Monday, January 14, 2013

How Much Do You Notice Around You & What Do You Do With What You See?

Characteristic #3 – Attentiveness and Perception

To possess and demonstrate the attitude of hospitality, we must develop the ability to be attentive and perceptive. We must see who is around us and then discover how to be more loving and accepting of the stranger within ourselves and the stranger who we rub shoulders with on the path. It is choosing to be present enough in our daily meanderings that we can help the person who feels invisible to feel visible. Parker Palmer writes this, “An inhospitable space is one where people feel invisible – or visible but on trial. A hospitable space is alive with trust and good will, rooted in a sense of our common humanity.” In order for us to possess hospitality in this way, attentiveness and perception are a couple of things we should consider as we strive to become people of welcome.

What does it mean to be attentive to the people around us? An attentive person is heedful of other people’s comfort levels as they walk through life.  They have a practice of taking inventory of what and who is in their path. It is not just noticing that the lady walking by is wearing a blue shirt and khakis, but whether or not she is walking with purpose or if she has her head down and shoulders dropped as if she had just lost a championship game. It is noticing her hair and her demeanor. Is she smiling? Does she look like she slept well last night? Is she looking for a friend or a smiling face, or does she look like she is hiding even though she is out on the street?

We can be attentive when we are willing to put our own distractions of everyday life aside in order to have the time and ability to see how others are coping with life. It comes from choosing to be present where we are. The first step in compassion is seeing a need.  The attentive person makes it their goal to try to see the needs of each person they encounter on a daily basis. They look deeper than appearances in order to understand the attitudes of another person through his or her words or silence, expressions and posture. This takes time, energy and practice!

Keep in mind this is not a command to go out and meet everyone’s needs right this minute, but in order to be a hospitable people, we must move toward this way of engaging our world by taking practical steps in that direction. My suggestion, and my practice as well, is this: think of one person you encounter on a daily basis and ask the Holy Spirit to let you see that person through God’s hopes and dreams for their lives. In doing this, we will not get bogged down in figuring out how we can meet the needs we see or get frustrated in our inability to solve every problem. Just take a moment to pray and ask God to help them through whatever you have seen them dealing with. Then listen to what the Holy Spirit says to you.

As a word of caution: if we practice attentiveness without the Holy Spirit directing our perception, we run the risk of corrupting our souls. If we just notice the needs of people, we can become judgmental, impatient, and bitter people. Hospitality requires that we practice being attentive AND perceptive. Attentiveness is the practice of noticing the details around us, but godly perception involves taking what we notice and handling it the way Christ would. When we perceive others in this way, we are compelled to do what is best for the other person. We honor them, value them and love them.

Perception is a form of listening—that is, disciplining our hearts to see and hear what God wants for His creation. This is the practice of listening not just with our ears and eyes, but also with our hearts through the Holy Spirit. When we are willing to take the time to learn how to perceive what is going on around us through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we then begin to see what God sees in people.  As God opens our eyes, He equips our hands to reach out and meet the needs in ways only He could do.

Why must we accompany our attentiveness with Holy Spirit perception? It is the difference between judgment and grace. Between peace and hostility. It’s what draws the line between prejudice and acceptance.  Relying on the Holy Spirit means that our hearts must be humble. Pride tends to rear its head when we start looking, really looking at other people. It would be easy for us to start evaluating others, pinpointing their flaws, and judging their actions. On top of that, pride calls us to cover over the faults we might recognize in ourselves when we reach out to another. We want to hide our fears and insecurities, so we begin to compare ourselves to the people we see. These attitudes drive us to separate ourselves from those around us and cause us to organize our lives so that we stay safe, protected, and feeling better about ourselves. What happens then instead of welcoming the stranger we are being attentive to, we push him away and guard ourselves from the welcome we need as well.

So where does the humility come from? There exists a powerful balm in remembering how sinful we are and recognizing how fully Christ has forgiven us. He has seen our need, understood our separation and welcomed us to His family. So whatever in me remains unsightly or insecure or fearful, I know there is hope because I have been seen and noticed and loved by the King. Often the pattern is that when we are attentive to others and perceptive of their hearts, our hearts are changed as well. As we practice hospitality, there is a dual transformation occurring—the stranger’s needs are being met and our lives are being formed into the image of Christ.

