Last winter I read Sally Clarkson’s newest book, The Life Giving Home, and experienced a sense of support and calling that profoundly deepened a calling that I was already wrestling with.
More than a year ago, my husband and I were called into a difficult and disorienting life-changing situation. Our natural introverted tendency is to tuck our heads in and run away from the uncertainty and stress. But God was calling us to radical obedience in the form of radical hospitality. When we were stretched in unsettling ways, when we were broken and hurting, when we were terrified of how we were going to steward our resources, we were convicted that God was calling us to do the opposite of what seemed reasonable. God was calling us to pour ourselves out for others – even when our own situation was precarious and nerve-wracking. Instead of calling us to guard our resources, pull in and regroup, contemplate our situation, reduce our commitments, and focus on our personal situation, God was calling us to set the table, break the bread, and welcome a multitude of guests with gracious hospitality.
After several months of pouring out our oil from a jar that never seemed to empty, I discovered Sally’s book and my vocation was transformed. While I had been walking in hopeful obedience, Sally reminded me to find the joy. The Life Giving Home is a handbook for living out the call to hospitality that we all have. While this reflection is not a review of The Life Giving Home, I want to highlight some tangible ways in which Sally’s wisdom has helped me to make lemonade out of our lemons.
What I have come to understand about radical hospitality is that guests can be made to feel absolutely comfortable in almost any setting if we choose to serve them with the same kind of care and sincerity we would show to Christ if He were to appear in our home. In the slums of Calcutta, Mother Teresa taught her nuns to minister to the poor and unwanted as if they were Christ in His most distressing disguises. Our calling is so much easier than that! We have been called to love that same Christ in all those whom God sends into our home. In most cases, however, these are people we already love!
Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
What I appreciate about Sally’s book is that it helps me to see how the smallest gestures of hospitality can communicate respect. While perfectly clean homes resplendent with sparkling bathrooms, fine china, and elegant candles can beautifully express welcome to visitors, authentically lived-in homes that are tidy and modestly dressed with small vases of wildflowers can also make guests feel utterly welcome and treasured. The Life Giving Home helped me make a short list of welcoming gestures that feel natural to execute. While guests are still often unexpected but always wanted, I now have a few things I can do to make planned-for guests know that we consider their visit a special gift.
Last weekend we hosted some of our favorite friends for a long weekend of food and fellowship. On Saturday night we enjoyed a gourmet dinner (prepared by all of us), attended mass, and laughed our way through a few rounds of “Settlers of Catan.” The next day we had a cozy brunch before tailgating through the Packer game. Each aspect of the weekend was carefully planned to express the best parts of our friendship. We delighted in the adventure of cooking new and exciting recipes together. We shared our faith. We played games that make us feel like a community. We had long and meaningful talks about real life. Most importantly, we celebrated authentic friendship through vibrant fellowship.
The week before our friends arrived, I structured our school schedule so that I could take care of essential preparations in small chunks. The kids helped me with the cleaning and the cutting of flowers. Greg did the grocery shopping and most of the food prep. In this way, the weekend was not a burden because the stress was spread out and beautifully shared in communion.
While we dressed each room with mason jars of wildflowers and made sure to lay out little things that would make our guests comfortable, we did not do anything that felt unnatural or stressful. A Life Giving Home helped me to be at ease with who we are and draw from a well of helpful and natural rituals that made our home authentic and welcoming. The key to the success of our weekend was how normal everything felt and how everything we did was just a respectful expression of ourselves and our gratitude for our friends.
One of the lessons God is teaching me in this season of life is that I have misunderstood hospitality for most of my life. I think I am naturally a Mary who believed that I had to be a Martha to please Him. As He has called us into radical hospitality, He has surprised us, stretched us, and humbled us. In each growth spurt, however, He has mercifully shown us that what our guests need and want most from us is some small respect and much great sincerity. If I can make the home welcoming on a basic level and pair that with authentic fellowship, that is what has the most impact. If I set up a dinner that invites long and comfortable conversation, that is what makes my guests feel heard. If I prepare all of our rooms so that our guests know they are wanted, thought about, and prayed for, they will be more likely to rest and be refreshed. If I prepare the family to appreciate our guests and delight in their visit, they will feel loved and truly welcomed.
FYI: I do have a secret recipe to success. It is called a recovery day. Check it out here.