easter in the desert household

I’ve just been checking last year’s Easter blog, to make sure I don’t repeat myself or, worse, contradict . (But then again, that’s human nature, isn’t it? Embrace the contradictions!) The kiddoes and I have been having fun preparing for, and chatting about, Easter – so I thought I’d share some more ideas.

Firstly, Lent is a long time – especially for small children. So we’ve gone gently. We started with our Lent prayer tree, and this was pretty much all we did for the first few weeks. It’s been going well – the kids love pulling out a new photo each morning, and thinking about how we can pray for that particular friend. And our tree has come into bloom!

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I didn’t get our Easter play figures out until last week, figuring three weeks was more than enough time to be playing out the Easter story. Every day, the figures are in different formations and groupings, and I have no idea what is going on. For example, what is Jesus whispering to the Roman soldier here?

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And I love it that Jesus’ female friends are stopping to admire the photo of baby Lois – but am slightly confused as to why.

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But, then again, we’re talking about the household where you can be walking along the landing and spy a doll doing a handstand:

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Isn’t this the great thing about play, as opposed to just reading the facts? You can stop and wonder, and imagine what’s being said, or thought, or felt. You can ask ‘what if…?’ and you don’t have to get things right. It’s tempting to move our Easter figures back to their ‘right’ positions each night, but actually I’m letting the kids (primarily Joel) control this one.

That said, of course it is absolutely great to find brilliant Christian books for kids, and over the years we’ve built up a little collection of Easter things which I’d love to tell you about – apologies that the recommendations are probably no good to you this year – I was intending to publish this blog post last week :( Sticker books are really popular with my kids, and are a great way of interacting with the story, as you can hunt for the right sticker while you tell the story – a great way of engaging little ones who can’t always sit still for a whole story! We like this one and this one and this one.

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This book is great, and a total bargain. (In fact, have you noticed how everything I’m recommending is a bargain? Yet what a priceless gift for our children, to teach them what happened at Easter! Much better than plastic tat and chocolate bunnies!) A few years ago, we bulk-bought this book and gave one to every family who came to a preschool Easter outreach event. We chose it for its careful wording and bright pictures – and I still use our copy with my kids now. This book was the one which moved Joel so much last Easter, the one which had a profound effect on him. Of course I’m recommending it here!

And guess what? The kids’ wonderful Aunty Carol sent them a surprise Easter gift last week. Two brilliant books – but Dave the donkey is the Easter story taken from the donkey’s perspective, and is already a hit with all of us! A really clever, and moving, way to tell the story.

For the first time, we’ve been watching The Miracle Maker. I’m late to the party on this, so I expect you’ve all already got it – but I just wanted to mention it in case you haven’t, because it is totally as amazing as everyone says it is. And, again, great to have a different sort of resource to use with our kids! (As a rough age guide, 4-year-old Joel loves it – 2-year-old Lois isn’t bothered. Not sure whether Joel would have been ready for it last year, but I think some kids would. So 3/4 upwards-ish?)

In addition to our prayer tree, Easter books and play figures, we have (of course!) been singing “Easter bells” - and Joel’s now trying to come up with his own verses! We’ve also just got out the resurrection eggs, with two weeks to go, using these to tell the story in a more interactive and memorable way. (Doubtless there are many different versions available – mine is a little different from the link I’ve given.) As we look at the different objects, and turn them over in our hands, it’s much more likely that we’ll remember the different aspects of the Easter story than if we just hear what happened. And, for the record, I don’t shy away from the gory aspects of the story (within reason). Joel, at 4, is very much into blood and guts – and because he doesn’t really understand the nature of violence and abuse yet, it actually works OK to tell him that the soldiers put nails through Jesus’ hands, or that Peter cut off the High Priest’s ear. Clearly you need to gauge this, depending on how sensitive your child is, and I would spare the really shocking details such as the whipping or the suffocating – but I don’t think we need shy away from the fact that Jesus suffered.

Last week we had friends round (from our Mums’ cell group), and did some fun Eastery things altogether. We made these yummy snacks:

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What a great idea! Obviously not mine…but you can find it here :)

We also made Easter gardens. I have great memories of making these as an older child, but with good preparation, and a bit of support, it seems that toddlers can do a pretty good job after all!

