By Audrea Stewart
“Hospitality starts in your heart.”
This was the simple nugget of wisdom I carried away from a recent women’s bible study. It sounds beautiful doesn’t it? Like it should be painted on a canvas or printed on a coffee mug, along with an inspiring scripture verse.
Now hear me clearly. Please don’t get me wrong. I loved this particular study. I was left feeling challenged, motivated, and filled. After all, hospitality happens to be my spiritual super power.
However, if I am honest, I was a little convicted, as I remembered a time when hospitality didn’t start in my heart. It started with a not-so-simple act of obedience.
It was the third week of November. Two weeks earlier, I’d just given birth to our third child and was settling into my new role as a stay-at-home mom. With three kids under the age of five, I found myself surrounded by toys, messy floors, dirty diapers, piles of laundry, and hormones.
Lots and lots of hormones.
My husband, JimBo, who was serving as a youth minister in New Orleans at that time, came home late from Wednesday night church service with this life-changing question…
“Sweetheart, there is a kid in our youth group who is currently homeless because of an abusive situation at home. Can he stay with us?”
I think time slowed down for a few minutes while I considered my answer.
This was not the first time my husband had come home with a “Can this person move in with us?” request. In our first eight years of marriage, we had had a total of five different people move in with us at different times.
JimBo and I had agreed that, if we ever saw someone in need, we would open our home instantly. I suppose I just never dreamed the time would come during this particular season, which was already full of so much change.
We had just gone from two kids to three, from two jobs to one, and my husband was both a full-time youth minister and a full-time student. And did I mention the hormones?
In the history of bad times, this was definitely in the top ten.
But there was this kid, who at the time had nothing.
I didn’t know much about him since he wasn’t a consistent regular in our youth group. But what I did know did not make me comfortable. Jay* had a rough past, and I had three small babies.
Was this safe? Was this wise?
However, he needed a roof over his head and a safe place to sleep at night. And we had the room. So, even though my heart wasn’t thrilled about it, I nodded yes.
Hospitality didn’t start in my heart, but instead came from an obedient yes.
Now, this was not an easy transition for any of us. In less than a month, my two-kid household quickly jumped to four. One was potty training, one was a newborn, and now we had a teenager. However, calling Jay a kid could be a little misleading. At 16 years old, my sweet boy had the look and stature of a miniature Mike Tyson, and that boy could eat!
We had been banking on having a few years under our belt before entering the world of teenagers. It was a bit of a culture shock for all involved. That first month was just awkward. I was a little apprehensive about having this new person in my house, and it was hard for Jay to adjust to his new surroundings.
Slowly over the next few months, we all started to become more comfortable around each other and a family bond started to grow. We joked and referred to Jay as our daughter’s twin because they came to us around the same time.
Jay looked at my husband one day and said, “JimBo, this is kinda like The Blindside (referring to the Sandra Bullock movie), isn’t it?” My husband just laughed and shook his head, “Yeah, except you don’t play football, and we’re not rich.”
And there was no Hollywood ending.
Stories involving everyday, broken people tend to be complicated. Misunderstandings were frequent, and mistakes were made. Jay moved back in with his family nine months later and, although we still retain a good relationship with him, it was a reminder to my husband and me of this truth, “Ministry is messy.”
If I have one regret, it is that I was not filled with more grace in this season of my life. I hate that I held on to my desire of comfort so tightly and didn’t fully embrace the opportunity given to love and serve a sweet little brother in Christ. Instead, I often begrudgingly complied with a frustrated and bitter heart.
Jonah 2:8 “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.”
That being said, honestly, I wouldn’t take my “yes” back for anything. Those were nine of the most intense months of my life; but, those months changed me and taught me about darkness in myself that I didn’t realize was there.
Until then I don’t think I realized how selfish I could be. I’d always prided myself as “living open handed.” After all, I am the Queen of Hospitality, remember? But when tested, and I mean really tested, I saw how much of my life I still held tightly with white knuckles.
Maybe this is your story.
You may be reading this and think, “These people are crazy. There is no way I would ever open my house to a kid I barely know. “ Perhaps you, too, are holding tightly to idols of comfort and selfishness.
“Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
My challenge to each of you is this: As Christians we have a biblical command on our lives to be hospitable. We are called to serve the least of these.
So how are you living this out?
It becomes a matter of living life with open hands. Nothing is off the table. It all belongs to God anyway. Once you start seeing life from this perspective, God will be able to you use in mighty ways.
I realize not everyone will be called to open their home to fostering a child. But you can support those who do.
During those nine months when Jay was staying with us, we had church friends who would give us extra money to cover food and clothing costs. Several offered childcare for my husband and me to have a night to ourselves or just take a break. This was a blessing not only to us but also to these sweet friends as well. They had the opportunity to serve a family who was in need.
Look around you. How can you choose to be hospitable? What need is God calling you to serve?
Still at a loss? Here are some suggestions:
- Ask your local elementary school about volunteering for an after-school reading or mentor program.
- Bring dinner to a family who is battling illness.
- Volunteer at a homeless shelter or women’s crisis center.
- Find a local foster care organization and see if you can volunteer services or help a family who has committed to serving other families in crisis.
- Adopt a young family from church who may not have family in town and may be struggling to find community.
- Visit shut-ins or people in the hospital.
Most importantly, pray.
Pray that God would burden your heart for the needs of others, because it is true. Hospitality does come from the heart.
When we are aware of how truly blessed we are and begin to live a life of thankfulness, suddenly we see the world through selfless eyes. Gradually, we begin to want to share our abundance, and this is where true acts of love can begin to take place.
Also, pray that God will prepare you. Your “yes” moment might come at the worst possible time, but it is my prayer that you still be obedient. It will be hard, but I believe you will be glad you did.
*Jay’s name was changed to respect his identity.