September 5, 2016

Labor Day

It is a good Monday. It is Labor Day, and thankfully, I am at home today. I am thankful for the holiday AND for my schools providing this day of rest. I had a good weekend, albeit a bit rough one to start. Saturday was difficult for me, and I spent most of the day struggling to overcome lingering doubts and fears regarding my inadequacy and my performance. Sunday was a much better day, and I finally was able to come out of the deep dark depression and begin to feel better.

Last night, I slept really well, and I woke up this morning feeling refreshed and ready to tackle my big paper. Yes, my plans today are to work on my revisions and hopefully be able to send them off to my professor by tomorrow (end of day). I am grateful that I have tomorrow off as well. This means that I will have had four days off in a row, and right here at the start of the new semester, the short break will help me recharge, refocus, and ready my schedule so I am prepared for the next 14-15 weeks. Yes, the Lord is good to me. He is so very, very good to me.


Prospering Along the Way

As I think about this good day, I cannot help but begin to think about the many ways the Lord has chosen to prosper me and my family. While I am not "flush," so to speak, I am well-kept. Yes, I am well-kept. For many years, I lived a modest life, comfortable in some ways, and not so comfortable in other ways. I didn't know any better because my life had been the same way for so many years. In truth, I simply didn't remember what it was like to live in abundance. When I was a child, I lived a typical middle-class life. My parents worked (both for a time), so my life was very sweet. I never longed for clothing, food, shelter, or any necessity. My room in my parents house was warm and appealing. I had games and toys, and I lived a good life.

My hopes for this same middle-class life were quickly dashed once I married. My new husband had a good job, and I worked as well, so generally speaking, we were financially settled. We rented an apartment, but we never had the "things" that helped to make our little home better. In many ways, our lifestyle continued to be a progression of "college-dorm" life. I came into the marriage with nothing, no treasure chest, no accouterments. I had nothing to my name except for my queen-size water bed, my Triumph Spitfire, and my clothes. My then husband brought an assortment of his college finds. Our house was a meager existence, and for the most part, nothing changed for us until we moved from an apartment to our first home some six years later. Even then, our home was made up of cast-offs and hand me downs. We never purchased anything "new," and though we made the most of what we had, we simply never put our home together as most couples do. In fact, all of our friends saved for their first home, and after purchasing it, they set about to buy new furniture for it. They decorated their home, made it special and unique, and they paid attention to creating their own home together.

Now, I am not saying that we didn't "attempt" to create our own space, but generally, my husband saw no advantage in spending money on our home. He enjoyed traveling, so any extra money we had was spent on trips, and not on making our home special. I did my best, often making do with painting, slipcovering, and decorating as I was able. I longed to make my home over, and I would spend hours studying the pages of magazines, just imagining how I could make my current situation reflective more of my style, my likes/dislikes, and less about college living.

In the end, I never was able to do this at all. Yes, after 27 years of marriage, I moved from my shared home with just the things I had collected over the years. My first major purchase after living on my own was a new mattress. I also bought home decor items in the colors I like, and little by little, I transformed my rented space into a home. I felt invigorated, renewed, and in a very short time, I had a sense of pride about my home. I loved having people visit me, and while my home was not fancy (no, not at all), it was a reflection of who I was, and I was comfortable in it.

It has been 32 years since I left my parents comfortable home as a young adult. I now live with my parents again, and I share their space. My Mom's decorating style is traditional/transitional, and we do share some common interests. I am probably a bit more "Country" than she is, but over all, we like the same types of furniture, colors, compliments, etc. My home now is comfortable. It has nice things in it, but they belong to my parents and not to me. I have not been able to decorate for some time, and since I am confined to one room (my bedroom), even in this small area, I have not been able to put my stamp on anything.

One of the things I am looking forward to is having my own space again so I can decorate it the way I want. I want to live in a home that says "this is my place" to all who enter it. I realize that as a Christian, I need to be careful so as to not over-consume my time or my attention with frivolous matters, but lately, I feel the Holy Spirit has been pressing on me this idea of "hospitality." I am starting to think that my heart's desire to create a "homey and welcoming" space is more about His desire for hospitality than about me showing off my "style" to the world. Let me explain...