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This week, as our prayer tree ended on Sunday, the kids have an Easter basket to open each morning. In it, are some materials for making something that day which will help us remember the Easter story. On Monday, we made Easter cards – yesterday we made chocolate Easter egg nests (OK, so this is pushing the theme a little, but you try finding 6 Christian Easter crafts for preschoolers). Today we will be making empty bread tombs with Easter dips, and tomorrow hot cross buns (both from Bake through the Bible).

How do you and your family celebrate Easter?

simple easter card craft

On Sunday evening, I was scouring the Internet, trying to find some simple Easter activities that I could do with my 4-year old and 2-year old this week – fun, creative things which they could easily manage, and which would prompt us to remember and talk about the Easter story. I found very little for this age!

So here is something we devised instead. It uses printmaking – a technique my kids and I don’t use as often as we’d like, but which always yields beautiful results. In their Easter basket yesterday morning (more on these in tomorrow’s post!), I put paints, Duplo, okra, a cardboard roll wrapped in wool, and some grey tomb/stone shapes which I’d cut out.

And it was simple: the kids decorated the tombs and stones with whichever printmaking technique they liked.

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We used Duplo and okra (ideas courtesy of The Imagination Tree – thank you!), and also a cardboard roll wrapped in wool (an idea taken and adapted from An Everyday Story – thanks!) – obviously the end of the cardboard roll got used too!

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As did the end of the Duplo block!

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And, of course, our fingers!

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I stuck them on some blank greetings cards, added some wording, and they will make great Easter cards for the kids to give family and friends this week.

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on education, nostalgia, memories and real life: a trip back to school

Today, I offer something different from what I usually write. Last week, I was fortunate enough to be given the chance to sing at a concert at my old school, to say goodbye to the retiring Headteacher and Head of Music. We had a day of rehearsals and reminiscing, and this is my attempt at describing how it felt.

I say goodbye to the kids and, although God knows I need the break, I still feel a little sad. Their tiny bodies, their inquisitive minds, their hearts and souls are so tightly bound up in my own identity right now, that to part feels painful. I know it will be better To Arrive than To Leave.

And it is. Four hours later, I’m two hundred miles away, sitting in the lounge of my school friend, eating pasta and drinking wine. Four of us are catching up, entrenched in our lives Now, although we met Back Then.

Morning arrives, my wake-up call not the being jumped on by small children, but the being rudely awaken by my phone. And then – we’re there. My visitor pass displays my maiden name. There is no husband, no kids, no married name – I am back to where I was. For one day only.

When I first see her, I notice she is a little older, hair a little longer, jokes a little quicker, showing the experience of nearly 18 years’ teaching – but otherwise just the same, this lady I admired so much that I followed her choice of University, college, career. I take my place in the Altos, and belt out the lines with confidence and experience of adult choral singing. But when she speaks, I take note – no less eager to please than I was back then.

There are greetings, as if coming back to old friends. Those we never spoke to, because they were a whole two school years away from us, are now contemporaries. People have sensible jobs. Actuaries, university lecturers, local government employees. The one we all envied has achieved her dream of West End stardom, and had a decade of glittering career – but now her life is filled with school runs and nappies and tantrums and fussy eaters, and doesn’t look a whole lot different to mine. We connect over mutual parenting stresses: our lives have converged at last.

It is all so strange and so other, and it will take me several days to process all the emotions. A few months ago, I visited the place I lived after graduating, and that felt like an age away, but this is two life stages before that. It almost feels like it never happened – and yet, as I re-connect, I find that so much of me comes from this place, so much of me was formed within these walls, through these people.

When I sing, I hear a voice next to me, booming out with frustrating accuracy. It is imagined of course, she is not really there, but I want her to be. She was my sixth-form friend, my choir buddy, my fellow musician – and our paths have taken us in different directions. Until this moment, I am unaware just how much of my early musical development is down to her.

When I meet my former teachers, I am aware that I am giggly and talk too much, unsure whether I’m adult or child. I feel guilty when I check my phone, naughty for wearing jewellery, rebellious for having loose hair. He, of course, hasn’t changed – slightly less hair, slightly greyer – still the utterly inspiring musician, passionate about training up youngsters in the art. Now I understand what he does and why – but of course back then I took it for granted.

