In his book, Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen defines hospitality as “primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.”
During this Christmas season, it’s easy to focus on the food or the decorations when thinking about hospitality. In actuality, it’s about creating space to be with the people around us. If we’re honest, offering that space to some people comes easily. But with other people, we may experience more resistance, more negative thoughts and emotions. Nouwen called this ‘hostility’ and stated that hospitality cannot exist alongside hostility.
These days, when I feel resistance toward someone I try to take a step back and ask why I’m responding this way. Do I need to spend some time with Jesus to soak in His love? Is an emotional allergy triggering me; do I find the person demanding or rude? Am I too tired? This reflection on personal patterns helps move my response to treating others with more dignity and care.
In that sense, we can offer hospitality wherever we are. As we anticipate our interactions this Christmas, let’s imagine a circle around us wherever we go. When people step into our circle, what will they feel? If we truly are living out hospitality, they have the potential to feel welcomed, cared for, or heard. Even if it is simply strangers asking for directions, we have the chance to offer them a taste of hospitality when they enter into our space.
The most important key holding all of this together is our relationship with Jesus and growing comfortable being still with Him. Nouwen once again has profound insight when he says, “Our first and foremost task is faithfully to care for the inward fire so that when it is really needed, it can offer warmth and light to lost travelers.” (The Way of the Heart, p 55)
This Advent season, while we prepare our hearts to celebrate Christmas, let’s commit to not having it be just business as usual with the people around us. As we draw close to Jesus, let’s give Him any negativity we feel toward certain people and allow Him to start converting our hostility into hospitality, watching as He does new things in perhaps our oldest relationships.