Cultivating Hospitality

My blog's description reads, "My journey towards a Christ centered life, focused on hospitality, cultural awareness, and community through the power of the Holy Spirit." This is the description the Lord gave to me, and since I renamed my blog, "A New Day," I have made these three things my focus. I will admit that I haven't done too much in the area of hospitality lately, though. In truth, I would say that over the course of my life, I have never really practiced "hospitality" at all. My Mom was a great person for hospitality as was my former mother-in-law. Both seemed to have the knack for entertaining visitors. I always just "tagged" along, and even now, I don't think I will ever be a "Martha Stewart" when it comes to guests.

The definition of the word, "hospitality" simply means "the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers" (Dictionary.com). Most often when we think about hospitality, we tend to think about the industry itself. I mean, who hasn't stayed at a resort or fancy hotel and experienced "true" hospitality at one time or another. While the idea of hospitality does seem to bring up that mental picture, one of fancy accommodations and the practice of catering to a visitor's need, the Bible speaks about hospitality in more comprehensive terms. According to Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (1996), hospitality is a virtue and a Godly attribute (para. 1). Hospitality refers to the care of the stranger, and God and His word have a lot to say on how His people are to care for strangers or others in need.

Elwell (1996) writes, 
"Hospitality in the ancient world focused on the alien or stranger in need. The plight of aliens was desperate. They lacked membership in the community, be it tribe, city-state, or nation. As an alienated person, the traveler often needed immediate food and lodging. Widows, orphans, the poor, or sojourners from other lands lacked the familial or community status that provided a landed inheritance, the means of making a living, and protection. In the ancient world the practice of hospitality meant graciously receiving an alienated person into one's land, home, or community and providing directly for that person's needs" (para. 2).
It is interesting to note that for centuries the idea of hospitality was more about meeting a person's need rather than providing entertainment to them. In the Bible during the period of the Old and New Testament, hospitality was crucial, given the fact that most of the world suffered to endure inhospitable conditions. The world was a dark and difficult place, where food and shelter, were not always readily available. Travelers in ancient times were often harassed by villains or victimized by thieves. Travel routes were dangerous, and the threat of nature as well as man was very real indeed. Likewise, during most of the ensuing centuries, from the Middle Ages to the early Modern era, travelers and foreigners still relied on the compassionate care of strangers to meet their physical needs.

Theologically speaking, an attitude of hospitality forms the cornerstone of the Christian's faith walk as we are encouraged to live out our testimony by helping those in need, by hosting meals and by providing shelter to anyone who may need the comfort and care. More so, as Ambassadors for Christ, we are His representatives sent out into the world to minister to those who are outside the house of God. We are to be gracious, kind, and generous as we practice "Christian hospitality" to all we meet.

Writing about Christian hospitality for LifeWay, Kathy Chapman Sharp (2016) says, "When we open our hearts as well as our homes, we are practicing biblical hospitality" (para. 1). According to Sharp, many Christians mistake "home making" or "decorating" when they think about biblical hospitality. It seems that for many of us, visions of Ina Garten hosting an elaborate dinner or Martha Stewart decorating her home for fall, are our "go to" idea of what it means to be hospitable. Yet, this isn't what it means to be hospitable at all. Sure, creating an inviting atmosphere where family and guests can enjoy spending time together is a good thing. But, according to Sharp, "practicing Christian hospitality...[is]...about practicing servanthood" (para. 2). She states, "More importantly, it's about loving others through Christ and making people feel special" (para. 2).

Commanded to be Hospitable
Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God. —1 Peter 4:8-10
The Bible clearly instructs us to be hospitable to others, and to do so, without grumbling or complaining. We are to be gracious hosts to those who have need, and we are to engage in community building by opening our hearts and our homes to those in the church and to those whom God may bring our way.