The concert begins, and it’s the ’90s all over again, but with hair straighteners and a Florence and the Machine song. We sing ‘My Way’, and, although it’s been 15 years, I believe I could do this without music. The notes find their way into my voice as if it were yesterday – only now I sing the words with conviction, feeling Old and Experienced. Life has been lived, mistakes made, lessons learned. As I ponder this, it feels arrogant. In another 15 years I will look back at my 33-year-old self and remember her as naive. At 48 I will scoff at her and think “Now I know what it means to live” – and I will do this again at 63, and at 78. But, for now, I’m remembering the last 15 years. The dreaming spires. The boy who broke my heart. The failed interviews. The work politics. The developing faith. The construction of identity. The boy I married. The promotion. The people who have moulded me into my adult self. So much has happened since I last sang these words, that although pitch and rhythm are unaltered, the sentiment has become alive.

Music is not one place, one time – it twists around every era of our lives, joining past and present, young and old, evoking memories sweet and sad. We sing ‘Nobody does it better’ – the altered words speak fondly of the Headteacher to whom we’re saying goodbye, but to me the song also represents my marriage, the mix tape which signalled the start of a relationship which became significant. The boys perform a Beach Boys number, a cappella, at a standard well beyond their years – and I’m taken back to teaching, and the boys I coached to sing, and the difficulties of encouraging them to do it at all. I’m singing Handel’s ‘Hallelujah’ in the same place as where I first sang it but its memory isn’t fixed in school. To me, the Messiah is PGCE choir, and church performances, and teaching, and choral singing in Cambridge.

I say a few words about the teachers who made such a big impact on me. The audience is receptive, and the laughs greater than any I was expecting. For the first time ever, I hold the Hall – the Hall where I stood as a nervous Year 7, singing the assembly hymn, or where I performed as a Sixth-Former, uneasily shuffling onto the piano stool, and always too embarrassed to acknowledge applause. The self-consciousness is gone – this is me.

For a few short seconds, I wonder about the potential of moving the family down here, to get a teaching job at this incredible place. It is ridiculous – and I feel guilty for even thinking I could give up Real Life so easily, so quickly. But that’s the effect of inserting history into the present: everything distorts. Like feeling sad that my own children won’t be educated here. History not repeating, but distorting, rose-tinting.

Afterwards there are more hugs and greetings and catch-ups, and the chance to drink wine at the school’s expense which somehow seems necessary and long overdue. The day has been a whirlwind of nostalgia and remembering why I am who I am – but I am very pleased to leave with a friend, very pleased to anchor myself in the security of a friendship which has continued these 15 years since school, and will continue into the unknown.

 

3: hospitality = generosity (the boy with the packed lunch)

This is part of a mini-series on hospitality. Click on the ‘Hospitality’ tab at the top of the page to read the other posts. If you’re encouraged or challenged by it, please consider sharing it with someone you think would appreciate it too. Thank you!

There are two choices.

He knows which path he’d rather take – he’s starving, and it feels like years since his last meal, although he realises it’s only been hours. His body is aching for food, for energy to fuel the changes going on inside his body, changes which he isn’t yet aware of.

His mother, however, is only too aware of how much her boy is growing up – the amount of food he’s getting through gives it away. Snacks are never enough; meals always end with a request for seconds. He may be gone for hours today, and she knows he won’t last without sustenance, so she’s packed a hefty meal for him, rich in carbs and protein, to keep him going.

And he’s desperate for it. Desperate. But no one else seems to have anticipated the length of the talk, so there’s no food apart from his, and he recognises the look of pain and envy of the other boys his age, not to mention the younger ones, who are starting to cry and thrash their little bodies around in a hopeless hunger they can’t articulate. He knows that if he did start to eat, they’d be on his food like pigeons.

There seems no option: the message is communicated, the food shared. Of course it won’t go round everyone, but perhaps it will be a little snack for those who need it most: the kids, the old people, the pregnant mammas. And then the cheek-pinching moment: the food is coming back to him – not just the five loaves and two fish his mum had packed (doesn’t she realise he could eat at least four?) – but baskets and baskets of bread and fish: as much as he can eat, and then some more. And everyone around him seems to be getting their fair share too. Who is this Jesus who appears to be multiplying food?

