Showing Hospitality…to Yourself

There are seasons of my life in which God teaches me through repetition. This semester, it seemed that every experience, every casual conversation, every class period, indeed every moment, somehow tied into the larger theme of hospitality. From reading Henri Nouwen, to struggling through the awkwardness of hospice visits and learning to be comfortable in discomfort, to receiving the hospitality of others, I have thought and journaled enough about the idea to write a little book on it. Maybe I will one day. But until then, the blog will suffice.

So if I could sum up in a single sentence what I have learned about hospitality, it would be this: Hospitality is an attitude of the heart.

Until we have peace within ourselves which we can extend to others, hospitality is merely a matter of going through the motions – and recipients of this “hospitality” can often sense its shallowness. This is not to say that those who extend this sort of hospitality are insincere in their intentions. Rather, because hospitality by its very nature welcomes, affirms, and eases discomfort, anything less seems forced and awkward. To make others feel at ease, we must cultivate an atmosphere of peace and create an environment in which others feel free to be themselves.

Yet we cannot accomplish this until we are comfortable with who we are and experience peace within ourselves. Thus, the first person to whom we must show hospitality is ourselves.

A while back, I had an eye-opening experience in which I learned to offer grace and show hospitality to myself. I was among a small group of fellow theology majors, and one of my classmates led us through a self-examining meditation. In our imagination, we were to picture a five-year-old child coming to us and sitting on our lap – a five-year-old version of ourselves. What do you say to the child? She gives you a gift – what is it?

My imagination wasn’t working, and I inexplicably became frustrated, even angry. What stupid, cheesy gift would five-year-old me give me? “Heck if I know,” I thought. “This is dumb.”

Yet as another of my classmates shared through her tears how she just wanted to let the little girl know how beautiful she was, it illuminated some very deep feelings inside me.

The reason I couldn’t picture the little girl was because she repulsed me. I didn’t want her there ruining my hard-earned awesomeness with her five-year-old awkwardness that I had tried so hard to put away and forget about. I was ashamed of her and didn’t want to be seen with her. I was angry at her for not being athletic, for not being fashionable, for not being perfect. Forget telling her she’s beautiful — I wanted to shake her by the shoulders and scream at her to get with the program because she had made my life difficult.

A lifetime of built-up resentment came out in a startling, choking sob as I realized that this criticism is something I have always done to myself, as I punish my past self and try to live up to expectations of my tyrannical future self.

For most of my life, these deep underlying insecurities have prevented me from creating a hospitable environment. Acutely aware of my own insufficiencies and punishing myself for every awkward moment, I have fought against them rather than accepting them as a part of me and working with them.

When we as hosts feel tension inside ourselves, some intangible quality of discomfort is keenly felt by all. In addition to creating a negative atmosphere, insecurity with ourselves is self-centered rather than others-centered. When we worry more about how we come across, rather than making our guests feel comfortable, we are neglecting the very core of hospitality.

In the days after the meditation, as I overcame my reactionary pain, I knew what I had to say to my five-year-old self.

I had to tell her I was sorry for the guilt and the blame I had put on her, and the pressure to be perfect that I would never put on anyone else.

But it took me a little longer to recognize the gift she gave me.

My dad has always loved to tell the story of how I, as a little girl with a pure and generous heart, would offer to give away my last piece of candy. That little girl hugged and kissed everyone, even strangers, and wanted to be best friends with everybody – probably even a bitter 21-year-old.

She would accept me, even as I rejected her. The gift that 5-year-old me gave me was one I had never had the courtesy to offer her.

She gave me the gift of hospitality.

Published in: on December 19, 2013 at 10:21 pm  Comments (1)  
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An Undivided Spirit

At times I feel like I am slipping away from myself, as if my own life is a fistful of sand. My thoughts race a hundred miles an hour. I feel pulled in so many different directions, spread so thin, and the world around me is spinning like a chaotic vortex. So many things clamor for my attention. Tests, papers, presentations, bills to be paid, grad school applications looming over my head, unread text messages demanding a response. What is most important? Where do I begin?

Centering prayer makes a fool of me, highlighting my inability to be calm. If the noise is loud, the silence is deafening. For four minutes I battle anxious thoughts on top of anxious thoughts. As soon as I think I am still, I realize that somewhere deep inside I am mentally chastising myself for my inability to be still. I never knew there could be so many layers of subconscious thought. How can I possibly invite Jesus into a spirit that is so divided?

The answer is both profoundly simple, and profoundly difficult.

I can’t.