It is not surprising then why we do not practice hospitality more readily. Not only do we encounter the cost involved in helping another but we are met with the depth of our own need. The challenge often seems too much for us, too overwhelming, too costly. It is at this place that we are invited to take the hand of the Holy Spirit as he introduces us to the beauty of both the stranger we meet and the stranger within us. When we ask God to give us His eyes for the people around us, we begin to get a glimpse of God’s deepest longing for us as well. Seeing God’s hopes for our own lives is God’s way of pruning and refining our own souls as we learn to love the stranger among us. Taking steps into the life of hospitality allows us to see more clearly all God has done for us and how powerful His story really is in our lives. Glimpses of this truth can change the deepest hostilities, fears, and judgments we carry of the stranger. Hospitality then becomes not something we must do but rather an outpouring of thankfulness for the welcome we have already received from the Lord.

So if this is how we want to live and this is who we want to become, how do we begin? Well, as I said before, this is a practice that we are not naturally good at so we must practice. We must not get overwhelmed by the enormous task of being this type of person to everyone right away, but we must begin somewhere. So, my challenge to us is to begin praying and asking the Holy Spirit to guide us to a person who is in our daily life that we might begin practicing being attentive to, so we can begin to see what is going on in their life. Take time to talk to that person each time you see them whether it is convenient or not. Make an effort to do more listening than talking. Notice their actions, take into account what they say and how they say it. Continue this consistent interaction for a couple of week, taking note of any patterns that surface. If it helps, write down what you observe after you have seen the person. Remember to allow those observations to become a place where you pray for them and not judge them. Pray and ask God to allow you to use the things you observe as a window into their physical, emotional, or spiritual needs. Remember, those needs could be as simple as paying for their lunch tomorrow, or it might be a deeper issue of a cry for peace, acceptance, or of being understood. Then as we pray and allow the Holy Spirit to show us the needs God sees in this person’s life, we must be ready and available to meet the needs we see as the Spirit directs.

God will give us wisdom if we ask and He will walk with us in this new spiritual practice.  Living a life of hospitality will be the hardest thing we ever take time to learn and do, but it will transport us to a brand new spiritual understanding of who God is and how deep His love is for each of us.

If you are a follower of Christ and you want to make a difference in those around you… I beg you to start here with learning to see others more important than yourself. No matter how you feel tomorrow morning, this is your call. Be imitators of Christ, who for the sake of the cross became a man and gave up all privilege and honor to walk among us for the specific plan to provide a way for us to be welcomed into his holy presence and so we can be invited into the presence of our God and so we can be a part of His eternal family. Go and be imitators of Christ! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Have You Ever Truly Felt Safe?

Hospitality Characteristic #2
Safe/ relaxed –   This person is not fidgety, or self-conscious. They are at ease with themselves and carry with them an attitude that everything is in its place and the day is going just like it should, even if it’s not.

Take a moment and think about where you feel most safe. Where are you most at ease and relaxed? Where or with whom do you feel most accepted? 

The answers to these questions can be very insightful in developing a hospitable attitude. In order to be a safe and relaxed haven for strangers and friends, you must understand where you feel safe and relaxed and why.

I cannot answer this question fully for you or present you with a three step process for creating this characteristic of hospitality in your everyday life, but I will describe for you where I feel safe and relaxed and how I try to create this space for those I cross paths with everyday.

I personally feel the safest when I am with people I know and trust, and who know me and trust me. I am most relaxed when those around me are relaxed. If those I am around are stressed or disgruntled or obviously worried about themselves or their surroundings, I find myself feeling the same things. I find myself taking on their worry or uneasiness.

Why do I feel safe at home? Well, for one, it’s familiar. It’s a place I have worked hard to create. The temperature, the decorations, and the food in the fridge are all things I have seen before and grown accustomed to. There are no surprises in this place. Most things are predictable and controlled.

