Seven years ago, my young husband had open heart surgery. We were new to Seattle at the time, and an elder from our new church visited us in the hospital. He told us he lived right around the corner from the hospital, and if I needed a place to stay to let them know. I’m not one much for imposing on other people, so I thanked him but didn’t take his offer seriously. But two nights into our cardiothoracic intensive care unit experience, I called him sobbing around 10 pm. I was exhausted and unable to handle the intensity of the ICU. When I got to their house, he and his wife were in their pajamas with the sofa bed open and a firelog lit in the fireplace. They put their arms around me, prayed with me, and put me to bed. It was the night before Thanksgiving, and I left early the next morning to get back to the hospital before the doctors made their rounds.
This is crisis hospitality. Little warning. Little fanfare. Just a need and a person in the Body of Christ prepared in advance to meet that need. I’ve asked myself if I could do for others what that couple did for me that night. I know how my mind works–my house isn’t clean enough, I don’t want someone to see me in my pajamas, etc. The problem with crisis hospitality is that there is usually little warning. Biblical hospitality is not inviting a couple over from church for dinner with a week’s warning. In fact, the Greek word for hospitality has an emphasis on graciousness toward strangers, not known people.
Hebrews 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
For me, the greatest mental barrier to being ready in a moment for crisis hospitality is the idea that my hospitality needs to be perfect. That my house needs to be completely clean, that my meal needs to be Southern Living perfect, that my kids need to be quietly entertaining themselves. The truth is that such perfectionism is impossible to achieve, let alone maintain, unless someone walks in my house the exact moment I put the vacuum away. And secondly, such perfectionism isn’t particularly hospitable. Nothing makes me quite as uncomfortable as walking in a house that I know, simply by walking across the floor, I have just contaminated its pristine condition.
I also note that the English term hospitality is closely related to the term hospital. Our modern day view of hospitality is far removed from the origins of the concept. Our call is not to be a medical hospital but a social one of sorts. An emotional, spiritual ER. Ready when the spiritual crisis occurs–ready with food, ready with love, ready to care for children, ready to house a stranger overnight.
My experience in my few, brief opportunities to personally provide crisis hospitality is that God gives grace. He requires that my identity be in Him and His gospel so that my joy isn’t tied to how flavorful my meal or how clean my home. But He gives abundant grace, so that we can give a portion unto seven, and then even unto eight when we didn’t know we had anything else to give. We cast our bread upon the water, and it returns after many days. We don’t make the opportunities. We just stand ready when He dumps it into our lap. And instead of making excuses, we accept our place in this good work He prepared for us before time began. And in His providence, we find joy.