***

I love that this boy ends up with more than he had originally. He starts off with one basket containing five loaves and two fishes. Everyone has enough to eat - and then the leftovers consist of twelve baskets. We don’t know what his appetite was like on that particular day (although we could make a reasonable guess, seeing as he was a Boy, and we’re talking about Food), but we do know that the potential was there for him to eat more than he would have done, had he not shared. The boy’s generosity in giving away all his food resulted in far more for everyone – including himself.

Jesus, being God, could have multiplied the five loaves and two fishes exactly, to meet the appetites of those who were there. But I think the fact that there was a surplus brings us a clear message about the abundant, lavish generosity of our God – the God “who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). The verse goes on: “…how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

If we want to see God’s overflowing provision, we need to be prepared to give all of what we have, just as the young boy gave all of his packed lunch. This is a common thought in evangelical circles (I’m giving you my all, You can have everything…) but we tend to practice it mainly in the abstract. How often do we consider that perhaps God wants us to give all of something literal, something physical? Our food, our wine, our homes, our toys? [Disclaimer, although probably unnecessary: God doesn't want us to go overdrawn in our attempt to be generous! But, like any Biblical teaching on giving, the emphasis is not so much on what we give, but on what we keep. God knows what we can afford, and what we can't. The young boy gave all he had for that particular meal - but presumably he would have had more food at home. Are we being as generous as we can afford to be?]

It may be helpful to consider the reasons why we withhold things we could be giving in hospitality. I can identify several factors in my own experience:

1) personal feelings – when I’ve laid out a ‘perfectly good’ meal and someone asks for something I haven’t offered, which I could easily bring out, I bristle. It seems like a personal insult. What’s wrong with what I’ve offered them? Why don’t they like this meal?

2) concern for the future – sometimes I try to scrimp because I’m unduly worried about what we’ll eat for the next few days. Will we have enough? Don’t we need to save that for tomorrow’s dinner? I was hoping to use that cake for … etc.

3) laziness – sometimes I withhold kindness or favours simply because I can’t be bothered. It’s too much effort. It’s not really needed.

Hospitality is not easy. There will be times when our feelings get trampled, when we wonder whether we can really afford to be generous, and when we’re tired and lacking in energy. I’ve lost count of the times when I’ve given hospitality with gritted teeth. But the model shown to us by the boy who shared his packed lunch reminds us that it is God who does the miracle, not us. We are not expected to be anything other than broken human beings, opening our broken homes to other broken people. But we are expected to draw on God’s strength to forgive hurtful comments, trust in His provision for our families, and tap into His resources when we’re at the end of our own.

I’m often resentful if someone asks me for more. Fortunately, God doesn’t have this same attitude when we ask Him for things – quite the opposite: He loves to be given the opportunity to give us more! Not that He needs the opportunity, of course, but that He loves it when we ask. Do I ask Him to make me more generous?

To grow in our practice of hospitality, we must also grow in our practice of generosity. Both reflect the character of God, and only God can grow these traits in our lives. The result of the boy’s generosity was that everyone got fed. The result of Jesus’ generosity is that everyone can have a relationship with God. He “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:7).

Whatever the cost, are we prepared to serve those who enter our home generously – knowing that, by doing so, we are introducing our generous God to an impoverished society?

lent prayer tree: creative prayer for families!

It’s Lent next week. Shoot. Where is 2014 going?

My friend Amy shared a great idea in our cell group recently: to commit to praying for a different friend for each day of Lent. This is just the sort of structure that I need in order to revitalise my own prayer life, so I’ve made my list and will be attempting to do this myself…but then I thought, why not do this with our kids?

We teach our kids the Bible (using this method, mainly), we hope to answer their questions when they arise, and we pray for them. We also pray with them, but these prayers tend to be limited to Just Before Bed (y’know, that time of day which is, like, really focussed and sensible and there’s absolutely no hysterical running up and down the landing whatsoever). I’d love to teach my kids how to pray – but don’t really know how to go about this, if I’m honest. Perhaps we need a Lent project, a sort of ‘springboard’ for getting us really praying as a family. Praying for a different friend each day could be the prompt that we need.

