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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A Prayer for Peace

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I began writing this prayer several months ago, and only just now finished it. I was struggling to convey my desire for hospitality of the heart as well of the home, but this concept has long been dear to me. When I worked at a Christian camp a year and a half ago, I would begin every week by praying peace over the cabin and over each bed where my campers would sleep.

When I read this post by Joanne Kraft, it touched my heart even more deeply. This is the type of home I long to have, where peace reigns and dissension has no place, where the Spirit of God is tangible and everyone who enters can sense that my home and my life are surrendered to a God of peace. In the midst of the chaos, I want my home to be a place where life slows down and can be seen for the beautiful gift it is. So without further explanation, I pray peace for myself and peace for each of you:

Wherever your will leads me, Lord, wherever I travel and wherever I settle,

Let your peace be found there.

In any place in which I make my home,

Let your peace be found there.

In the spiritual highs,

Let your peace be found there.

In the dark night of the soul,

Let your peace be found there.

Grace each room of my home with your presence, Lord,

Let your peace be found there.

On the threshold, for everyone that enters

Let your peace rest there

And your presence be tangibly felt.

In the living room, where community and conversation and laughter abound,

Let your joy abide there.

In the kitchen, where meals are served around a table of grateful hearts,

Let your joy abide there.

In each bedroom, where rest brings renewal,

Let your peace be found there.

Make my home a place of healing for the broken,

And my heart an inviting place where those who need love can rest in transparency.

Let your peace be found in me.

Give me a spirit of gentleness and hospitality as I seek to bring your Kingdom to earth.

Wherever I go, Lord, and wherever I encounter others,

Let your peace be found there.

Published in: on November 20, 2013 at 11:26 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

waiting

Wait for the Lord, my anxious heart.

The future, so close and yet so distant, seems to slip from my grasp the moment I reach out for it.  I cannot search its unfathomable depths.  God alone knows.

I cannot control anything by worrying.  But the thought of waiting — for what, I do not know — some intangible sense of peace and purpose? — makes my heart beat faster in helpless panic.  Surely I must do something.  Make a decision.  RIGHT NOW.  Or at least figure out these conflicting feelings that consume my mind and wrap themselves as a chain around my heart.  I’m holding so tightly that my knuckles turn white.  I can barely breathe.  But there is nothing in my clenched fists.  Nothing but the crescent-shaped nail marks in my palms.

I look at my empty hands and tears fill my eyes.  Where can I turn for peace?  It cannot be found in the looming shadows of an undetermined future.  I feel only dread and apprehension at this sense of confusion.

The answers will come.  He has always guided me in the past.  What reason have I to doubt His faithfulness?

Stay close to His heart, little one, I chide myself.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Published in: on April 1, 2013 at 12:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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Hardwired to Complain

This evening, a friend of mine posted this video on facebook.  Take a minute and watch it.

That last one really got me.  I don’t know if it was the ridiculousness of the complaint itself, or the precious face of the boy who said it.

This really made me think.  If we have everything we could possibly need, and much of what we want as well, why do we complain?

The answer is sad:  We’re hardwired to complain.  No matter what socioeconomic status we hold, no matter where we live or what we do or what we have, we will always complain.  Complaining comes from an entitlement mentality — it irritates us when we can’t have what we think we deserve.  But the truth is, we really have no rights.  None at all.  We have no rights because we are not self-made.  We are absolutely, completely dependent on something beyond ourselves for our existence.  It’s a privilege that we’re even here on earth.  It’s a privilege that we get to breathe air.  You’re not entitled to eyes and ears or feet that walk.  And you’re definitely not entitled to your neighbor’s Wi-Fi.

Every tax bracket has its own breed of complaints, and they all sound ridiculous to whoever is underneath.  But the truth is, all complaints are equal.  They all stem from a whiny, self-centered mentality, no matter what they are.  When we’re in need, it should remind us to be thankful for what we have, but instead it only seems to produce a stubborn insistence on more.  As humans, we are all hopelessly hardwired to complain.

