Lessons on Hospitality from our Staff in Long Beach
I wanted to hammock in a new park today. There’s something so relaxing for my spirit about being outside among the trees, where I can read or rest, just think or “waste time” in a way that is filling me up with a sense of beauty and freedom. Unfortunately for me, the trees were too far apart at this particular park, so I had to go for plan B, and take a seat in the grass at the base of one of the large trees.
As I sat there, I noticed a man in the park looking at me. He was lying under a different tree, and had his resting spot fixed up with cardboard. I averted my gaze lest he realize I had “noticed” him. I didn’t want to attract attention.
I looked back when I heard the sound of ripping cardboard…and glanced just long enough to discover that he was tearing his sleeping aid in pieces. I went back to focusing on the trees on the other side of the park. I was seeing in myself a certain level of discomfort, a kind of fear, of being around people I knew nothing about, potential bums who could have who knows what kind of story or ideas about me in their heads. I wanted to rest, to feel free. Instead I found myself in a public place with onlookers who made me wish I was invisible.
I realized he was walking towards me with cardboard. What in the world? I braced myself for an interaction of resistance. Maybe he would ask me for money, try to explain why he needed help. Maybe he would hit on me and I’d have to play cool. Maybe…
He was in front of me. “Would you like some cardboard to sit on?”
“Oh.” Pause. “Thank you.”
He handed me the cardboard. Nodded. Turned around. Went back to his own tree. He picked up his decidedly smaller piece of cardboard and arranged it under his head as a pillow, lying in the grass.
I was humbled. Put in my place. Here I had avoided this man, distrusted him, assumed that he would put me in an uncomfortable situation. And all the while he was thinking about how he could make me more comfortable. He hadn’t approached me for a hand out; he had looked at what he had and decided to share it. I was not given a proposition; I was given a gift, no strings attached.
As I sat on my cardboard, I mentally devoured my humble-pie. I thought about how often I label myself as superior and put up protective walls. I thought about how quick I am to judge and distrust people, how jaded I have become, and the things I lose as a result.
But mostly, I thought about the generosity and thoughtfulness of that shared piece of cardboard. In truth, I often find myself feeling limited—wishing I had more in my bank account, or in my living space, or even in my wisdom or experience—and then assuming limitations in my ability to be hospitable or generous, limitations in my ability to bless others. But this guy! All this guy had was a piece of cardboard! And he gave me the most beautiful thing I received all day: the unexpected care of a stranger.
A New Perspective on Hospitality
I love love love hospitality. I think it’s one of the things that makes the world most beautiful. And today I learned something new about it:
You don’t need to have a home (or money, or a meal, or really anything else), just a piece of cardboard—as long as you also have eyes that see how you can care for another person.
The Greek word for hospitality in the Bible is philoxenia. It comes from philos, meaning friendship or love built on experiential relationship, and xenos, a stranger or foreigner. So when the Bible talks about showing hospitality, it’s specifically calling us to love strangers and turn them into friends — a concept far more broad than having someone over for dinner.
At the core, hospitality is a heart attitude of loving care for the people around us and a willingness to be in relationship with them. This kind of care takes courage and vulnerability. My park experience reveals that I have a ways to go in this regard. It is far easier to keep my guard up and stay insulated from others than to live in a posture of hospitality. My heart needs a deeper revelation of the safety and security I have as a child of God, and a new measure of his love for the stranger.
Hospitality is not something I can pursue on my own, apart from a deep trust in God’s care for me. The call to hospitality is actually a call to go deeper with God and let him form my heart.
For Deeper Reflection
1. As you interact with others, where are you choosing vulnerability and openness, and where are you choosing self-protection or judgment? What fears or beliefs are motivating these choices? What is God’s answer for your heart attitudes?
2. What have you allowed to limit your practice of hospitality? What have you felt you were lacking, or believed you had to have more of, before you could be hospitable?
As you look at your current situation, what is the cardboard you have in your hand? What are the things you have at your disposal that you could use to care for someone? (Don’t forget intangible things like listening, sharing an activity, or accepting invitations from others.)
Today, I hope we are challenged. Challenged to think outside the box, challenged to expand our hearts more towards others, challenged to let God form our hearts more deeply, challenged to see beyond our supposed limitations, and challenged to dream of all we could accomplish...with just one piece of cardboard.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Megan Beehler lives in Long Beach, California where she serves with the :Beta: Collective.