We don’t have a mat outside our door that says welcome, because the reality is that people are not always welcome in our home. Instead, I opted for a plain woven mat, as it seems rude to have a mat that says in calligraphy, “Sometimes Welcome.”
Some days my home and my heart most resemble a hostel, a revolving door of neighborhood boys, college students and the like. Yet on other days and in other seasons, my home transforms into a hermitage, and I barely open the door enough to tell people, “Go away!”
As an introvert, I feel more comfortable with words and stacks of books than people; yet as an adopted child of the most hospitable Father in the universe, I have learned to value into life with actual, messy human beings. My husband and I even went so far as to birth three of said unpredictable strangers who live in our home.
In his book Families at the Crossroads, Rodney Clapp builds a compelling case that Christian families should be those who care for the outsiders. He writes, “The kingdom and reality of church as first family deny the right of biological family to be the whole world for any of its members. For of course any family that attempts to be the world for itself in fact creates a stunted, shrunken world. Paradoxically, a family is enriched when it is decentered, relativized, recognized as less than absolute.”
He is also quick to remind us that even our own children are outsiders. “Who do not sometimes, in even the happiest of families, feel their children as intruders into their lives? Of course we know our children intimately. But we also know them as strangers.” He goes on to call Christian parenthood “a practice in hospitality, the welcoming and supporting of strangers.”
“Welcoming the strangers who are our children, we learn a little about being out of control, about the possibility of surprise (and so of hope), about how stranger we ourselves are. Moment by mundane moment…we pick up sticks in patience, empathy, generosity and forgiveness. And all these transferrable skills, skills we can and must use to welcome other strangers besides our children.”
It’s hard to find the balance of hinged hospitality. Too many visitors, too many outsiders brought in and the insiders who are still somewhat outsiders (our children) begin to lose security. Too few visitors, too few stretching situations, and the inside outsiders begin to think they are the center of the universe, that we worship the nuclear family rather than the God who makes strange, patchwork families.
In her book What is a Family?, one of the many creative ways that Edith Schaeffer describes family is “a door with hinges and a lock.” She continues to explain her image in the following way:
“The hinges should be well oiled to swing the door open during certain times, but the lock should be firm enough to let people know that the family needs to be alone part of the time, just to be a family. If a family is to be really shared, then there needs to be something to share. Whatever we share needs preparation.”
In our attempt to have a hinged door, we intentionally stretch our family’s comfort level by inviting outsiders in and by making it fun to do so. We host meals and endure babies who break our legos; then we celebrate our children for practicing hospitality when its hard. Just this week, instead of playing at the park, the boys and I spent 3 hours picking up a stranger from a bus station. To incentivize this semi-forced hospitality, we got milkshakes afterwards. However, too much hospitality leaves my children feeling lost in the shuffle with their own real, childlike needs unmet.
In our attempt to have a working lock, we intentionally say no to many invitations, opportunities and needs. This morning one of the strangers who lives in our home needed extra hospitality, so our entire morning was rearranged in an effort to give him the time and space and rest he needed to thrive.
We mess up. A lot. Sometimes we become too inward-focused, too bounded as a family. Other times, we are too outward-focused, leaving our biological strangers exhausted and exasperated. But we long to keep fighting to find the balance.
The following questions help me discern when to swing the door open and when to slam it shut.
- Why do I sense I need to do this?
- Will this provide a healthy model for my family?
- Can my children be included in a way that respects their needs and desires?
- Will this require so much of me that my own children will have the rest rather than the best?
- Am I saying yes or no to this particular person or opportunity or need out of faith or fear?
Come on over to our house. You are welcome. Sometimes.