How Open Homes Cultivate Open Hearts
One of my favourite ways to enter into someone else’s world is to enter into their home. I love looking around a house and seeing all of the little details that make up a bigger picture of who an individual is. When I’m invited in, I feel more comfortable and able to allow myself to be known as well. I know that spending time in peoples’ homes is something Jesus liked to do, too. Isn’t it beautiful to think about that? Jesus not only wants to be known by us, but is willing to enter into our homes in order to know us. I’ve come to believe that when I accept the hospitable invitations of others, it can be incredibly beneficial both to myself as the guest and to them as a host.
I first experienced this amazing gift of hospitality in Boise, Idaho.
It happened during the same season of life in which I was opening the home in my heart up to God, allowing Him to know me more. I was processing this experience internally, but hadn’t had much opportunity yet to open up to others about it. There was a married couple at church that I had started to get to know. I approached the wife one night after the service and asked if they could be praying for me about something.
“We’ll pray,” she said, “but we’d actually prefer if you came to our house and we could all pray together.”
The thing was, I didn’t actually care if they prayed or not. Not because I didn’t believe that their prayer had an effect, but that wasn’t why I asked. I simply wanted to be known. I was doing something that many of us can often do: I was shielding my hurt behind a request for prayer.
Luckily, my friends saw through that.
I never realised this until reflecting on the moment later, but they didn’t expect to have me over that evening. However, I don’t remember them apologising for the dirty dishes or even making a fuss about me being a “guest”. We just sat on the couch, talked, and prayed. I felt more at home there than I had anywhere in a long time.
That was the first encounter of many more to come. We began to meet in their home for a small group Bible study. The more we got to know each other, the more comfortable I became in their home. It would have been incredibly odd to me if my friends made sure the dishes were always done before I came. In fact, sometimes I would wash them myself as we talked about life. I was certainly teased for it, but never told not to clean because “I was a guest”. I was not invited into a production but into a real, raw life. And because of that, I became a real part of that life. The impact of that friendship will stick with me forever, and I can trace it all back to that one simple invitation to come into their home.
Fast forward a few years later. I had the chance to learn how impacting hospitality can be to a host as well… all the way in India.
My team had set up a simple medical clinic in a small neighbourhood in southern India. A woman who lived just down the road came by to see what was going on. We started up conversation and, realising that we had some medical insight, she asked me about tips for gaining weight. I had to laugh a bit. Like many women in India, she was as thin as many Westerners aspire to be. I asked about her diet, what was available to her in the local markets, and offered a few pointers. However, it wasn’t until she invited me for a glass of water in her home that the picture became larger.
My friend and I sat on the woman’s couch, sipping cool water and taking a bite of a sweet treat she had provided. As we talked, she went into the next room and grabbed a young boy from where he was napping on the bed. She began to tote him around on her hip as we talked about her life, work and interests. Conversation soon shifted as I observed the situation more, watching her walk around the house with that not-so-little boy snuggled up to her.
I wanted to put them both on a scale. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities that they actually had similar weights. I asked her if the boy was hers, and asked her how old he was. Yes, he was hers, and, although he looked much bigger, he was only two years old.
“What does he eat?” I asked. The answer was shocking: exclusively breastmilk. No wonder she was so thin and couldn’t gain much weight. This large two-year-old was getting all of his nutrients from her! My friend, being a nurse, took the lead in the rest of the conversation, suggesting foods to try, amount, and frequency.
It was the fact that she had actually invited me into a deeper part of her life that gave me the opportunity to truly help her. On the outside, her desire to gain weight seemed a bit funny to me. When I actually witnessed and understood her situation, however, she was able to get the insight that she really needed. These two stories from places halfway across the world from each other teach me one common principle:
By inviting others in, we can better know and become known.
Again, this reminds me of my beautiful friend Jesus. There are countless stories written about how Jesus provided people with food, sat in their homes, or ate with them. This is the man who once went forty days without food, so I don’t think the practice of sharing meals was done simply to satisfy a physical need. I think there’s something essentially human about eating together.
When hospitality is a real, raw look at life, it is beautiful for both the person inviting and the person being invited. This encourages me not only to enter into homes of others, but to invite people in as well. I think that desire to “clean house” before having someone over applies not just literally, but emotionally and spiritually as well. But when we truly let people get a glimpse into our lives, we can both benefit through the gift of knowing each other.