4: hospitality and personal space

This is part of a (very drawn-out) 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!

By a long way, the chief obstacle to giving hospitality in our Western culture seems to be the notion of personal space. Whether it’s a defence of why hospitality isn’t being offered, or a response to someone else’s generous hospitality, the essence is that a) we have personal space, b) we like personal space, and c) we don’t want to trade it in. We enjoy having our things to ourselves. We like being able to follow our own agenda. We like being able to watch our programmes, eat our food, play our music at the volume we like. We’re happy to give out when we’re outside the home – but home is our time for recharging, relaxing, indulging.

We have personal space. And, therefore, we think it’s a right. Not many generations ago most families would have been living in one or two rooms. Now we not only have separate spaces for cooking, living and sleeping, but many of us have a spare room or study or playroom or additional ‘luxury’ space – and so we’ve become complacent, accepting this as the norm, whereas, by the world’s standards, it’s an anomaly. Jesus didn’t have a home – and therefore no permanent ‘personal space’. Interestingly, the times of personal space we read about in Jesus’ life were times he spent alone with His father – praying, often fasting, seeking God’s will to become clear, and pouring out his heart in return.

We like personal space. Now that we have the luxury of a space to call ours, a space to be alone, a space to drop pretences and be ourselves, we want to keep it. We want to hoard it to ourselves because we’re worried that, if we don’t, we will lack the energy or drive needed to function outside the home – whether in paid employment, church ministry, or relationships with friends. Jesus’ model was to recharge with God.

We don’t want to trade in our personal space. We don’t want to offer hospitality, or certainly not very much of it, because we perceive that we need personal space. We also like it. We’re concerned about getting grumpy with those who come into our homes. We’re concerned that we won’t be able to entertain, to perform, to show our guests a good time.

There are things I want to say, things I need to hear. I have offered some grumpy, self-centred, self-interested and half-hearted hospitality over the last few months. On one day I write these blog posts on hospitality – and on the following day I grumble about the people coming into our home, the time they’ve popped in, the expectations they’ve come with, or the jobs I was going to do before my evening was so rudely interrupted. The first thing I need to hear (and maybe you do too, if you can relate to any of this) is that hospitality is always worth giving. Regardless of how I’m feeling. I mean, ideally we would be wonderfully generous and serving all the time – and, in God’s strength, hopefully we’re becoming more Christ-like in our hospitality. But hospitality is not about putting on a show. It’s about letting down defences, allowing those around us to see Christian living in all its glory, pain, hilarity, grump, perfection, mess, 100daysofhappiness and 10,000daysofhumdrumness. It’s about grace. It’s OK to be normal when people are in our home – in fact, it’s crucial.

I’m sitting here writing a blog whilst keeping an occasional eye on the England-Italy World Cup match. Six of us are grouped round our telly, three who don’t live here. And I’m blogging. But it’s normal. No one’s asking why I’m not in the conversation, or missing the near-goal which just happened. It’s my home, I’m just being normal. But so is everyone else. They can sprawl themselves on our sofa and help themselves to drinks because they know this space is theirs too. There’s no entertaining. Everyone’s just being normal.

The second thing I need to hear is that my source of energy needs to be God. If I’m recharging by watching TV, baking a cake, sewing a cushion, playing endless games of Settlers of Catan – then I have to question whether I’m being fully charged, and whether I’m being charged appropriately for the good works God has for me to do (Ephesians 2:10). I don’t use my phone charger to charge my toothbrush, or my laptop charger for my camera. I need to trust that the One who made me knows best how I need to be strengthened, rested and re-energised. And I need to trust that, if I’m seeking His will above all else, He will provide the times of rest.

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And now, friends, I’ve had my moment of personal space so, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to the football…

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2 Replies to “4: hospitality and personal space”

  1. Amen! We live in one of those Victorian terraced houses that, in the earlier part of its history, would have normally housed two or more families, the odd lodger or two… Yet since moving in ourselves, we’ve converted the loft because we felt the house was ‘too small’ for our family of three! Bonkers. Thanks for this Lucy, you have really helped me in advance of a busy time of hospitality for us. I’m just going to be normal and take the strength God so graciously offers x

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