I cannot invite Jesus into a divided spirit. There is no room for Him there.

Rather, I must enter His Spirit. I must stop what I am doing and find in myself a unified spirit to meet with Jesus. I must focus my will to be caught up in His purpose, and there find my own. And so I must reclaim the scattered pieces of my heart and bring them to Him to be made whole.

School, you have no hold on my heart. You must give it back.

Friends, I cannot love you well by giving you only a piece of my heart. I must have it whole.

Money, you are not worthy of my stress. I reclaim my heart from you.

“Come to me,” He invites. “Leave it behind. Being with Me is so much simpler.”

He smiles knowingly and takes my hand as He continues. “You see, the Kingdom isn’t about all these things. It’s physically impossible to pursue more than one thing. Your spirit is supposed to keep you grounded, but when your very core is being pulled apart…” He shakes His head. “No wonder you can’t breathe. You can’t be fully present if you’re focused on more than one Love. Come with Me, and you’ll find everything you’re looking for without searching.”

I grasp His hand a little tighter as we leave chaos and walk towards clarity. It’s time to leave the rest behind and seek first the Kingdom.

And if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of me attributing words to Jesus, don’t worry, it’s all found in Matthew 11:28-29 and 5:19-34.

At this point, I would strongly encourage you to STOP READING THIS POST, unless you have the time to work through the rest of it as a devotional, as it requires your spiritual participation. It will be meaningless if skimmed, so come back to it when you do have time.

So pause to read those Scriptures right now and underline the words or phrases that stand out to you. Read it again slowly, out loud, focusing on those underlined words. What is Jesus telling you? Pray through the text. Then continue to read below.

Soren Kierkegaard writes, “The person who wills one thing that is not the Good, he does not truly will one thing. It is a delusion, an illusion, a deception…A person who wills [a multitude of things] is not only double-minded but is at odds with himself….In truth to will one thing, then, can only mean to will the Good, because every other object is not a unity.”

And of loving others he writes, “The one who truly loves…does not use a part of his love, and then again another part. To change his love into small coins is not to use it rightly. No, he loves with all his love. It is away as a whole, and yet he keeps it intact as a whole, in his heart…. When the lover gives away his whole love, he keeps it entire — in the purity of the heart.”

Therefore, to give away our heart to any cause in any capacity, it must be whole within us. This is why we cannot invite Jesus into a divided spirit. We must come to Him, sick of our own internal division, wanting to be one within ourselves, and one with Him. And if we desire to be made whole, He must have everything we are. Seek Christ alone, and you will find simplicity.

On a retreat with my church’s college group this past weekend, our college minister led us through a guided meditation by Anthony DeMello, which I will share with you below. I encourage you to take the time to read it slowly, dwell on it, pray through it, savor the images it calls to mind, and examine your own emotional response to the exercise.

“God says, ‘Give me your heart.’

And then, in answer to my puzzlement, I hear Him say, ‘Your heart is where your treasure is.’

My treasures — here they are:

Persons. Places. Occupations. Things.

Experiences of the past.

The future’s hopes and dreams.

I pick each treasure up, say something to it, and place it in the presence of the Lord.

How shall I give these treasures to Him?

In the measure that my heart is in past treasures I am fossilized and dead, for life is only in the present.

So to each of these past treasures, those golden yesterdays, I say goodbye.

To each I speak, explaining that, grateful though I am that it came into my life, it must move out — or my heart will never learn to live in the present.

My heart is in the future too. Its anxious fears of what will be tomorrow leave little energy to fully live what is today. I list these fears and say to each, ‘Let the will of God be done,’ observing what effect this has on me, knowing in my heart that God can only will my good.

My heart is in my dreams, ideals, hopes, which make me live in future fiction. To each of these I say, ‘Let the will of God be done, let Him dispose of you as He sees fit.’

Having reclaimed the portion of my heart that was captured by the future and the past, I now survey my present treasures.

To each beloved person I say with tenderness, ‘You are so precious to me, but you are not my life. I have a life to live, a destiny to meet, that is separate from you.’

I say to places…things…I am attached to, ‘Precious you are, but you are not my life. My life and destiny are separate from you.’

I say this to the things that seem to constitute my very being:

My health, my ideologies, my good name, reputation, and I say it even to my life, which must succumb some day to death,

‘You are desirable and precious, but you are not my life. My life and my destiny are separate from you.’

And at last I stand alone before the Lord.

To Him I give my heart.

I say, ‘You, Lord, are my life. You are my destiny.'”

