Sometimes, hospitality hurts. We extend ourselves and welcome people into our homes, anticipating times of engaging conversation and laughter. But afterwards, we find ourselves drained in body, mind, and spirit. We become tempted to pull up the drawbridge and keep our castle for ourselves for a time.
The PyesAreUs have just come through a time of intense hospitality. Each weekend through the spring and summer, we hosted various groups of friends and family. As we’ve been gifted with the use of such a large and wonderful vicarage, we’ve always had the policy of saying “yes” when people want to stay. So this spring we said yes, and yes. And yes and yes and yes some more. Until we weren’t sure how we would cope. In fact, NicTheVic and I had just agreed that we’d not have anymore visitors when I opened up a social-networking site and glimpsed a request from one of my favorite people – someone I hadn’t seen in years. How could we pass up the opportunity of hosting them? “The speech bubble is still over my head,” I thought, musing over the decision NicTheVic and I had agreed. “I hope he sees the irony…”
Don’t get me wrong, we loved hosting (especially if you’re one of our guests as you read this!); what we struggled with was the timing of the many visits. Mainly: Why did they bunch themselves up together in an unrelenting cluster?
We were given an out at the end of the summer, and though hesitant, I took it. The friends who were to arrive just days after the kids and I dragged our jetlagged bodies home from two weeks in the States got in touch to say that the family they were visiting were all struck with the flu. The violent vomiting and diarrhea kind. Our friends had been exposed, so they said they’d understand if we wanted them to find an alternative place to stay.
Normally I would shrug off fears of sickness, but knowing how tired we were, and not being able to face tidying up the house again while so foggy in mind and body, and contemplating packing up PyelotBoy for his camp the day they’d arrive, and with the thought of body fluids being expelled so unpleasantly, I accepted their offer not to stay. Yes, I felt guilty. And yes, I labored over the decision. But it was right to say no, not least because they were able to extend their stay where they were, avoiding a huge hotel bill.
I’m learning we don’t always have to say yes.
But the joys of serving and welcoming weary visitors outweighs the challenges. Reflecting on our summer of hospitality, I’ve jotted down a few things to celebrate.
Serving shapes our character. I’m selfish. I like doing what I want to do, when I want to do it. But hosting guests gives us an opportunity to put the needs of others before ourselves. We seek to make them comfortable; we give them the big piece of dessert; we seek to make stimulating conversation. We’re reminded that it’s not all about us.
We receive, even when we give. Providing hospitality isn’t something we do to gain in return, but without fail, we will receive from our guests. The gift might be intangible: a particular insight about a problem we face; the love expressed in ways individual to them; affirming words; acts of service (is a night of babysitting tangible or intangible?). Or they might give us things: items from our home country that we can’t source locally; a family heirloom; a work of art; a beautiful scarf.
Children learn by watching. NicTheVic and I hope that our modeling of welcome will rub off on our kids. CutiePyeGirl is positively energized by the prospect of guests, asking what they are like when she hears they are coming and counting down the days if we’re welcoming someone really special, like grandparents. PyelotBoy, being an introvert, is more reticent, but when the guests arrive he realizes that it’s pretty great to chat and talk and get to know them – especially if they like sport.
Memories last forever. When I think back over the season of hospitality, what stand out are the memories. Like singing the Star Spangled Banner on the Fourth of July with sparklers. Drinking Pimms and watching ArtistMan create a painting within minutes while laughing with his wife. The glories of a British BBQ without rain. Walks and talks and catching up on life and love and hopes and dreams and fears.
Have you ever hosted until you hurt? How did you respond afterwards? What joys and challenges do you find with hospitality?