This is what I’ve done. First I made this tree by painting a large piece of stiff card (from an old box), then cutting out branch shapes in a brown woven paper I had in my craft cupboard of doom.

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I am not an Artist. Forgive me. You get the idea.

I then made a list of 40 of the kids’ friends and family. Their godparents are in there, as are their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Friends from babyhood are on the list, as well as newer preschool friends, and friends who’ve moved away. I printed out their photos, stuck them onto leaf-shaped pieces of card in Spring-like shades of green, pink, purple and red, then put each leaf into a plastic egg – you can buy these from pound shops and supermarkets and the like. The eggs have gone into a basket ready for next Wednesday, and the kids will pick one each day of Lent, open it, and we’ll pray for whoever is inside.

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The leaf will be stuck onto our tree so that, as we spot signs of Spring outdoors, we will also be seeing our prayer tree come into bloom. Eventually, it’ll look something like this:

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I find it so easy, when I’m praying with my kids, to resort to easy, obvious prayers. I hope that, as we open each egg, we might be able to remind one another of the unique situation of the friend or family member we’re praying for, and use that memory to fuel our prayers. Perhaps Joel will remember All The Godparents who got married last summer, and we’ll pray for their marriages. Perhaps Lois will know that one of her friends has been ill, and we can pray for healing.

My own prayer for this project is that, just like Spring leaves continue through the summer, our family prayer life will blossom in this season and bear fruit over the coming months (hoping it doesn’t drop off like autumn leaves, though…hmmm, the analogy only works so far).

—–

A note on the practicalities: This was a little time-consuming to put together. It took a couple of hours to find photos of 40 friends and print them out. A quicker version would be simply to write the names on little pieces of paper or card, but for my pre-school, pre-reading kids, pictures are really important as instant memory prompts. And hopefully we’ll be able to use the majority of them next year as well.

Another short-cut would be just to put the names/photos in a container, rather than house each in a plastic egg, although personally I like the Easter-y ness of the eggs, and they’re inexpensive. I have to admit, though, that I’ve cheated on this one: I have a dozen or so from previous Easters and I was going to buy enough eggs to make my total up to 40, one for each day of Lent, but actually I’m just going to re-use the ones I have, replacing the used egg each day with a fresh ‘leaf’ photo inside.

The tree took a little time to put together too – yet I know my kids love it when things are visual and kinaesthetic, and maybe yours do too? A quicker idea would be to simply stick the names/photos to the fridge, a pinboard, mirror or door – somewhere you see often. We will display our tree in the dining room, so that we can open the eggs at breakfast, pray and stick the leaves on straight away.

For older children or teenagers you could text them with a different name to pray for each day. You could also include a Bible verse about prayer, a reassurance that they’re in your prayers, or a word you’ve had whilst praying for them.

As for me…my prayer-a-day project will simply be a list I keep next to my bed. But I don’t know whether I’m more excited about making a start on that, or on developing our corporate prayer life as a family.

Enjoy Lent. And the pancakes. (And more on hospitality coming soon…)

2: what hospitality isn’t (mary and martha)

This is part of a mini-series on hospitality. Click on the ‘Hospitality’ tab at the top of the page to read the other posts. If you’re encouraged or challenged by it, please consider sharing it with someone you think would appreciate it too. Thank you!

So we’ve looked at the reasons to take hospitality seriously. But many of us run from the notion of hospitality because we have the wrong idea of what it actually is. We think that because we can’t cook (or don’t like to), because we don’t have a spare room, because our furniture is all hand-me-downs and things-that-don’t-match, because our kids are really noisy, because Nothing Ever Gets Cleaned, because it’s not actually my house, then hospitality just isn’t for us. There are other people called to do this, but not us.

I love the story of Mary and Martha. Primarily, I love it because each time I read it, it slaps me round the face like a block of ice. We have these two sisters, going about their daily business, and then Jesus calls in. Of all the guests! And just at the wrong time too. The bread hasn’t been baked, the kitchen floor’s a mess, the washing up is stacked high, and piles of clothes cover all the seats. It’s on the tip of Martha’s tongue to suggest that perhaps Jesus should go and see a different friend, and then call back later. No – of course, that would be rude. Well perhaps we can just keep him on the doorstep – no, that wouldn’t do at all. We are Jewish, after all – known for our hospitality. OK, well let’s just invite him in and get the place clean and tidy as soon as we can.