–Anthony DeMello, Wellsprings

On Sex and Emotional Consequences

“He was the only guy I’ve ever really loved,” she told me, tears sparkling in her eyes. “He cared about me more than anyone else ever has.”

“No, he didn’t,” I answered. “He treated you like crap, and you know it. Why in the world would you go back to him?”

“Because…there’s not anyone else for me. He’s the One. It’s like we’re meant to be.”

I sighed. “Did you have sex with him?”

“What does that have to do with anything?!”

“She” represents far more than just one girl; I’ve had this conversation more times than I would like to.  I can always tell when a girl has slept with a guy because it shows in the aftermath of the breakup when her heart is shattered and she’s desperately holding onto the past.

Girls, listen to me, and listen close.  Sex is not something to play with.  It has serious emotional consequences because it was designed to bind you to one person, for life.  And even though it’s abused and mistreated and taken lightly, it still serves its purpose.  Even when a relationship is broken off, that ghost of an emotional bond will always be there to haunt you.  The hurt runs deep, because you will never really forget your “first love.” Even if you convince yourself it wasn’t a big deal…it’s still a big deal.  Even if you’ve numbed yourself to the pain of loss, it’s still there.

Vulnerability creates strong emotional ties to people.  When we share with others our deepest hopes and dreams, fears and failures, we share something unique with them because they’ve seen a part of us that very few others have seen.  Why else did we love to play Truth or Dare with friends late at night when we were in middle school…especially in mixed company?  Because somehow, it changed the dynamic of relationships.  When you share intensely personal things, you come away thinking, “Oh my gosh, we’re like best friends now,” when really, you still hardly know each other.  You’re not just playing a game with your friends; you’re playing a game with your feelings by sharing too much.  Our innermost thoughts and feelings, the things that are closest to our hearts, should be shared with someone we trust; they shouldn’t be shared to create a shallow sense of trust.  Be careful when you share pieces of your heart, because you may not get them back.

Sex makes us more vulnerable than any Truth or Dare game, especially if it’s the first time.  As women, we struggle a lot with body image, so when we expose ourselves physically, we’re also exposing ourselves emotionally big time.  You’re revealing everything you are, and giving them everything you are.  And when a guy accepts us, with our insecurities and imperfections, it makes us feel valued and validated.  But you have to realize that any guy who tries to pressure you is not out to make you feel valued. When you ignore that fact, there’s an emotional disconnect where you think he cares about you far more than he actually does.  And he can lie to you, cheat on you, treat you like crap and make you feel worthless, and you still can’t get over him, because in your mind there was a “connection.”

Don’t do that to yourself. Don’t.  It’s not worth the emotional heartache, the long lonely nights of regret and “what if” and waiting for him to come back around when there was never anything real to hold the relationship together.  It’s not worth crying yourself to sleep asking what went wrong, when maybe you were never right for each other in the first place.

If that’s a mistake you’ve already made, know that it’s time to move on.  Yes, even from him — the very guy you’re thinking about.  You’ll never find healing by holding onto the past; it’s not coming back.  Stop waiting and start living; give Christ the pieces of your broken heart and let Him make something truly beautiful out of it.

Letting Love Sleep

From what I’ve observed, it seems like dating is something that Christians do exactly like the world does. But should we?

My junior high girls have kissed more guys than this college girl and have consequently had their young hearts broken more times as well. While their junior high relationships are not serious and mature, the cumulative effect of multiple breakups, regardless of intensity, takes its toll. Because most of them, by age 14, have also become more hardened to the world than I have. They’re closing their hearts to love before they’ve ever really experienced it. I can see it in their flippant nonchalance, and it’s heart-wrenching. “He broke up with me, but whatever.” Their voice says they don’t care, but their eyes say something different.

About a month ago, I had a really thought-provoking conversation with my fellow youth leader Amy about relationships, in which she shared with me her story of how she met her husband. She pointed out to me the verse in Song of Songs where the beloved advises, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires,” and explained that she prayed that for herself, that God would not awaken love in her heart until it fulfilled His timing.

I explored it a little further. The admonition is repeated 3 times throughout the poem for emphasis. The other thing that strikes me about it is its surrounding context. In the midst of rejoicing in her own love, the beloved pauses to caution others not to awaken love prematurely. It’s almost as if she’s saying, “Don’t search for this kind of love, because the timing is what makes it beautiful.”

So instead of laughing when first graders tell us they had their first kiss…

Instead of teasing middle school girls about the guy they “like”…

Instead of asking high school guys “when they’re going to get a girlfriend” and assuming they’re gay if they don’t…

Shouldn’t we be guarding those young hearts through intercessory prayer?

