Vibrant Hospitality: Opening the Window of Relationship

When we moved to Mid-Coast Maine, we set ourselves a goal of inviting someone new  to dinner every month. We gathered around crock pot roasts, mashed potatoes, home-canned green beans, and usually a pie for dessert. The elderly couple we invited for August was a delight:  we talked books, they filled us in on local culture, and they were good sports about eating my blueberry pie that “didn’t quite set,” landing in a soupy pile on all our plates. I realized the extent of their graciousness, when I learned later, quite by accident, that she was one of the judges for the Union Fair blueberry pie contest.

The visit was not a contest, and my pie was not being judged on that stuffy August evening–and, thankfully, neither was I. We had invited those sweet people into our home and into our lives and hearts and a warm friendship took root. In Invited: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness, Leslie Verner describes an invitation as an “opening in the window of relationship, granting intimacy permission to drift in like a breeze into a stuffy room.” (174)

Verner describes herself as a “goer learning how to stay,” and so the practice of hospitality for her was learned, initially, as a guest in cultures where she was the stranger and the recipient of a warm welcome and a place around the table.   Now, called to “do the hard work of staying,” (335) she writes about her own learning curve around the discipline of deepening relationships through a life time of invitations offered from one zip code.

Invited to Fight Loneliness

Loneliness has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, and this has been fed by our cultural tendency toward privacy and independence. Our addiction to and dependence upon technology has only increased our isolation, to the point where even those who attend church regularly admit to feelings of loneliness. An intentional practice of hospitality fights the default.

Verner argues that our churches “don’t need more programs or plans for living missionally in the world; we just need to invite others to walk with us in our right-now life.”

Invited to Build Community

Jesus modeled an open-hearted practice of welcome, and his unruly disciple Peter must have been taking notes:  “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling,” he urged. Whether within our four walls or simply in the way we land in a pew on Sunday morning, it’s clear that the believer is called to a life of community building and our “neighbor” could be just about anyone. Verner has supplied an extensive list of ideas for uncomplicated hospitality in neighborhood, church, and community contexts along with some good general tips for anyone needing additional reassurance.

The practice of missional hospitality means that we begin living like “invited ones” ourselves, for God showed his heart toward us in the early pages of Genesis, inviting Adam out of the bushes and back into relationship. And he never stops inviting, holding out frosty glasses of Life to “whoever desires” and whoever will “take the water of life freely.” The power of hospitality in an age of loneliness is sturdy evidence of God at work in his people. Our invitation is an open window to Truth.

Many thanks to Herald Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Invited: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness, simply click on the title within the text of my review, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a very small commission at no extra cost to you.

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4 Ways to Boost Your Self-Care Quotient

“What would you like to do?” he asked.
My good and faithful husband had hired a babysitter for our four sons (Combat pay!), and we were driving away from the house, the cavernous mini-van feeling empty and oddly quiet.

“Good question,” I thought, “What would I like to do?” As a homeschooling mum, church woman, maker of beds and of sandwiches, I had just about lost touch with what grown ups do when they are assigned the task of having fun or the responsibility of relaxing.

In Four Gifts: Seeking Self-care for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength, April Yamasaki opens her own life to self-care scrutiny and examines Scripture’s claims about the abundant life alongside biblical promises of God’s care for those who believingly follow Him.  To my great relief, Yamasaki frames self-care with a bigger vision than manicures and a daily green smoothie, as she encourages readers to receive the gifts that flow from the first great commandment:

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  (Mark 12:30)

Caring for You. Caring for Others.

The busy-ness of life in all its demanding seasons can lead to habits that could best be described as self-neglect. Conversely, culture screams messages that make a virtue of self-indulgence:  “I deserve this.” I have had a tendency to read messages about self-care as burdensome checklists, one more item on an already too-full list of things to do.

The abundant life involves caring for your own needs, caring for others, and surrendering to the call of God. There is freedom to be found in the “healthy tension” (188) between loving ourselves well and also being fully available to our neighbor. In Four Gifts, April invites readers into a purposeful pursuit of healthy living according to God’s design in ways that are both challenging and realistic:

1. Self-Care Leaves Space to Honor Your Core Commitments

Just as the heart “represents the center of our physical, mental, and spiritual being,” (221) each of us has “core commitments” that direct our daily actions. Mine are shaped around marriage, mothering and grandmothering, homeschooling, writing, and church ministries. Because your commitments are different from mine, the parameters of  our self-care regimens will look very different.

“Self-care that honors core commitments might be delayed or postponed or after the fact, but it’s still self-care even if it sometimes seems to come in second.” (234)

2.  Self-Care Begins with Learning How to Stop

For me, self-care is mostly about knowing when to stop, and this came into sharp focus as I was reminded of New Testament directives to the early church that clearly distinguish “between being weighed down and being focused on following Jesus.” The Hebrews 12 “weight” that interferes with the believer’s race can often be the tasks we take on that are not really ours to do.

3.  Self-Care Leaves Room for a Listening Life

In the rush of life, I often catch myself half-listening to people, tuning out details to conserve mental energy, or failing to set aside the task at hand in order to meet the eyes of my dearest people while they speak. When Jesus was being quizzed by the religious elite, pressed into choosing the most important commandment of all, His answer began with the word Listen!

“The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’No other commandment is greater than these.”  (Mark 12:28-31)

Taking time to listen to God, to hear the words of Scripture from a thoughtful stance, to listen to my own aging body in its need for rest, and to slow down and hear the messages coming through the words of the people I love are all forms of self-care that minister to the whole person and also spread ripples of health into a family or a community.

4.  Self-Care Frees the Soul for Sabbath Rest

April Yamasaki is a ministry professional, and she manages a website called When You Work for the Church. Her perspective on Sabbath rest includes first-hand knowledge that Sunday is often the busiest and most stressful day of the week. It turns out that most of us have a much too narrow definition of Sabbath-keeping. The rest and rejuvenation that come with it are “sometimes a by-product but not the primary purpose. The primary biblical purpose . . . is to put away the idol of control and power.” (766) If I can address this issue at its core, suddenly other pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Turning off my phone or taking a nap or postponing an errand to another day can become an offering in which I kick myself out of the center of the universe, a fruit of self-discipline in which I say no to the habit of accomplishment and yes to the habit of quiet or rest.

At its core, then, self-care may be uncomfortable. It may push me to honor limits I’ve become accustomed to pushing through, to utter a few well-placed “nos” that feel as if I’m squandering opportunities, to admit that I need help rather than forging ahead on my own. God’s four gifts of heart, soul, mind, and strength come with the expectation of a graceful stewarding of those gifts, a responsibility that takes practice–and a privilege that comes with the following life as we lean on Jesus for each step in the right direction.

Many thanks to Herald Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Four Gifts: Seeking Self-care for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Leaning on Jesus,

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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.