But in Christ, we are to put away the old self and become a new creation.  We are to lay down our rights and live in humility.  Over the past few weeks, complaining is one of the things I’ve become convicted about.  Complaining is not a mindset of peace or contentment; rather, it is a display of emptiness and restlessness.  But we are to be fulfilled by Christ.  We have all we need in Him — right?  But when we complain, it sends the opposite message to the world.  It says of us, “He’s not satisfied either.  She’s no more content than I am.”  As followers of Christ, we need to be pursuing peace and sharing the message of peace and fulfillment with the world, not falling prey to petty irritations.  It takes a toll on the testimony of our lives.

Philippians 4:11-13 — “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Paul knew what Jesus meant to him.  Do you?

Philippians 2:14-16 — “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.”

It matters how you present yourself to the world. So…

Philippians 4:8 — “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

I had these three verses in my head as I began the blog post, and I totally forgot that they were all in the same book of the Bible.  Coincidence?  Probably not.  The whole book was written through the filter of Paul’s contentment.

Let your life be lived through the filter of yours.

Brene Brown on Stillness

Today I want to share with you a section from the book The Gifts of Imperfection by Dr. Brene Brown.  Since I’ve refocused to make my blog more about my journey than a collection of my writing (and since I’m actually making the time to read these days), I find it fitting to share with you the thoughts of others who are shaping my own.  Although it’s not written from a Christian standpoint, as I’ve read this book, I’ve realized the significant interplay between emotions and spirituality.  Peace is something I’ve been trying to cultivate in my life over the past several months, and her research and insight has spoken volumes into that journey.  So much of this is relevant for our lives as we seek to become the people God created us to be.  So without further introduction….the-gifts-of-imperfection-book-cover

“If we want to live a Wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play, and about letting go of exhaustion as status symbol and productivity as self-worth.”

“I wish I could tell you how much I resisted even hearing people describe stillness as an integral part of their Wholehearted journey.  From meditation and prayer to regular periods of quiet reflection and alone time, men and women spoke about the necessity of quieting their bodies and minds as a way to feel less anxious and overwhelmed.

“I’m sure my resistance to this idea comes from the fact that just thinking about meditating makes me anxious.  When I try to meditate, I feel like a total poser.  I spend the entire time thinking about how I need to stop thinking, Okay, I’m not thinking about anything.  I’m not thinking about anything.  Milk, diapers, laundry detergent…stop!  Okay, not thinking.  Not thinking.  Oh, man.  Is this over yet?

“I don’t want to admit it, but the truth is that stillness used to be very anxiety provoking for me.  In my mind, being still was narrowly defined as sitting cross-legged on the floor and focusing on that elusive nothingness.  As I collected and analyzed more stories, I realized that my initial thinking was wrong.  Here’s the definition of stillness that emerged from the data:

Stillness is not about focusing on nothingness; it’s about creating a clearing.  It’s opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question.

“Once we can let go of our assumptions about what stillness is supposed to look like and find a way to create a clearing that works for us, we stand a better chance of opening ourselves up and confronting the next barrier to stillness: fear.  And it can be big, big fear.

“If we stop long enough to create a quiet emotional clearing, the truth of our lives will invariably catch up with us.  We convince ourselves that if we stay busy enough and keep moving, reality won’t be able to keep up.  So we stay in front of the truth about how tired and scared and confused and overwhelmed we sometimes feel.  Of course, the irony is that the thing that’s wearing us down is trying to stay out in front of feeling worn down.  This is the self-perpetuating quality of anxiety.  It feeds on itself.  I often say that when they start having Twelve Step meetings for busy-aholics, they’ll need to rent out football stadiums.

“In addition to fear, another barrier that gets in the way of both stillness and calm is how we’re raised to think about these practices.  From very early in our lives, we get confusing messages about the value of calm and stillness.  Parents and teachers scream, ‘Calm down!’ and ‘Be still!’ rather than actually modeling the behaviors they want to see.  So instead of becoming practices that we want to cultivate, calm gives way to perpetuating anxiety, and the idea of stillness makes us feel jumpy.

