Reliving My Childhood: This Time Appreciating It
My husband and I put a contract on a home in the city this week. It is a large old house in the middle of the community that Embrace is working in, on the near north side of Richmond. We are going to be living in the house part-time for the next few years as we make the transition to empty nesters.
During this transition, I have asked my friend Roger to move into the house so that it will be occupied full-time. I realized driving home yesterday that there will be times when Roger and my family are living jointly in the house. It felt weird to my middle class suburban sensibilities to have my family living with someone who is virtually a stranger to them. Then I realized that this is exactly the experience I had growing up. It is also a core practice of the early church that sought to follow Jesus command to welcome the stranger.
Growing up, we lived in a small town in a very large old colonial. It was nothing fancy but it was home. We had an abundance of space so when family members or friends of my parents needed a place to stay, my mom would welcome them into our home. I will admit that as a child I did not like my family’s open door policy, but at the time I did not have the maturity to appreciate the practice of hospitality.
One of the most formative books in my journey as a Christ follower was Christine Pohl’s book, “Making Room: Rediscovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition.” Pohl writes:
“We, like the early church, find ourselves in a fragmented and multicultural society that yearns for relationships, identity, and meaning. Our mobile and self-oriented society is characterized by disturbing levels of loneliness, alienation and estrangement.
Although we often think of hospitality as a tame and pleasant practice, Christian hospitality has always had a subversive, countercultural dimension. It is always been partly remedial, counteracting the social stratification of the larger society by providing a more modest and equal welcome to all.”
I agree with Pohl, hospitality is resistance, especially when the larger society disregards or dishonors certain practices like welcoming the stranger or sharing of our homes.
Pohl also stresses that hospitality is always mutual – a two-way street. I am not welcoming Roger into our home because I am helping him, I am welcoming Roger into our home because we are helping each other.
I know for many of you, having a guest in your home is a normal part of life. My friends Aileen and Rick Owens have modeled hospitality in a beautiful way for years by sharing their home with the birth mother of their foster adopted son. Via is not a guest, she is a part of the family. That is the mystery of Christian Hospitality – the guest becomes the host and the host the guest. Lines are blurred between giver and receiver; between helper and the one being helped.
I am so grateful to Roger for his willingness to join our family in this new adventure. While my children have mixed emotions about this move, I pray that like me, they will someday come to appreciate the practice of opening their home to others. I hope this experience will shape them in a way that makes them question our culturally constructed boundaries that tend to isolate us from one another. I pray they will appreciate the richness of a relationship built on interdependence over our society’s insane quest for independence.