I have realized I also feel safe when things are seemingly under control. I spent a few years in Moscow, Russia, and the buses and metros always felt safe to me as long as I I had space to move or I had easy access to all sides of me. That feeling of safety would quickly diminish with each extra person who entered my metro car. There were times when I was so crammed in that my feet were almost launched off the floor. It was in these times that I felt vulnerable and alone. Even if I was riding with others, they were no help to me if someone wanted to go through my pockets and take my belongings. I know people who did not like this feeling so much that they would take an extra thirty minutes to an hour to only ride buses. They did this only to provide themselves with the feeling of safety or control.

The crazy thing that I have found in my meanderings through life is that most of us gravitate to places where we feel safe. People will go out of their way to protect themselves from feeling unsafe or out of control. Hospitable people recognize this need and seek to create a place where people can feel at ease. This cannot happen unless this person knows how to create an atmosphere where there is peace instead of chaos.

This can happen on the street as you pass by someone or at the coffee shop or at school or even in your own home. The funny thing is that in reality this can happen wherever you go and in whatever place you find yourself. Most people in the West associate hospitality with hosting a meal and most likely the association creates an image of being in a home. The true attitude of hospitality does not happen only at a certain places, but must be present wherever you go. It is an attitude you possess and demonstrate wherever you go because it is a part of who you are.

My wife does this so well. She can make people feel safe when she is dropping Silas off at school, or when she meets that other mom at the playground, or when she invites the mom who doesn’t speak English to go to story time and shopping with her. She can of course present this safe and relaxed feel at home, but she makes people feel safe wherever she is.

The ability to create this feeling of safety and of being relaxed stems from a couple things: 1. Understanding fully what God has done for you in accepting you for who you are and forgiving you for your personal blemishes and 2. Learning to put your own fears and insecurities aside for a moment in order to offer a friendly smile to the people who are in your space.

Galatians 4:4-5 – “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”

These verses capture the essence of this principle of hospitality. When you remember that the attitude of hospitality stems only from the understanding of what God has done for us and the Holy Spirit’s powerful presence in our lives, then it begins to make sense. It is not in our nature to work hard to make someone else’s life safer or less stressful. Rather, it is our nature to protect ourselves and watch out for our own. The word in Galatians points us to a different pattern. God saw us living in the perpetual circle of guilt, shame, fear, and death. He saw fit to remove Himself from His comfortable place and enter our world of unrest in order to offer us and invite us into something beautiful. He offers us a perfect place of rest, feasting, and safety from the darkness. He left His comfortable place and came into our lives to simply offer safety and rest to us. That is beautiful!

When we begin to realize the great display of God’s love through the attitude of hospitality, we can learn to demonstrate a beautiful tangible expression of God’s desire for those we live among.

Is this easy? Absolutely not! It goes against everything our nature and our culture begs us to do. It is not easy, and that is why we must cry out to and rely on the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. When we ask Him to guide our lives, we must respond as we hear His voice. 

So as I end, let me challenge you with a quick little personal exercise. Consider your life for a second. Where do you feel most safe? Where do you feel most relaxed? Why do you feel safe and relaxed in those places? Now take the reasons why you feel safe and relaxed in those places and ask yourself one last question: What can I do to offer those things in my daily life to the people I find myself with or around?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Its Getting Colder… I Could Use Some Warmth… A Characteristic of Being a Hospitable Person

Warm/ welcoming/ personable – This attitude is experienced when you first meet someone or pass someone on the street, the park, or at the grocery store. This person is usually looking up, attentive to their surroundings, and carries with them a smile and a sense of wanting to know you.

We have all met those people who know you and possess this innate attitude of genuine joy when you are with them. It is that person who greets you with a smile when you show up at the party and who makes you feel like you are the most honored guest every time.

Or it is that old lady who greets you in the store and carries the persona that life is good and everything is in order and your meeting in the cereal aisle was what the Lord had designed for the both of you that day. You walk by with this overwhelming desire deep down in your gut to walk by her again on the next aisle, just to feel that warmth and acceptance again.

