A reflection by Sarah
Radical hospitality seems to be a hallmark of celibate communities (e.g. monasteries). Every celibate community we have visited has guest housing. (Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why we could visit them….. they’re committed to hospitality.) For us, in our home, the practice of radical hospitality means always being willing to host a guest. Whether the guest stays overnight in our apartment, joins us for a meal, or travels with us for a ride home, the guest is a welcome person. When we meet new people, we prayerfully consider how we might be some conduit of blessing for them. So far, God’s been pretty awesome to show up in our limited efforts.
That’s a quote from one of our earliest blog posts in which we made an initial attempt at defining celibacy as a vocation. If you’ve been following our posts for a while now, you’ve probably seen that our understanding of celibacy and its various components has evolved significantly within the past year. I hope that this growth never stops, and I’m grateful to be learning more and more about what God is calling me to as time goes on. I’m especially grateful that God has been showing Lindsey and me new ways that we can extend hospitality to others.
Today, I’m writing not because of anything bold or profound that I’ve discovered, but instead because of confusion and conviction. Over the past several weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about certain people who used to be part of my life but are no longer. More specifically, I’m thinking of family members, former friends, and acquaintances who are not in my life at present because I have chosen to remove them from my life. Several examples come to mind. There’s a family member who misinterpreted something I said on Facebook, unfriended me, and sent a long and dramatic letter in the same envelope as my birthday card to explain her decision. When I confronted her about this, she lashed out and neither of us has spoken to the other since. There’s an ex-girlfriend who slept around with a variety of people in two different cities while we were together, who has made a habit of contacting me once every few months to throw an insult or accusation my way. There’s a man I haven’t seen or heard from in years — my high school boyfriend, who I’m sure has no interest in ever hearing from me again because of the emotional hurt both of us inflicted upon each other when we were younger and far less mature. There’s the friend from college whom I have avoided intentionally since graduation because of her insistence every time we interacted that I “just don’t have enough faith” that God could make me straight. There’s the girl from my second grade class whom I lashed out at for excluding me from a jump rope game at recess. I have a clear memory of shouting at her, “I’m glad you’re moving to a new school next year! I don’t like you anyway!”
If I truly believe that hospitality is part of the Christian vocation and that radical hospitality is a basic building block of a celibate Christian way of life, how am I to live that value in interactions with people whose company I enjoy about as much as a root canal? What about people who have been out of my life for varying lengths of time not because they have chosen to be, but because I have chosen to keep them away from me? I’m torn when it comes to these questions. I believe that sometimes, it is morally justifiable to cut people out of one’s life. In certain cases, not doing so results in decreased mental health and causes one to become an open target for manipulation, gaslighting, and other forms of emotionally, physically, or spiritually abusive behavior. At other times, the most Christian approach to dealing with a person one considers difficult is to keep trying, pray about it, and watch for signs that the situation might be improving. A couple of the personal situations I listed above are less difficult to discern than others. There’s almost nothing I can do to make amends to my second grade classmate. Her name is an incredibly common one, and it doesn’t seem reasonable that God would be asking me to send an apology message over Facebook to all 3,000 women who have that name. Her name might not even be the same as it was 1991. It seems a bit more reasonable that God might be asking me to get back in touch with Mr. High School Sweetheart to say, “I’m sorry that I hurt you.” But what about the instances in which my anger toward a person is justifiable, and while I bear him or her no ill will I have determined that it is best if we do not interact with each other?
What does it mean to live radical hospitality with respect to someone I recognize as an image of God, but still see as a toxic person? Really, I have no idea. Is it even possible to live radical hospitality while knowing full well that there are people I would never allow into my apartment under any circumstance? Am I just kidding myself when I say that I desire to live a radically hospitable way of life if, deep down, I hope that God never sees fit for my ex-girlfriend to show up on my doorstep with a need for someone to show her hospitality? Should I be praying that God will soften my heart toward these people? But what if hardness of heart isn’t the problem and my lack of hospitality toward certain people is rooted in important concerns about safety? Or does it even matter what the root of my confusion is? How can radical hospitality be radical if it excludes even one person?
As with most dilemmas of this sort, it seems the best place to begin wrestling with these questions is the historic Christian tradition. How have celibates lived radical hospitality throughout the ages? What did it mean to them? Did those saints who lived celibate vocations ever place limitations on their extension of hospitality to others? As I’ve been mining the tradition for answers, I continue coming up confused. St. Brigid of Ireland was one of the most generous human beings I can think of, giving nearly every bit of food she had to the poor and welcoming travelers from everywhere into the monastery she founded. I wonder if there is anyone she would have turned away, or if she did would that decision be an example of her holiness? Or her human fallibility?
The Scriptures also have much to say about hospitality. 1 Peter 4:9 reminds us to be hospitable to each other without complaining. Hebrews 13:2 admonishes us not to fail in showing hospitality to unfamiliar people because “by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” In Luke 14, Jesus tells one of his many parables to help us understand the kingdom of God, instructing us to show hospitality to the marginalized. Who am I to suggest that certain people should obviously be excluded from the very small banquet table in my own dining room?
I don’t have a conclusion for this post. This is an area of my spirituality where there is a clear need for growth. Maybe there is a fine line between being inhospitable to someone and holding oneself back out of healthy concern for the safety and wellbeing of both parties. Maybe there isn’t a line at all. I welcome any feedback. And as Lent approaches, please pray for me, a sinner.
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