But that frustrating sister! Why doesn’t she help? It’s alright for her, sitting and having a nice chat, but there’s work to be done, and Muggins here appears to be flying solo. No one has detected my gritted teeth as I scrub the living daylights out of the floor, so maybe it’s time to step it up a notch. I’ll start sweeping right where they’re sitting. That’ll do it. Mary’s got to offer some help now.

Er…excuse me? Come and sit? With a filthy house and a to-do list as long as my arm? You’re telling me to just sit? …

I am Martha. I mean – not the housework bit, obviously. (Have you seen my home?) But I am task-driven, prone to losing focus of what’s important. The point usually made by this story is how important Jesus is, that spending time with him should be central to our lives. But there’s an equally salient point – and that is that hospitality is not about everything being perfect.

I’ve noticed that, outside the church, the word ‘hospitality’ is rarely used in a domestic context. You might hear it in a phrase like ‘the hospitality industry’, denoting commercial hospitality which is profit-making, but otherwise the more common word to use when having people over is ‘entertaining’. And that word says it all: when someone comes over, you’re an entertainer, putting on a show, trying to make things as good as they possibly can be. This word has infiltrated our minds so much that considering Biblical hospitality requires a major mind-shift. Biblical hospitality is not about entertaining others to make ourselves/our home/our cooking look good – in fact, it’s about the direct opposite: it’s about being vulnerable enough to share our weaknesses with others.

Courtesy of the darling CofE, we get to live in a house much larger than any we’ve ever inhabited before. So it’s really been no surprise to us that, since moving here, God has asked more of our hospitality than we’ve ever given before. But He’s asked it at a time when our home has been the messiest and dirtiest it’s ever been, when we’re the busiest and most exhausted we’ve ever been. Yep, just when our life becomes more manic with the arrival of two kids, God decides now would be an excellent time to play open house. Thanks, God.

When someone enters our home, they find us as we are: in the middle of bathtime, running around catching up with jobs, baking cakes for toddler groups, yelling at the kids – with all the dust, crumbs and pen-on-the-carpet that goes with that. Occasionally (very), we are an oasis of calm: kids in bed, downstairs tidied, dust hidden with cards and photo frames. But this doesn’t last long. Deception is not an option when you’re opening your home.

The point is that what hospitality isn’t is entertaining. It’s not about showing off. It’s not about a perfect home that makes others envious.

But it is about sharing our lives with each other. It’s about welcoming someone into our mess, so that they can feel reassured about their own. It’s about forging those deep friendships which only happen when we take off our masks – masks which are easy to wear when out and about, but trickier to uphold in our own homes, where real life is lived and real mistakes are made.

I also need to point out that hospitality isn’t just about housing the homeless either. When Al and I had conversations about being hospitable a few years ago, I would feel a little despondent over how difficult it seemed to be to meet actual need through hospitality – homeless people weren’t knocking on our door, drug addicts weren’t coming over for a meal – just our nice, middle-class friends and acquaintances, who all seemed to be doing very well, thank you. I will expand more on this in a future post, but for now I want to say that what I’ve been learning over the last few years is how hospitality is always needed, however sorted your life is. A student may be from a fairly affluent background, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not craving family, a decent meal, or a comfy sofa, whilst away from home. A friend may have a happy home and work life, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t need a listening ear, an encouragement in her faith, or a rest from cooking.

Martha wasn’t keen to forget the state of her house. Mary was. She had it right – to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen. We may not be opening our home to Jesus (although Matthew 25 tells us that when we give to those in need, it’s as if we’re doing it for Jesus), but anyone who steps through the front door has a story to tell, advice to give, problems to share, needs to pray for. We will learn immeasurably by sitting at the feet of our guests, and simply listening. And we may never know what they gain from spending some time in our homes. Perhaps they will feel immeasurably loved and valued for the first time in a while, perhaps immeasurably needed where they’ve experienced rejection in the past, perhaps immeasurably drawn towards a Saviour who took the initiative in opening His kingdom to us.

Dare we believe that our hospitality might make this much impact? Or will we keep our tiny minds fixated on the state of our homes?

***

How do you view hospitality?

Do you find hospitality an effort or a joy?

