this is just between the two of you. If the Holy Spirit is convicting you, then I challenge you to make change. If you are generous with sharing your time and fridge, then keep going because you are showing love in a very special way.
I’ll leave you with this to chew on. Those excuses that popped into your head just now; are they actually as important as you first thought? Hospitality is all about people. Sharing what you have, even if it’s not a lot. There are many things in the world that we can do very little about, but loving our family in Christ is not one of those things. Hospitability can ease the ache of loneliness in people’s hearts and in doing this you make a significant difference in people’s lives. By loving those in our faith family, we show those who are not believers that we honour Christ with what He has blessed us with, time, food, homes, family and love.
People don’t want gourmet, they want to be considered, to be seen, to have company. All of which can be achieved with an invitation and simply sharing together. So get your diary out, and put the peas on.