For those keeping score at home: 32 years of marriage, five grown children, four son/daughter-in-laws, and four and a half grandbabies. The empty nest is upon us. We can smell it, it is so close. Now, this is not a whiner post about how life is passing us by and our children aren’t small anymore. Are you kidding me? We are pumped at the prospect of being just the two of us again.
A house to ourselves? YES.
Privacy to discuss anything we want? YES.
Coffee before we get dressed? YES.
But since the last child made his exit to marry his bride three weeks ago, the second story of our home could not have become a busier place. We learned that a young couple from church who are raising funds to go into fulltime campus ministry needed a place to land for a couple months. So as child number 4 moved out, ministry couple moved in. We aren’t offering much really: the largest upstairs bedroom and exclusive use of the upstairs bath, unless we have extra guests. Well, of course wedding week was crazy. Out-of-town Nana enjoyed the guest room for several days. The next weekend over Easter, another young engaged couple needed a place to stay when their weekend hosts came down with the flu. So we had bride-to-be in the guestroom, groom-to-be on the couch, ministry couple in the other bedroom; all jockeying for bathroom time. Last weekend, prompted by the death of an aunt, guest room sheets were changed out again for my sister and husband coming in on their way to the funeral. As my sister and I traveled, we discussed our heritage of hospitality.
Growing up, our parents didn’t talk a lot about hospitality, but they certainly lived it out. During most of my adolescent years, we shared our home with one person or another in need. Sometimes over night, but often for months or years. Even when people didn’t stay over, my father kept the tools of hospitality sharp. He purchased an old ice cream freezer at an auction somewhere and put it in the basement. At all times it was stocked with two-and-a-half gallon ice cream buckets of Schwans ice cream. It was cereal in our home. Every morning the chink of the dipper and a bowl signaled someone headed to the basement to secure breakfast. And whenever we had guests, ice cream was offered. It was a simple solution really. Always on hand and ready to serve.
My sister and I learned hospitality well. It might be in our genes. Currently, she and her husband (empty nesters) are housing a 19-year-old young man who has aged out of the foster system and struggles with incarceration. Well, the things that lead to incarceration. But he is one of many; they have shared their home with numerous people over the years. She mentioned that keeping others in your home changes things. There are things you can’t do that you used to do. Life is different. But it is clearly worth it to us.
Romans 12:13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
1 Peter 4:9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
I’m not sure my sister or Nana are angels, but I’m willing to go there. Clearly, hospitality is to be extended not only to those we know and love but also to those we’ve never met. I have history in that, but I can’t take any credit for it. My not-yet-a-preacher husband has always been a hospitable soul. For years, he would invite guests home for Sunday dinner without checking with me. I learned to keep extra on hand and how to stretch a meal quickly. We have since talked that out.
Among other things, my husband is a master class falconer and liked to hunt with his hawk on his way home from work. One evening he came in from hunting with a man in tow and introduced me to his friend, Jim. Without question, I quickly set an extra place at the table. I got a little suspicious when he told me Jim needed to run a load of clothes through the washing machine. No worries…yet. Hunting can be messy. Later he informed me that Jim was a hitchhiker he had picked up on interstate 70 and would be on his way in the morning. So after putting the children down on the floor in our own room that night, we kept Jim until morning. I’ve never seen him since. Maybe he was an angel, maybe not, but I know I treated him better thinking he was a new sporting buddy of my husband’s instead of a vagrant traveler. I hate to think how I would have behaved if I had known.
It occurs to me that this unplanned history in hospitality has been crucial to our work in the church.
Church is hospitality on the highest order.
What else are we doing in order to share the gospel with someone? We are setting another place at the table. We are extending the meal a little further. We are serving someone a bowl of ice cream. We are changing the sheets out one more time. We are making room for someone to hear the gospel. We are providing a home for someone to encounter the Spirit of the Living God. Currently at our church, it means that we have added a 5:30pm Saturday night service. Hospitality means we make room for others. And yes, it affects our comfort level as the church family learns a new rhythm. It’s much easier to be “us four, no more.”
Paul includes hospitality as a requirement for the leaders of the church. As a pastor of a church, if you are not given to hospitality, at some level, the church will struggle. Hospitality is not optional, it is imperative.
I’m as ready as the next person for an empty nest, mostly because I enjoy my husband so much, but in the church, there is no call for an empty nest.
The church dare not be an empty nest.
Christendom is currently wringing their hands over the prospect of millennials leaving the church. Baloney. Let’s all just calm down and Jesus on. Maybe part of it comes down to hospitality. Are we providing a place where people, including millennials, feel welcome? And I don’t mean catering to or patronizing any particular demographic at the expense of others, but are we making people feel at home? Did we prepare for guests? Are we ready for stranger guests or are we too busy practicing “stranger danger” behavior?
Yes, when people enter our midst, it changes things. We can’t do everything we did before. We might have to give up well beloved potlucks, Bible trivia quiz games, or talent nights that are sure to make the unchurched feel awkward. Newcomers figure out very quickly if we are really interested in leading others to Jesus or if we are running a Christian country club where we coddle long-term members.
If we don’t prepare for guests, they may still wander in, but only once. We often get one lousy chance to make a first impression.
Let’s dig out the ice cream and make it a good one.