“In our increasingly complicated and anxious world, we need more time to do less and be less.  When we first start cultivating calm and stillness in our lives, it can be difficult, especially when we realize how stress and anxiety define so much of our daily lives.  But as our practices become stronger, anxiety loses its hold and we gain clarity about what we’re doing, where we’re going, and what holds true meaning for us.”

Intrigued? You can purchase this book on Amazon for $10.17. 

Ruled By Peace

About a month ago, on choir Sunday, I was eating breakfast in the consecration room between worship services and talking with one of the guitar players.  As we got to know each other, he said something that surprised me and really made me think.  Before he met Christ, he said, he was into playing heavy metal, but he gave it up because he felt like it was no longer compatible with his faith.  I asked why that was; couldn’t he begin writing songs with a positive message instead and reach out to the same demographic as before?  He shook his head. “Christian music is an entirely different genre altogether.  I don’t like it when artists take a worldly genre and try to slap a Christian label on it.  You see, even if I were to give Christian lyrics to my music, heavy metal is not Christian.  It’s angry music.  Not peaceful music.”

This idea intrigued me, but I didn’t think too much about it again until recently when I came across a couple of passages in Colossians and Ephesians.  I encourage you to read the whole section to better appreciate the context, but I will paraphrase below:

Colossians 3:5-15.  Rid yourself of anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language, because you have taken off your old self with its practices and put on the new self.  As God’s chosen people, clothe yourselves instead with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.

Ephesians 4:22-5:21. Put off your old self and be made new in the attitude of your minds.  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger. Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity.  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

When I read that, I started thinking about it in big picture terms.  What characterizes a life of peace?  Let me add a little disclaimer that I don’t get offended or “judge” people who drink or swear.  Because honestly, when looking at these concepts, using euphemisms for swear words means the same thing; and I don’t think alcohol is necessarily wrong, but I think it can be, just like comforting yourself by overeating or numbing yourself by — I don’t know, compulsive shopping, or whatever it is you depend on instead of allowing yourself to be filled with the Spirit.

It’s not a matter of doing something wrong, but of having the wrong mindset.  Thinking about it in terms of what my guitarist friend said, I realized that the reason Paul condemns “filthy language” and “unwholesome talk” is because profanity is a language of anger, not of peace.  The same goes for yelling any kind of euphemism in anger.  It’s not the swearing that shouldn’t be there; it’s the attitude.  Likewise, he speaks against drunkenness because it often leads to debauchery.  We all know how the crazy parties go: blaring music, strangers hooking up with strangers, people puking all over the floor.  Later, it turns into hangovers and unproductivity.  At best, it’s an artificial way to relieve stress other than allowing the calming peace of the Spirit to rule your heart.  At worst, it’s disorder and confusion — not the fruit of the Spirit or the outward expression of His reign.

Those of you who think you’re golden because you don’t drink or curse, don’t consider yourself exempt from this.  Look a little deeper into your heart.  What are you ruled by?  Do you show evidence of the Spirit’s presence?  Or do you freak out when you’re late for work, or when your kids track in mud, or when anything else goes the slightest bit wrong that you can’t control?  Do you choose stress and anger?  Or do you choose peace?

The other day, I came across this post by Joanne Kraft that neatly tied up the package of my wandering thoughts and put a bow on top.  You can read it here. In the post, she talks about how her home and family have always been surrendered to the Spirit, and people can literally feel His presence in the place that they have dedicated to Christ’s rule.  I teared up as I read it, remembering how every week that I worked at Deer Run, on Sunday afternoons before the kids came, I would walk around my cabin touching every bed frame and praying over the cabin, asking God to bless it as a safe space and inviting His peace to rule there.

And thinking through all of these things, I want to live a life of peace wherever I go and wherever I settle down.  I want to create a home where, in the midst of the chaos and disorder of this broken world, broken people can tangibly experience the spiritual rest and calm that Christ offers.  A home where no voices are raised in anger, where stress is cast away and confusion has no place.  A home that is ruled by peace.