Cultivating a spirit of hospitality is not difficult, but one must be willing to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us from self-centered to other-centered. Since hospitality is a gift of the Holy Spirit, we can all benefit from letting Him lead us and guide us to a place where we are genuinely interested in the well-being or welfare of others. And, while some are given this special gift, we all can learn to become more hospitable simply by living out our Christian mandate to love God and to love others.

Christians today more than ever seem to struggle with this mandate, and they often refrain from practicing hospitality citing reasons such as "business" or "workload." Some even go as far as to suggest that others are more gracious or capable, believing that hospitality is given to a few, but not all. Many, however, simply are unwilling to let go of their "protection," and refuse to open their homes in order to become hospitable to others.

The problem, Stetzl (2016) writes, is that many Christians misunderstand the purpose of the home, and as such, they choose to isolate themselves and their families by withdrawing from others rather than actively engaging in hospitable behavior. The underlying assumption, Stetzl asserts, is that most people today treat their home as a personal retreat (a castle), so to speak (p. 1), rather than as a haven for those in need. Yet, the Bible clearly demonstrates that the home is to be a place for ministry, and Christians need to understand why God has chosen the home as a place for others to gather and to grow in Christian love. Thus, once we understand why we are to love others and let the home function as a place of refuge, we can see how beneficial it is to practice hospitality. Stetzl writes, "Hospitality is about welcoming people into our lives, meeting their needs, and reaching out even to strangers, enemies, and hostile people" (p. 1). Therefore, as we change our focus, and stop treating our homes as a place to disengage from the world, God can begin to transform our lives so that we become imitators of Christ. We can become active in ministry, and we can begin to reach out to people, those in the church and those outside the church, in ways that can promote Christ's redeeming love and His message of hope.

Obeying the Call

With this in mind, I have recently started to think about why my heart desire is to have my home "be" a certain way. More so, I feel so strongly pulled toward having my own home where I can open it up to others as I desire. For so many years, I did my best to practice hospitality, given my limited resources. Mostly, I felt "shut down," thwarted, and unable to pursue what clearly was a calling from God. Yes, the more I tried to be hospitable to others, the more I found it impossible to do. My then husband didn't want to engage in this practice, and like Stetzl, believed that his home was a place where he could retreat from the world. Thus, our door was always closed. Our attitude toward hospitality was one of letting others lead. We rarely engaged in the practice, unless it was family, and we never thought anything about it. Of course, in my heart, I felt this deep and intense desire, but I simply accepted the fact that what I wanted was superficial and not biblical. I believed (in error) that my desire for a home, to create a home, was simply my own attempt at satisfying my needs rather than the needs of others. In hindsight, I realize now that the Holy Spirit had given to me this desire, but because I wasn't able to freely practice it because of my home-life situation, I let the desire go. I buried it deep inside of me, and all these years, the gift has sat idle. That is, of course, until now. Perhaps this is why I feel so strongly about it today. Perhaps this is why I am constantly seeking, studying, and looking forward to the day when I will have my own place, my own home, and when I can engage in ministry this way. Yes, I believe it is so. I really believe that God is asking me to open my home to others, to share myself with others, and to love others with the Gospel message.


In Closing

It has taken me nearly 45 years to come to terms with the fact that God has called me, no prepared me, to live a life that is predicated on reaching others for His Name. I regret to say that over the years, I have ignored the call. I have retreated into isolation, and at times, I have walked away from Him as He has opened doors and offered to show me the way. Now, though, I am ready. I am ready to fully engage in His way, and to do His work, I must allow the Holy Spirit full access to my heart, my mind, and my attitude so that I can live and do as He commands me to live and do. In this way, I am ready now to let go of my need for being alone. I will always need some alone time, and yes, as an introvert, I will always seek quiet and contemplation in solitary pursuits. But, the Lord desires that I loosen up a bit, and let this fear go. He wants me to be active in public and to share the good gifts He provides to me with others. I feel such a strong pull toward this desire now, more so than ever, and I believe that this is His doing and not my own. I trust Him to care for me, to provide for me, and to use me in whatever way delights Him and brings Him good pleasure. He is worthy, and I live to serve Him and to serve others in His mighty, holy, and precious Name. Amen, so be it. Selah!

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