IVP - Strangely Dim - The Hospitality of Openness

October 28, 2011

The Hospitality of Openness

Hospitality has been on our minds here at Strangely Dim this month, and I'm guessing it's been on some of your minds recently too. Especially with Halloween coming, and with it the pressure to figure out what candy will make you the most popular house on the block (which is really what it's all about, right--being the most popular??). Here's a little tip that might help us all out in our attempts to be hospitable (as people in general--as Christa explained so well for us--and as candy-passer-outers): Open your door.

Open, in fact, is what I might name my year (as Likewise author Tamara Park likes to do)--a year that's been full of me thinking about--and experiencing--hospitality. The concept of opening captures for me the essence of hospitality: open ears ready to listen to others; open eyes that notice and truly see others; an open heart ready to respond to others with compassion, grace and truth; an openness about who I am that enables others to be authentic as well.

But hospitality and openness, I'm learning more and more, don't just apply to our relationships with others; they're also an important piece in our relationship with God. Our bestselling booklet, My Heart--Christ's Home, gives a picture of this. Dave's new booklet, The Parable of the Unexpected Guest, offers an even more specific look at hospitality to Jesus. In the past month or so, a Sara Groves song titled "Open My Hands" has been particularly powerful for me in this arena. Part of the chorus, which has become a sort of daily declaration for me, says
I will open my hands, open my heart
I will open my hands, open my heart
I am nodding my head, an emphatic yes, to all that you have for me . . .
I officially "opened my heart" to Jesus when I was five, so I suppose that's when my hospitality to him began. But there have been many moments and days since when the so-called door to my heart has been partway closed to what he has for me--or sometimes cracked open only enough for the smallest sliver of light to shine in.

Groves's song points out in the verses that pain, thirst, rain are no measure of God's faithfulness to us, and that he withholds no good thing from us. It reminds me how much hospitality is an intentional stance we choose to take toward God, much like standing by a physical door that we've just flung wide open in welcome to someone on the other side. I need to choose each day to be open to whatever he brings, open to his leading, open to the ways he's nudging me to respond to the parts of my day that aren't from him but rather come as a result of the fallen, broken, sinful state of the world.

This is hard. Especially for control freaks like me who hold every piece of our lives with a death grip. (Beware when you shake hands with us. We have been known to crush a few fingers accidentally with our strong hands.) I have, however, through the Spirit's work, felt a slow loosening of my clenched fingers, a small widening of the crack in the doorway. Just in time for him to show me another, even harder, aspect of hospitality: being open to his timing and the ways he works.

It's one thing to start to be open to the events that might happen in a day--an unexpected phone call from a friend in pain, a delayed flight, a new project in an already full workday. It's a whole other thing to be open to the "speed" at which God works in me--a pace that seems neither efficient nor necessary from my limited, finite perspective (as in, OK God, I know it took me six or seven years to adjust to living in the Chicago suburbs, but I am totally ready to move to Cambodia and do aftercare with victims of sex-trafficking if that's where you want me. Should I book my flight now?). But being patient, trusting in God's timing, welcoming his seemingly slow pace and the opportunities it gives us to reflect, process, adjust and grow at a rate we can handle are all part of having a hospitable heart for God.

Being open not just to what God is doing but also to how and when he works is really hard. My "emphatic yes" can easily and often turn into a nod that's so slow it's hard to tell if I'm actually nodding or if I'm just doing a little T'ai chi at my desk. But here's something else I'm learning about God and hospitality: though we don't know what situation, circumstance, risk, calling or time frame will be waiting for us when we swing open the door and say yes to his work and ways, we do know who we're welcoming: "him who fulfills all his promises, who holds out for you nothing but good, and who wants for himself nothing more than to share his goodness with you" (Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands). Maybe Nouwen was thinking of James's words: "Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession" (1:17-18 NLT). Hospitality to God means welcoming--intentionally, daily--One who is good and absolutely trustworthy. One who gave up his life out of hospitality to us, that we might be welcomed in to his family. And One who waits eagerly for us to say yes so that he can transform us more and more into the image of his Son.

So open up, people, open up! Doors and hearts and bulk bags of candy (if you want). And while I don't know who or what will be on the other side of your door on Monday (princesses? ninjas ready to attack--read: whine--if you don't have candy they like? pirates and bumblebees?), when I let Nouwen's and James's words settle in to me, opening myself wider and wider to God's work and timing doesn't seem quite so scary.

Posted by Lisa Rieck at October 28, 2011 9:57 AM Bookmark and Share | TrackBack


Great thoughts! Your funny line about Chicago/Cambodia got me thinking. Hospitality and openness to others is indeed, so often the very thing we skip over en route to the "glamours" things we "hope" God has called us to. We seem very willing and able to overlook the widow two doors down but are chomping at the bit to board the plane to Africa so that we can dig the water well for the widows there. Because Africa is quite en vogue and think of how awesome all the FB pictures will look from Zambia (mostly kidding but you get the idea). But true hospitality is taking the time to open up to the people in front of us at that very moment. The conversations, serving, or simple hugs that seem tough to muster or downright hard to offer. This is where we truly open ourselves up to God. I do think it is often easier to hop a plane to a third world country than strike up a long-term relationship with the shut-in gentleman across the street with dementia. A high calling indeed! Bless you for this great post!

Comment by: Tracey at October 28, 2011 3:40 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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