1: why open our homes?

I have been itching to get into this series for weeks! What can I say – life has overtaken blog recently. Apologies! This is part one of eight (ish), and the aim is that none of the posts will be very long. Hopefully, however, there’ll be some challenge in them, and an opportunity for debate. To this end, please do add your comments/experience so that we can make this a dialogue. Also, if you know of anyone who might appreciate this series, please do share it with them. To the best of my knowledge, hospitality is not an area which is spoken of very much in evangelical circles*, so I think it’d be good to get a conversation going! (* Some of the more liberal writings on Christian hospitality are excellent, and I’ve found them very helpful in the past. This is not a bash at liberals, just a plea for the subject to be dealt with by a range of Christian thinkers!)

So, to start at the very beginning, why do it? Why open our homes to others?

1) It’s a command found in Scripture. Permeating the New Testament are constant directives to “practise hospitality” (Romans 12:13),  “show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2), “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9) and so on. There are many, many examples throughout the Old and New Testaments of people showing hospitality (think Rahab, the Shunammite woman  and pretty much the whole book of Acts for starters). Even if we had no other reason to do so, the fact that offering hospitality runs so blatantly through the story of the Bible would be enough to make us take it seriously. But we have plenty of reasons – like, for example:

2) It’s an expression of grace. Grace is giving without expecting to receive back. Grace is a free gift which we haven’t worked for, or don’t necessarily ‘deserve’. Of course, the ultimate expression of grace was in what Jesus accomplished through his death and resurrection, and anything we offer is a pretty dim reflection of this – but hospitality is perhaps one of the clearer ways that we can reflect God’s grace. It makes an impact – possibly more than several sermons on the subject. Hospitality says “You’re welcome in our home – and we’re not asking anything in return. We value you enough to use our stuff, eat our food, sit on our sofa, play with our kids, smash our mugs. You’re worth our effort.” In fact, the grace element of hospitality is so important that Jesus even told us to make a special effort to invite those who can’t repay us (Luke 14:12-14).

3) It allows us to become family to one another. Jesus taught and demonstrated the importance of loving one another, and looking out for the marginalized, the lonely, the outcast and those on the edge of society. Paul stressed church unity in pretty much all of his letters. And it doesn’t take a genius to realise that we live in a fragmented society today, too. Being friendly to people at church, or work, or a community group is one thing – but does that help someone who may be on their own for the rest of the week? Someone who is too shy to take the initiative to make friends? Someone who is insecure because of their background or current situation? Inviting others into our space allows us the time to really get to know each other – including getting to know how we can support one another better. The thing is, you often never really know the impact your hospitality is having on someone until much later – or perhaps you never will. But be very sure that the small (or sometimes large) inconveniences of offering hospitality will have a massively positive impact on someone who is struggling.

4) It builds trust and understanding. Frequently in Scripture we are told ‘not to gossip’ (Romans 1, 2 Corinthians 12, James 3). I’ve always found this fascinating, as I have a very stereotyped idea of gossipers – mainly women, not unlike myself, who enjoy having a natter and might occasionally/regularly slip into something not entirely true about someone else. So I’ve wondered why a fair amount of Biblical space is given to women who chat over the fence, or those of us who indulge in celebrity magazines. But really gossip is anything we say which is founded on presumption, or hearsay, or judgement – anything which isn’t fact and could bring someone else down. As we invite others into our home, the person we thought was offhand, or selfish, or often made the wrong decisions, suddenly becomes someone we empathise with, someone we understand and start to trust. And it’s reciprocal. Al and I have started inviting members of our new church family round for Sunday lunches, with an ambitious aim of eventually getting round everyone. We want to get to know others – properly, not just over a 10-minute coffee chat after a service – but we also want them to get to know us: to see how we function, to see our home, to meet our kids, and learn a bit more about us. We want to earn their trust as Al embarks on leading this congregation in the near future. And – forgive me if I’m pushing the sentiment too far – but with misunderstandings and disagreement happening in the church at the highest level, perhaps hospitality can encourage church unity from the bottom up.

There are many more reasons why hospitality is so important (why not add some below?), but these are four key Biblical justifications as to why we can’t ignore the subject.

* Which reasons (above or any others) have been key to your understanding of hospitality?