Hospitality or Entertainment?

 
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Don’t you just love it when you find a book that seems to be written just for you? Well, I’ve found MY book. Shauna Niequest’s, “Bread and Wine” literally changed my life. No lie! In 2013, when the book was newly released, I read the words Niequest penned and I felt like someone had finally put language to my love of food and people. She described how hospitality is not simply filling peoples bellies but also filling their souls, and that when we gather around a table, we are truly encountering a Divine exchange. I am definitely a “table person”. At the table we take some of my greatest loves - food, wine, and people. Sharing a dinner in a restaurant is lovely, but nothing beats a home cooked meal, shared over a family dinner table. There’s just something so rich, so loving, so intimate about the whole experience.

But I have been recently thinking about the difference between opening my home to entertain others, and opening my home to offer hospitality. I must confess, as much as I love to welcome people around my table, it’s all too easy to fall into entertainment. Dictionary.com defines entertainment as, “an act, production, that entertains; a diversion; an amusement”. You see, entertainment implies that we are putting on a performance for others. Sure, as you entertain, your guests may laugh, they might forget their troubles for a few hours, but the whole experience is something different when we practice hospitality. Hospitality makes space for people. Hospitality does not offer perfection. Hospitality is not about impressing people with your beautiful house, Top Chef culinary skills, or witty conversation, and I think that can be a major hurdle for us to overcome.

In life, it’s more convenient to entertain people rather than invite them into your home and heart. It’s much easier to perform a role, fulfill a function, and put on a mask than it is to let people see your imperfections, weaknesses, or struggles. As much as a lifestyle of vulnerability and authenticity seems appealing, the reality is that letting people close to seeing the real you is daunting.

And I am not implying that hospitality looks like a perpetual episode of Dr. Phil where we all spill our guts. Brene Brown writes in Daring Greatly (another GREAT book) that, “…over sharing is not vulnerability. In fact, it often results in disconnection, distrust, and disengagement.” (Pg 159). Hospitality is about creating space for people’s hearts, as well as their bellies. It’s about giving space for connection and cultivating trust.

Jesus was the most hospitable of humans. He could often be found in people’s homes, eating food and connecting heart-to-heart. He loved a good party and happily turned water into wine. And like I mentioned recently, we only have to look at John 11 (when Jesus comes to comfort Mary and Martha after the death of their brother, Lazarus) to see how hearts are more important to Jesus than anything else. Before He performed a miracle, before He changed the situation, Jesus approached both Mary and Martha. He talked with them. He wept with them. Jesus made space in His heart to love people, not just entertain, pacify, or distract them. And like Jesus, our goal should be connecting with people’s hearts, not wowing them or impressing them.

In the season of life I am in, hospitality has been a struggle for me. I am a stay-at-home mum with two kids under two, a third on the way, and a household filled with two dogs and a ridiculous cat.  If I am inviting people in to my home for dinner, guests will be greeted by dog hair, a slew of toys, and a very basic Keurig k-cup coffee. And if I am inviting people into my heart, people will see an exhausted mother who is trying to manage a household on one income, and with very, very limited time to spare. 

But I am learning that my community is worth the real me. I am learning that they don’t need some plastic version of me. They don’t need a millionaire Sarah who has her house professionally cleaned on a daily basis, or who serves only fancy food and drink. My people need the real me as much as I need the real them. My heart yearns for true connection rather than being entertained or pacified. Like Mary and Martha, I am learning that it’s not about Jesus changing the situation, but it’s about letting my heart be heard as well as hearing the hearts of others.

So today, let’s practice hospitality, not entertainment. Let’s create space in our hearts and homes where we can truly connect, trust, and engage. Be vulnerable. Let’s not try to wow people with our skills, but love them with an open heart. Let’s welcome them, not perform for them. It’s not perfect but it’s beautiful! 

 

It's OK to not be OK

Unless I missed it, the song “Everything Is Awesome” from the LEGO movie is no where to be found in scripture. In fact, look at the Psalms and you will read the songs and prayers of a man who knew suffering. King David knew what it was to be misunderstood, betrayed, and left mentally exhausted. And yet, most of the time, put a Christian in a painful situation, and nine times out of ten they will slap a smile on their face and recite a ridiculous number of platitudes. “I’m too blessed to be stressed” or “God’s got me. I’ll be OK” to name but a few.

Funny thing is, nowhere in the bible do we see people speaking in such clichés. Jesus Himself demonstrated that when people were hurting, He hurt too. When Lazarus had died, He didn’t walk in and say, “Hey guys! I’m here. Put a smile on your face and be grateful. I’m about to do something awesome!” No. He talked with Martha and Mary. He heard their hearts. He wept. He felt the pain of those He loved and He grieved (John 11:35).

This has been a hard week. And whilst I seek to encourage people, I have to be honest. The trenches of life, motherhood, and everything in between have been overwhelming. We all have bad days. Sometimes there are bad weeks, months, and even years and it feels like a struggle to stay positive. There are times in our lives when we feel like we are fighting one bad situation after another. And if you are like me, we feel guilty that we are feeling sad, because as a Christian, we should be joyful at all times, right?

