One of our most frequently asked questions is, “How can I practice hospitality in the little years?” Maybe it seems like your house is always a mess or your kids are wild or you haven’t made a from-scratch meal since before your first-born arrived, but guess what mama, we’re still called to hospitality. Opening our homes and inviting others to our tables, couches, and backyards is one way that we share the love of Christ and the power of the body of Christ with people—both other Christians and non-believers. It can be a time of mutual encouragement through fellowship or a chance to share the gospel with those aching for more.
Hospitality looks different for everyone. Below you’ll find an excerpt from Rosaria Butterfield’s newest book, “The Gospel Comes with a House Key.” In the book, she lays out a biblical foundation for the beauty and power of ordinary hospitality—something we can do in our own homes.
We hope it serves as a launch point for discussions about how your family can serve as the hands and feet of Christ amidst strangers gathered around pizza boxes or a full-blown three-course dinner party.
This is a guest post by Rosaria Butterfield.
At 5:15 a.m., a text message from a neighbor came in: “What’s going on at Hank’s house? Why r police surrounding the house? R u OK?” But my phone was turned off and in the other room, so I didn’t get the message.
Peaceful sleep sounds echoed from my husband and two youngest children. Even the dogs were sleeping. My Bible was open, along with my copy of Tabletalk magazine and my notebook. My coffee cup was in arm’s reach, sitting on a calico mug mat that my ten-year-old daughter made in sewing class. Caspian, the enormous orange tabby, was sprawled over the table, under the hedonistic, narcotic bliss of a hastily consumed can of Fancy Feast Mixed Grill. I started my devotions that morning as I have been doing for the past seventeen years and as Ken and Floy Smith modeled for me: praying that the Lord would open my eyes to see wondrous things in his Word.
That morning, after I read through five psalms and one proverb, I began to pray. I typically intersperse prayer with Bible reading and note taking. In the morning, I pray in concentric circles. I start by praying for myself, that the Lord would increase my love for him, grow me in holiness, give me courage to proclaim Christ in word and deed as a living epistle, lead me to repent, and give me the humble mind and heart of Christ and the kind comfort of the Holy Spirit to make me a more faithful and loving wife and mother and friend. I then pray for my family, the church, my neighbors, my nation, foreign missionaries, and missions. I thank the Lord that he is risen, that he prays for me, and that he has sent people into my life, starting with the Smiths, to bring me to himself and to hold me safely close. I thank God for the covenant, of which I am a part. I keep my prayer notebook open, and I flip through the pages as I pray through the names.
That morning, my prayer time stopped at the concentric circle labeled “neighbor.” I was praying for my immediate neighbor, whose house I could see from my writing desk. I have always had a special affinity for front-door neighbors. Renee, Julie, Eddie, and now Hank. I love waking up and seeing the familiar van parked in the same spot, and as the sky yawns open, the house and people in it unveil their morning rituals (lights on, dogs out, paper retrieved, a wave of greeting, maybe a child running across the street to return a Tupperware or deliver a loose bouquet of red peonies). Loving your neighbors brings comfort and peace.
So there I was, praying for my neighbor. A typical morning. Except that the phone I had turned off, which was in the other room, continued to receive text messages alerting me that something was terribly, dreadfully wrong in the house across the street. The house of the man for whom I was praying.
Our house and Hank’s house share a dead end that stops where two acres of woods open up. When Hank’s moving van first backed down his driveway in 2014, he was a self-described recluse. He worked in his yard digging ditches—arbitrary and perfectly round holes that delighted my children because of their cookie-cutter symmetry and the very cool black snakes Hank unearthed and shared with them. He played loud music. He occasionally received cell phone calls that got him seething mad and shouting obscenities. He owned a 100 lb. pit bull named Tank who ran the streets without collar or tags. Each neighbor can recall how we all saw our life flash before our eyes the first time we met Tank, bounding toward us at full throttle. Hank didn’t cut his grass for three months, and by the time the city fined him for creating a meadow, no regular mower could tackle the cleanup.