Or maybe you have been that person who shows up at an event and you are nervous and all your energy is being sucked up in trying to suppress an anxiety attack while asking questions like: “Is this the right place?” “Why did I come? I don’t really fit in here.” “Is there anyone here I know?” Then in the midst of this terrible experience someone gives you the most warm and welcoming smile from across the room and then the next thing you know is, they are standing next to you, inviting you into the fold.

Do you remember the feelings and emotions you experienced during all or any of those moments? Have you felt the relief when that crushing desire to just run away is instantly transformed into a calmness and peace? The anxiety falls away and a new confidence of who you are erupts out of your inner being like a sprout of a seed breaking through the dirt and soaking up the warmth of the sun for the first time. You go from feeling little and weak to being strong and confident, and all this happens in the blink of an eye.

You wonder to yourself what just happened, but there is no time to unpack it. You just move forward into relationship with this person no matter how deep it goes or how long it lasts. You find yourself on the other side of the coin desiring more of what that person has to offer.

In your daily life, you will most likely cross paths with more people you don’t know well than people who you do know well. In those moments you have two choices. Look down and walk on by or be that person who is remembered as “the one who brightened their day.”

The difference is divided in a split second. You might be reading this and realize that you naturally are this person who brings warmth to those around you. On the other hand, you might consider yourself shy or introverted. You might think that this characteristic is just impossible because of the way you are. I will say that for some people, this does come more as a natural response, but that does not let the rest of us off the hook.

Take for instance these verses from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. As you read it, look for any indication that He was speaking only to those outgoing people of our world.
Matthew 5: 43-48 - “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

One of the first characteristics of loving your neighbor, or being a hospitable person, stems from these verses and many others throughout God’s story. It is this challenge and responsibility for us who call ourselves Christians to love everyone. To look up and welcome others into our space and life. It is our challenge to look up, and become someone who is welcoming, warm, and personable. Say hello to those you don’t know as well as those you do know. Greet all people with a genuine smile.

I have an uncle whom I have had the opportunity to watch for many years and I am constantly amazed at his ability to make anyone and everyone feel completely welcomed and wanted no matter who they are or what their background. He possesses this incredible ability to make you feel like the party was specifically designed for you. I have seen him recognize and welcome the most shy and fearful people into a relationship with himself that absolutely transforms who that person is and how they view themselves. Thinking about him as I write about hospitality, I have realized that he doesn’t do anything special or extraordinary. He just simply lives his life with his head up, looking for those who are on the outskirts and simply greets them with genuine joy and invites them to be a part of whatever he is doing.

I will talk more later about the power of the invite, but what I want you to consider here is the idea that being warm and welcoming can be done by anyone, anywhere. It is a simple awareness of where you are and who is around you. Then when you see that person who is standing alone or that person you don’t know well, make the effort to simply walk over and say hello. There is great power in a simple hello! Then simply invite that person into what you are doing. You don’t have to create some pristine environment or possess a well-devised plan for this friendship. Just invite them into your space. They may turn you down, but know this… they still experienced your warmth and welcome and that is what you are responsible to do.

How do we learn to do this? Stand up straight and remember how God’s grace greets us each and everyday. Remember that we were strangers to God and yet He was willing to leave His place of comfort, joy, and peace and come to this wretched place so that we could be welcomed into the wedding feast. So we could enjoy the kingdom and receive an invitation to become heirs of the King! Is there joy that empowers you to reach out because of what you have received from Jesus? Does God’s welcome to you cause your head to lift up and your face to smile? Where does the courage and the motivation to be welcoming to strangers come from? When we need help, we can ask Christ. What we have freely received from Him, we can freely give to others.

So as you walk through your day… look up, greet those you know, and greet those you don’t. It’s not as hard as you think, and you will be amazed at the new insights and friends you glean along the way.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bad News... Good News... Great News...