But in John 11, Jesus showed us that He prioritized a person’s heart over a result. Before He performed the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, He felt with, grieved with, and comforted those in pain.  In another passage of scripture, Jesus also said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4). How can you be comforted if you don’t mourn? How can you experience the true impact of the comfort of the Holy Spirit whilst you are masking your pain?

The western Church has become so very fixated with results. Some churches want results seen in healing miracles. Other churches want results in numbers of converts and church growth. And whilst it’s easy to criticize church leaders for thinking about the numbers, we all live our lives looking for results. We have specific ‘results’ that we are asking God for and we ask for them everyday. Have my prayers been answered yet? Do I have the promotion that I have been asking God for? Has that family drama been resolved? Do I have the money to buy a new car? Why am I not married yet? Is the doctor going to call me and tell me that I am healed? Please God, let me go full-term and not miscarry another baby.

And whilst praying for these things is a good thing, becoming fixated on the ‘result’ can be so destructive to our hearts. When circumstances don’t change in accordance with our timeline, disappointment and resentment seeps into our hearts. Before we know it, we are mad at God for forgetting about us but we are simultaneously trying to keep a smile on our faces. 

But like we saw with Lazarus, He walked up to Mary and Martha and loved them BEFORE He gave them a ‘result’. He mourned with them, cried with them, and let them know that He was present. 

So today, whatever you are dealing with, whatever result you are not seeing, whatever grief is gripping your heart, put down the mask and let your heart be seen. Know that your God loves you more than your circumstance. As scripture shows, your pain matters. It’s OK to be in pain. It’s not a sin to grieve. But before He performs a miracle, maybe He wants to come close and comfort you? Maybe He wants to grieve with you and let you know that He is with you? 

It’s OK to not be OK, just keep your heart open to God and let Him come close to you.

The Real You

We live in a world where words like “authentic” and “transparent” have become oh, so popular. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I remember power-suits, flashy cars, and huge mobile phones being the status symbols that demanded respect. But these have been traded in, and now we admire the celebrity who confesses weakness. We distrust politicians who have never shown their imperfections, and we value counselors and therapists as much as regular MDs.  

We are hungry for connection. We are crying out for real relationship where there is no transactional exchange, only heart-to-heart communication. We are aching to find a safe place to rest our souls where we are seen, heard, and known.

We are craving love. 

But despite craving love, despite craving authentic, transparent relationships, we still fear people seeing the real us.  And when I mean the real us, I am not just talking about our emotions or likes and dislikes. I am talking about the ‘us ‘that doesn’t quite have it all together. I am referring to the  ‘us’ that lives with older cars, ill-fitting clothes, or a home that is certainly not Pinteresty.

As I mentioned last week, Brene Brown talks about “scarcity” and how we are wired in our culture to be hyperaware of lack, rather than success or plenty. So we look at our homes, and we see what we need to buy in order to make our houses ‘perfect’. Then we look at our cars that don’t have a Bluetooth phone connection and we want to upgrade. Then we look in our closets and we decide to forsake our boots from last winter and buy the new sassy ones we saw in Nordstrom. 

But fixating on our material possessions means we are missing the mark. In our authentic and transparent world, we are truly hungering for something deeper than the latest farmhouse table or a 2019 Honda Odyssey (I am about to be a mum of 3. Yes. I dream of a mini-van!!!) 

And this is not just limited to our material possessions. We treat our own spiritual giftings and anointings in the same way. Instead of sharing honestly about our weaknesses, we like to show people that we are eloquent speakers, musicians, or leaders. We like to inform people that God has gifted us and therefore, they should listen. It’s as though our accomplishments, as well as our possessions, give us authority, worth, and significance.

But the Bible says something quite different. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul explains that, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NIV, emphasis mine)

So basically, no matter how talented you are, no matter how well you can hear God, or how amazingly you move in powerful miracles, IF YOU DO NOT LOVE, YOU ARE NOTHING. If you have a massive house, a brand-new car, and a closet full of gorgeous clothes, but you don’t love, you are nothing. If you have the ‘perfect’ life, but loving people is not your thing, you are nothing but a loud, annoying cymbal.

So what is love? Love is taking off the mask of perfection and inviting people to gather around your table. Love is letting go of your fixation with your lack and allowing people close, even if they see the dirt on your kitchen cabinets. Love is saying, “You are worth the real me, not the fake, plastic version of myself”. That is love. 

Just as Paul wrote, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”. (1 Corinthians 13:4 NIV, emphasis mine) 

So today, embrace your life. Whether you are rich or poor, leading in your dream career or following a boss in a dead-end job, may you love those around you. Don’t boast, don’t be proud, don’t seek to look perfect - just love. Take off the mask, let people see your home with the broken chairs, let people come close. Because people don’t want plastic, they want you, the real you.