Shouldn’t we teach those junior high kids about emotional purity as well as physical purity?

Shouldn’t we be encouraging them to let love sleep until God awakens it in their heart for the one He has planned for them?

We fear that if we don’t date around and make a few mistakes, we won’t know who our perfect soulmate is. And that if we’re not out there searching, we won’t find anyone at all. But do we really have that little faith in God’s plan for our lives? I loved how one of the guys in my community group at Passion put it: “God’s not going to let The One slip away because you’re ‘too focused’ on Him.”

Since that conversation with Amy, I have begun to pray for myself for God to awaken love in my heart only when He desires — and it’s been kind of cool to watch my perspective change. Suddenly guys can be friends instead of “potential boyfriends.” I can focus on my relationship with God and not worry about my love life being up to me.

And in this time of preparation, I’m beginning to see that maybe God’s plan all along was to awaken love only when He’s shaped us, most importantly, into the person He desires us to be — and secondly, into the person our partner needs. And if we pursue that relationship prematurely, we’ll never have a truly fulfilling relationship. It’s only when we let love sleep that we can find the meaning of love… in Him.

Published in: on February 24, 2012 at 9:19 pm  Comments (4)  
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This Love

What then shall I bring you, Father, when you only ever wanted me? I can’t understand this love that asks nothing. Surely there’s something you expect of me. Isn’t love conditional? To protect myself I must earn it, for the facade I’ve built depends on this wall of pride.

Always feigning strength, now openly weak; always showing indifference, now visibly moved; always guarded, now completely disarmed; transparent and vulnerable, I am brought to my knees in brokenness before this all-encompassing love. As a loving parent’s thumb gently wipes tear stains from the face of a child, so this love washes over me, healing the scars of my past and making me new.

I have always tried so hard. I have made myself someone I’m not and have let my worth be determined by the opinions of others. I have lived my life chasing the unattainable, trying to reach everyone’s expectations. I have pushed myself to the point of breakdown to find their approval. I have given everything… everything but myself.

But this love does not ask of me perfection. It does not ask beauty or intelligence or talent. It does not ask me to do anything, but simply to be; it asks me to be nothing more than who I am.  It accepts me completely with all of my flaws and my faults and my mistakes. It wants me despite my insecurity and my hesitation and my confusion. It is beautiful in its simplicity…yet also challenging in its passion.

For while asking less, it demands more than I have ever given in any relationship. It demands all of me. It demands my heart.

This love asks nothing, and this love asks everything. Let go, He says, and I will hold you. Abandon your image; I will never leave you. Cease striving, for the work is done. Only give me your heart.

Published in: on October 26, 2011 at 12:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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Written November 24, 2010.

Proverbs 4:23 says to guard your heart. Yet often, God is the one from whom you most diligently guard it. You don’t want God to see the condition of your heart with all its scars, and so you put walls up. Your days are spent layering bricks to defend your calloused heart, fearing that to feel again would be to hurt again. For the moment, it is far easier to push feelings to the back of your mind, sear your emotions to block out pain, and continue building the wall. Your tears dry with the mortar; your heart hardens with the bricks. Your only defense against pain is numbness; so you continue to build, brick by heavy brick, your foreboding wall of indifference. A small, nearly buried part of you wishes that you could let down your guard, that you could be sincere and transparent again. But the breakdown of the wall is painful, and because life continues to move on, you have neither the time nor the energy to go through the process. The only response is to keep building and remain numb as long as possible.

Yet your wall cannot stand forever. The God who destroyed the fortress of Jericho is just as capable of dismantling your defense mechanisms. The God of the universe wants your heart, and no pile of rocks can keep Him from pursuing you. He sees the damage that the world has done to the tender heart He created, and He longs to heal the scars. He is willing to sacrifice anything to reach through the wall and hold the heart that has become so calloused and hardened… to heal the heart that He loves.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus began to tear down the wall. As the nails were driven through His hands, the sound of His agonized cry made the structure tremble. As the cross was lifted up and shoved into the earth, the mortar began to disintegrate. With every drop of blood and every ragged breath, Jesus willed the barrier to fall. And in the hazy light of dawn on the day of His resurrection, the broken seal of the tomb was not the only displaced stone.

Any fear of vulnerability, any pain of exposed scars, is inconsequential in light of the complete healing and restoration He offers. He will stop at nothing to win your heart; He gave everything He had to tear down the wall.

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 1:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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