A phone conversation with a friend last week sparked my pondering of the meaning of true hospitality. Surely this dear friend has the spiritual gift of hospitality. Her home reflects her heart – always open and looking for opportunities to give to others. While her dwelling place is modest and her kitchen is messy, her cooking and her love are off-the-charts. She lives in another Southern state, homebound to care for her mother in hospice. Everyone she’s invited to Thanksgiving dinner is tied up with extended family. Nobody has asked her to join them.
Why do we as Americans consider the Thanksgiving meal one to be shared only with people who have a similar bloodline?
Doesn’t loving our neighbor prove our love for God is real? Jesus said that whatever we do for one of the least of His brothers and sisters, we do for Him. (Matthew 25:31-46).
My years with Campus Crusade were so transformative in shaping who I am that I, a shy child drawn to solitary activities like writing and drawing, became known as an extrovert – to the extent that I’m not sure which I really am anymore. In Campus Crusade, even introverts learn the art of initiating so that it becomes second nature.
Wherever I go, my radar is tuned to notice people who may feel alone or uncomfortable in a group, with the goal of welcoming and including them, ultimately introducing them to the love of Jesus and His followers. When I’m new somewhere, usually it’s up to me to make the first moves. Most people don’t reach out, tending to stick with folks they already know.
Thanksgiving is the best holiday to extend hospitality. At U.C. Berkeley, our team (blessed with a gourmet chef on board) annually hosted a Thanksgiving meal for 300 international students. And in Eastern Europe, it proved to be a fantastic opportunity to explain this uniquely American holiday designed to give thanks to the Lord God for His care and provision. When I worked at Golden Gate seminary, Steve and I welcomed any and every student we found who couldn’t afford to go home and longed for the feeling of family and belonging.
Now, for the first time since my own college days, I have family in my town – my parents. But Steve and I want more. Each year we’ve asked everyone we’ve met who lives alone (widowed, never married, divorced) but all have had relatives near enough to share the meal with.
I love it that families are so connected in the South. But I wonder if there aren’t still people we’re missing (like my friend eight hours away) who are relegated to spend the day alone?
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 5:35-36 (emphasis mine).