Practicing Hospitality Imperfectly

One of the seven values of our home is the practice (that is the making mistakes along the way of learning) of hospitality. When we practice hospitality instead as entertainment, that is, the act of amusing or performing for our guests, we miss a very important quality in the intended expression: the administration of care to brokenness, the being of a hospital

Of the making of Pinterest boards and Hygge books and shiplapped magazines there is no lack, but what does it mean to be a hospital at the dinner table or over coffee or in the doing of daily tasks around the house? How is doing laundry or washing dishes or having difficult conversations or listening an act of hospitality in a culture that wines and dines and lauds the farm to table spread in an autumn cornfield at dusk? When these latter expressions are the pièce de résistance, the thing we think of when we think of hospitality, how does the mere folding of socks, packing of lunches, and being seen with your hair undone express a better hospitality? 

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These are the questions that have rattled around in me for the entirety of my life. From my earliest memories, I have been surrounded by the earthly, simple, practical act of hospitality. For years of my teens we had three different families living with us in our home, giving over entire floors of our house to them, siblings squished in bedrooms, dinners rowdy affairs. I don't want to paint those experiences as perfect, they were, without doubt, some of the most difficult of my teen years (and, I'd venture, for the adults as well), but they happened. The sharing of resources and home and opinions and reputations was commonplace in our home. Some of the most painful memories of my life happened in those spaces and others, where our family was meshed with another family, imperfectly but still done. The option for a closed door was never one considered. This way of life felt natural to me, still feels natural to me, although I am learning it carries dysfunction in me too: a belief that saying "no" is not an option. This is why I am still learning to practice hospitality and not perfect it.   

How does one practice hospitality, the being a hospital, and yet also confess they are not the Great Physician and there are some maladies even a good soup and hearty homemade bread cannot fix? I do not have the answer to this question, though it seems like it should be easy, but here is how we generally think about our home and hospitality: 

We can only give what we can give. If we do not have it, we cannot give it. If we cannot give it, we cannot give it. But Christ can and so sometimes the best act of hospitality is to say: I cannot, but he can. To administer the grace which says, "We do not have what you need to become better. But we do have Christ." 

We sometimes must let things be awkward. If every space in an evening or a life must be filled with small talk or inventions of stories, there is no space for the awkward growing pains of maturity to stretch. Being quiet for longer than the noted beat of acceptable silence reminds us in sometimes painful ways that not all is resolved yet, that we are still in process, and in need. Most of us ramble to fill that space and in doing so we crowd out the small voice of the Spirit who may want to move the conversation in another direction entirely. Part of true hospitality is times of quiet, sometimes awkward quiet. 

And yet, we must also move toward the person in our home, initiating questions, drawing them out, being a "there you are" person instead of a "here I am" one. We ask questions like, "How does your heart feel about this?" or "What is this sadness teaching you about God?" or "What is being revealed in your anger/fear/pride/hurt?" instead of only "How was your day?" "How is your job?" "How are your kids?" The heart is the wellspring of life and so we must get at the heart if we are to minister life. 

We eat good, nourishing, healthy food at the table almost every night. There is no magic here, no fix to the world's problems, no Pinterest worthy spread. There is only true food that nourishes a body because bodies matter too. Hospitality is not only about caring for the emotional or relational needs, but the physical ones too. We light candles every night (I have some beeswax ones in squatty jelly jars right now, if tapers don't work for families with young kids), we use cloth napkins, we eat on real (but mismatched) plates. We nourish the soul while we're nourishing the body by using real things instead of disposable ones or the finest china. We want to remind ourselves that we are real things in a real world on a real earth and if hospitality doesn't extend both inside our bodies and outside our front door, it's not real hospitality. 

We sometimes say "No." As noted above, this one still feels wildly uncomfortable in my mouth. I have a lifetime of saying "Yes" behind me. Yes to the extra mile. Yes to the extra cloak. Yes to whole spaces of a home. Yes to open doors. And yes to open lives. But sometimes saying "No" is best. I think generally folks are either "Yes" folks or "No" folks, and we each must learn to curve into the unnatural word, turn it over in our mouths, utter it occasionally until we realize the world won't end if we say it aloud, and then practice saying it, sometimes saying it at the wrong time or in the wrong way, but practicing it nonetheless. I am learning to say "No" now more than ever before and this too is an act of hospitality, I am learning. It is saying that I am not the Great Physician and I cannot solve the world's problems, I cannot even solve my own, and so sometimes I must say it right out loud: no. 