Truth be told, Hank was not the neighbor we had prayerfully asked for when Eddie sold the house and moved her family to Wisconsin. But we trusted that Hank was the neighbor God had planned for us. Good neighboring is at the heart of the gospel we know. So when Hank moved in, we shared with him our contact information, introduced him to our dogs and kids, and waited for him to reciprocate.
Instead, he dismantled his front doorbell so that no one else could disturb him.
We prayed for Hank.
We gently rebuked other neighbors for being suspicious or unkind in their questions and concerns about his reclusiveness.
For a year, it was like living across the street from Boo Radley, the misunderstood and demonized character in To Kill a Mockingbird.
And then one day his dog, Tank, ran away and did not come home. One night turned into two, and two nights turned into a week. In the crisis of a lost dog—one who was also the closest companion of a lonely man—our bond was forged. We offered our help, and Hank received our open hand. We posted Tank’s information on neighborhood listservs and enlisted other neighbors to come to Hank’s aid. My ten-year-old daughter cried herself to sleep each night as she prayed for Tank’s return, and she told Mr. Hank about her prayers and God’s faithfulness.
When Tank was finally found safe and sound, we became friends. We started to walk our dogs together. Soon, we were eating meals together, spending holidays at our table, and sharing life. We learned that Hank lived alone, had severe clinical depression, PTSD, ADHD, and social anxiety.
Hank loved the woods as much as the children and I do. As winter opened into spring, we kept tally of our nesting red- shouldered hawks, our calling American toads, our migrating and returning robins, blue jays, woodpeckers, towhees, and ambling box turtles. Hank helped us chop down our dead trees and stack our wood. In his garage he always had the knick- knack one might need: a small flashlight to attach to a reflector vest for a night run, a hook that could hold doggie bags to the leash.
Hank was uneven. His depression made him so. Sometimes he stayed secluded in his home for weeks on end. We’d text and offer to help but to no avail. The only sign of life was that his garbage can would appear at the curb on the appointed night.
As neighbors were texting my turned-off phone about danger at Hank’s house, I was sitting at my desk, praying for Hank.
I was praying for Hank’s salvation.
And then I noticed it: burly men ducking around the back of my house, wearing orange shirts marked DEA—Drug Enforcement Agency. Serene darkness exploded with the unnatural intrusion of police lights. Yellow tape appeared everywhere—“Crime Scene.” I left my Bible open to Psalm 42 and ran to wake Kent and the children. I grabbed my phone and turned it on. The text messages bounced into life: “What’s going on at Hank’s house? I hear there is a meth lab across the street from you!”
What does the conservative Bible believing family who lives across the street do in a crisis of this magnitude? How ought we to think about this? How ought we to live?
We could barrack ourselves in the house, remind ourselves and our children that “evil company perverts” (see 1 Cor. 15:33), and, like the good Pharisees that we are always poised to become, thank God that we are not like evil meth addicts.
We could surround our home in our own version of yellow crime-scene tape, giving the message that we are better than this, that we make good choices, that we would never fall into this mess.
We could surround ourselves with fear: What if the meth lab explodes and takes out my daughter’s bedroom (the room closest to the lab) with it?
We could berate ourselves with criticism: How could we have allowed this meth addict into our hearts and our home?
But that, of course, is not what Jesus calls us to do.
...My prayer is that this book will help you let God use your home, apartment, dorm room, front yard, community gymnasium, or garden for the purpose of making strangers into neighbors and neighbors into family. Because that is the point—building the church and living like a family, the family of God. My prayer is that you will stop being afraid of strangers, even when some strangers are dangerous. My prayer is that you will grow to be more like Christ in practicing daily, ordinary, radical hospitality, and that the Lord would bless you richly for it, adding to his kingdom, creating a new culture and a new reputation for what it means to be a Christian to the watching world. My hope is that daily fellowship would grow your union with Christ and that you would no longer be that Christian with a pit of empty dreams competing madly with other reigning idols, wondering if this is all there is to the Christian life. My prayer is that you would see that practicing daily, ordinary, radical hospitality toward the end of rendering strangers neighbors and neighbors family of God is the missing link.
If this happens, then my prayer will be answered.
Content taken from The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World by Rosaria Butterfield, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.