The definition of hospitality
Updated: Jun 12
When you think of offering hospitality to immigrant families, do you imagine hugs sealed with happy tears or evenings at a long table sharing plates overflowing with food or children surrounding you in a warm pile of arms and legs while you read soothingly? There are, occasionally, those moments and I was realizing the other day, those are the pictures that I always gravtiate towards for publication. But most of the time giving hospitality is unglamorous and actually rather awful.
These are the pictures I wouldn’t choose, but that happen every day: cleaning rooms covered with the detritus of months of travel, filling out endless forms, typing in numbers at a computer trying to find someone lost in the system, navigating airport parking lots and security, sitting in cars waiting, sitting in doctor’s offices waiting, waiting on hold, lots of waiting.
The moments of consolation are mostly frustrating. We can’t fix a mean, evil system. We can't impact the inertial movement of an insular, intolerant society. The other day a woman, separated from her husband, was pleading with me, tears streaming down her face, saying, “Please, please help me.” I didn’t know how to respond. I’m so powerless. There is nothing I can do.
And sometimes people are hard to love. These aren’t perfect people. Sometimes the line between being taken advantage of and giving generously isn’t always clear. Sometimes you wonder if you helped someone who didn’t deserve it. But, of course, none of us are perfect and none of us deserve love. We somehow receive it anyway by virtue of being God’s children. We are loved and God wants for us to love one another with God’s love.
And what hospitality is, is seeing someone down in the pit up to their knees in muck and deciding to jump down in there with them. It’s saying, I can’t fix anything, but I’m willing to know you and see you just as you are and to be a conduit of God’s love for you. I will stay here and not look away. That’s what I can do. I can be present and acknowledge the awfulness and let you know that you are not alone, that you are loved.
And then when we do that, healing takes root. We don’t really make that happen but we create the conditions for that to happen by offering the love of not looking away. We say to God, we want to participate. We are willing to engage. We see this suffering. And God then works through us and everything around us.
That same woman who was crying so desperately when she first arrived, had trouble getting out of bed for several days. She was struggling to connect with her newborn baby who came home from the hospital a few days after her. She was hardly eating. And then one day, one of our live-in volunteers, Caleb, went to a doctor’s appointment with her. He sat, waiting with her and waiting while she was being seen, for over five hours. He didn’t shy away when she ended up sobbing because of a procedure done on her baby. He brought her back home.
I think that was a turning point for her. Realizing that she was worth waiting for in that wretched place. And that she didn’t have to be there alone. There was someone in the world who cared enough to sit there with her even though he hardly knew her.
When she got home, she decided all on her own to move into the room of another woman in a similar situation, giving voice to the fact that actually she was scared to sleep alone. She went to the shed and found some supplies that she and the baby needed. When I came down to check on her, she smiled and asked if all of that was okay. I verged on tears. I felt so grateful for the miracle of healing evident in her energy and empowerment. She felt safe and loved and important and was now able to become a little more whole.
That’s the power of just being present.
And we can give that gift of creating spaces for healing to everyone in our lives. To people all around us. Our neighbors. Our friends. Our family that we live with. I hear stories of people offering to give (and of people allowing themselves to receive) that kind of hospitality everyday. People loving one another. People offering to be in the muck with one another even though they can’t make it go away.
I’m about to go on vacation and have some time just for me and my family, which is important too. When we offer ourselves to be present to suffering we also have to make time for renewal. But I wanted to name these beautiful miracles that I was witness to this week and thank God for this church and this community and this unending, steadfast love that we somehow get to share with one another.
-by Dianne Garcia, SAMC Pastor of Family