If you come to the Wilbert home for dinner or coffee or breakfast or Christmas or Easter or homegroup or a weekend or a year, you will feel each of these things in some way in the way we practice hospitality today. Because it is something we value, it is something we hold dearly and inspect often, looking for holes or ways to make better or ways we have failed to make good. We value hospitality, but we are far from perfect at it. Christ is the perfect expression of hospitality, the one who entered in and allowed himself to be approached, the one who brought the best wine and ultimately showed himself to be the best wine. We look to him not as our model of hospitality, though, but as the only one who "makes all the sad things come untrue." 

Here are some books I've read through the years that have helped shape, right, and challenge my perspective on hospitality: 

The Hidden Art of Homemaking

The Life-Giving Home and The Life-Giving Table

Glory in the Ordinary

The Quotidian Mysteries

Acedia and Me

Keeping House

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Seven Ways We Fail and Get Back Up Again

The first time the word sin is mentioned in Scripture is not at the moment when sin entered the world, but the moment before the fracturing of two brothers, Cain and Abel. After Cain brought his offering to the Lord (which, for whatever reason known to them and not clearly to us, displeased the Lord), the Lord said, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4).

That phrase, "Its desire is contrary for you," has always stuck to me like an autumn burr on a wool sweater.

There are so many things in our lives pressing us back, crouching at our doors, slinking in unforeseen gaps and spaces, taking up room, both invited and uninvited. Sin is not a passive agent, but if we are passive, it can rule over us. There are so many areas in my life where I am the passive agent regarding sin. I say something smartly but intended to get my point across: sin. I leave something unfinished in hopes someone else will notice and do it: sin. I cite needs and desires as my primary motivator: sin. I avoid dealing with my emotions, letting them build and bubble over: sin. Wherever I look, sin is crouching at my door. 

A pastor at our church once said, "We don't get over our sin by constantly looking at our sin, we get over it by looking at the work of Jesus on the cross." This sounds really good, but if we don't make the cross both deeply personal and deeply practical, it can be difficult to see the ramifications of the work of Jesus in all the small places where sin reigns supreme in our lives. We can apply the gospel to the Big Sins, but overlook its power over the "little foxes that ruin the vineyards" (SoS 2:15).

Nate and I have been talking about some work God did in us as singles and now as a married couple, ways we have recognized the power of sin to creep in and the ways it has ruled us (and still does in so many ways), and exercises we do to press back and bounce our eyes to the cross. These are not grand theological gestures, they are small things designed to teach us restraint, remind us to submit, to fear God, of the bounty of God, and of the joy found completely in him. 

Over the next few weeks I'll be doing a series of posts on seven ways we try to rule over the crouching presence of sin in our home. I'll expound on our methods for engaging the gospel in these areas of our lives, the ways we fail, and our hope for the Church more and more. 

None of these things are done perfectly. In none of these areas have we arrived. And in every one of these areas we are prone to wander, to fail, and to forget. One of the best blessings of the gospel, I think, is the fact that it never changes. When I fail, forget, and wander—the cross and the empty tomb never change. The point is not to do these things perfectly, but to actually let the imperfection of my doing them remind me of how much I need Jesus every single day. We fail often and regularly at all of these, but: 

1. We choose reading, writing, and talking instead of screen-time in order to engage and flourish as flesh and blood humans. 

2. We practice not a work/life balance, but a work/rest model in order to see God as our Creator, Redeemer, and Joy. 

3. We eat whole foods, in-season, and locally if possible, in order to care for our bodies and the earth well. 

4. We practice hospitality not as an event or social engagement, but as a way to sacrifice ourselves, our time, and our energy, for the flourishing of others.

5. We choose the way of peace instead of violence and listening over making ourselves heard, as a way to remind ourselves we are not omnipotent, omnipresent, or omniscient. 

6.  We eat meals together in order to press back against the culture of busy, quick, fast, and convenient. 

7. We endeavor to live using restraint in our finances, not so we can build bigger savings accounts or retirement funds, but so we can serve others more freely today.

I often get questions about the way we practice Sabbath as New Testament Christians or why we choose to have a young man living with us or what made us decide to not have a television, and more, and my hope is that in writing more on these specific intents, I will be able to answer those questions more fully. None of these things are without theological purpose and very real—sometimes painful—sacrifice. That's on purpose. Not because we're masochists, but because we're Christians living in a hostile-to-the-way-of-Jesus-environment. It's never been easier, more convenient to not carry the cross and follow Him. So how, in 2017, in the suburbs, without children, with paying jobs, with every gadget available to us, do we say, "No, sin, you will not rule over us. We're already the children of a King." 

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The series will be tagged: Seven Ways so if you're looking for the whole thing at some point, just click on that tag at the bottom of the page.