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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Loneliness: An Opportunity and a Sign of Hope

When C.S. Lewis wrote (famously) of desires unmet that set our hearts toward the journey of further up and further in, it’s obvious that he was writing in the days of snail mail and expensive long-distance phone calls.  The truth is that life on planet Earth is beset with longings of every kind, but chief among them is the feeling of loneliness.  Now that humanity has access to the blessings of Skype and email and ubiquitous cell phones, it would seem that loneliness should have been eradicated from the globe — or at least all parts of it that have reliable Internet connections.  However, it seems that no one is exempt from the sadness of feeling alone.

In Finding God in My Loneliness, Lydia Brownback argues that loneliness is a bellwether, an indicator that something is missing.  Our longing to know and be known by others is an invitation to pay attention to that feeling and to find our ultimate fulfillment in the God who created us and knows us by name.  In His days here in this broken ground, Jesus offered the pathway of finding one’s life by losing it, but when I believe the lie that finding my life is all about me and getting my needs met, I become  a very small package indeed.  Cramped and restless, my self-seeking leads only to more loneliness and an endless pursuit of serial wantings.

In her analysis of ten reasons people experience loneliness, Lydia also provides Scriptural examples that bear upon each situation and reveal the truth that God is present with us even when all we sense is absence and longing:

Abraham experienced The Loneliness of Leaving when God called him into the unknown, and he found that “through the loneliness that comes from heeding this call, the Lord redefines us and gives us a whole new identity.”  (Loc 503)  In the learning process, we begin to make our home in Him.

Those who experience The Loneliness of Night find, as Jacob did in his wrestling match with God, that a humble dependence on God changes our focus.  Nighttime struggles with fear and loneliness can lead to new hope and, over time, an abiding light that does not depend upon the time of day.

Anyone who believingly follows Christ will eventually experience The Loneliness of Obedience.  In addition to feeling abandoned, Joseph could also have felt resentful during his stint in an Egyptian prison, but an aerial view of God’s redemptive plan allowed him to live and walk in forgiveness.  God is able to redeem the lonely seasons of a close-following life, not merely for my own sake, but also for the sake of “many survivors.”

Elijah was discouraged when he fled to Mt. Horeb, but what he found there was The Loneliness of Running Away.  Sitting under our own personal broom trees, if we listen carefully, we, too, will hear from God the message that there is no guarantee of a “one-to-one correspondence between effort and success.” (Loc 862)  Picking through the rubble of our disappointment, we find our true motivation, and, with this humbling truth in hand, we are ready to be sent back into our calling without the burden of a get-it-right, produce-results, and build-your-own-kingdom mentality.

When we experience sorrow over the “pain of knowing life will never be the same,” we are feeling The Loneliness of Grief.  The prophet Isaiah described Jesus as the one who can enter into our grief with us — unlike well meaning friends who spout platitudes and exude impatience.

Those who are different “in a way that offends the sensibilities of others” know the painful Loneliness of Being Different.  Lydia vividly re-tells the desperate situation of the woman Jesus healed in Mark 5.  Her gynecological malady may have been debilitating, but it was most certainly isolating, and Jesus offers spiritual cleansing to those who are desperate enough to come to Him with an open mind about what healing means.

Even in the 21st century, addiction, disease, and dysfunction usher in The Loneliness of Being Unclean.  When loved ones are swallowed up in the darkness, it feels as if they are running wild in the tombs just as the poor guy that Jesus delivered from demons in Mark 5.  Lydia offers the helpful perspective that the horror, fear, and isolation of an addiction are truly a misplaced worship and require the same kind of miraculous healing to take the victim off the road to death.

If your idol has been relationships, and your heart has led you astray, then you know The Loneliness of Misplaced Love.  Jesus walked thirsty into the hub of a Samaritan town and put His finger directly on the thirst of the town’s female outcast. Serial husbands had not freed her from the pursuit, but through her story, the thirst-quenching love of Christ is revealed as the one thing that will change the future by freeing us from being defined by the poor decision of the past.

Written from the perspective of a single woman, Finding God in My Loneliness looks at both sides of the relational coin, for there is a Loneliness in Marriage that may be more bitter than the Loneliness of Being Unmarried.  With demographic data showing that there are currently about as many single adults in America today as married ones, it’s important to understand that, while there is a loneliness particular to singleness, singleness need not be equated with loneliness.  Betrayal, spiritual mismatches, and dysfunctional relationship patterns exacerbate the loneliness that happens within marriage, but even the best and happiest of marriages prove the point that marriage was never meant to fill us up or define us.  In fact, the single life demonstrates with clarity what all believers need to grasp in our search for community:  individuals find fulfillment through intimacy with Christ, and we will “know our oneness with Him most fully when we do life together with other believers.” (Loc 1866)

Participation in a local church has a way of banishing us from the center of the universe while we come to grips with the truth that the loneliness we experience is a sign post, pointing our hearts toward another world.

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This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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