Do you have someone on your block, in your neighborhood, at your school, or in your daily life that you would consider a stranger? Of course you do… We all do. Our lives are filled with more people we don’t know well, than people we do know well. For most people, this makes the world a very scary place to live. It causes us to stick to the paths we are used to, it causes us to be friendly to those we know and walk past those we don’t, and it develops an attitude of self-preservation and mistrust rather than an openness to the new. This overwhelming, perpetual lifestyle of fear of the unknown causes a few dilemmas:
1.     We can easily become judgmental and hostile to anything new.
2.     It can cause us to embrace and trust only those we know.
3.     We tend to build walls relationally and have unspoken rules for engaging others.
In a world full of fear and hostility, we need to work hard to be people of peace. Our neighbors need people of peace in their lives. Our neighborhoods need people of peace who bring a sense of safety. Your city leaders need people advocating for peace in their cities. Your nation needs peace desperately as well.

Just think… you could be that person of peace. But in order for that to be a reality we all need to cultivate a more hospitable attitude that is bent toward loving and welcoming the stranger into our lives, and learning to live a life that is not ruled by fear.

“Hospitality is the intangible tangible of the day. It is something you know and recognize when you experience it, but you cannot teach it as information is taught to you in school. It has to be learned from the inside out. Much like you cannot teach someone how to fall in love.” – Bill Marvin

The Bad News: The spirit of hospitality cannot be taught as if it were another job skill.

The Good News: You don't need to teach it. Like the ability to love, hospitality is an innate capability of all human beings. You just need to understand how to create and sustain a climate where it can emerge and blossom naturally. (More to come on how that climate is largely dependent of the presence of the Holy Spirit.)

The Great News: You may already know WHAT works, but when you really understand WHY it works, maintaining that warm feeling becomes remarkably effortless.

You can't fake love and you can't pretend hospitality -- everyone recognizes a lack of genuine caring. Hospitality must be from the heart or it won't have any real impact on your guests ... and it won't last.

So, to get you thinking, let me give you a list of some of the characteristics of a hospitable person. But let me give you a warning: these are not just things you can become just because you decide to. Living as a hospitable person goes against the very sin nature of human beings. The only One who has been successful at being completely selfless and hospitable is Christ, so keep in mind as you review the following list that it is only through the power of His Spirit that these qualities can be realities for us. Read through the list and identify one you have experienced recently from someone you have crossed paths with. Then, identify one that you have practiced recently and then, finally, choose one you think would not come naturally for you to live out.

1.     Warm/ welcoming/ personable – This attitude is experienced when you first meet someone or pass someone on the street, the park, or at the grocery store. This person is usually looking up, attentive to their surroundings, and carries with them a smile and a sense of wanting to know you.

2.     Safe/ relaxed – This person is not fidgety, or self-conscious. They are at ease with themselves and carry with them an attitude of everything is in its place and the day going just like it should, even if it’s not.

3.     Interested in details/ Perceptive – This person is also very attentive to the surroundings, they take it to a new level and try to perceive needs of the person with whom they are interacting. They notice not only appearances, but also attitudes and things they say. They are listeners with the intentional effort to learn of that person’s needs or what those needs might be.

4.     Good listener/ non-intrusive – This one follows closely with the previous characteristic, but focuses more on the method of listening and not so much the perception. A good listener knows the art of asking good questions. Questions that help the person feel respected and important and not questions that pry at things that would cause them shame or embarrassment. Questions that help the listener connect their perceptions with reality so the true needs might be met. This also helps with the feeling of being safe.

5.     Happy/ joyful – This person has figured out how to carry with them a happy, hopeful outlook on life that allows them to genuinely smile and be joyful no matter what is happening. Now I know there are times when there is grief and loss or terrible things that happen in life and I believe there are times for sadness and gloom, but I am speaking here of a consistent attitude towards the positive and being joyful.

6.     Encouraging – A truly peaceful, hospitable person is one who looks for the good qualities in a person or circumstance and is able to articulate those qualities and circumstances to a specific person in order to bring dignity, pride, and accomplishment upon that person. This is something that goes very tightly with the characteristic of consistency. If a person only does this only when profitable for their own needs and satisfaction, they will quickly build walls between themselves and those whom they are trying to encourage. Hypocrites are sniffed out quickly. Do not try to become this type of person overnight, it takes lots of time and practice.  

7.     Open-minded/ non-judgmental – A person with this type of characteristic can also be called a learner. They seek to know the truth and do it without pushing their own agenda or ideas. When a person is not like this, they are often seen as judgmental, assuming, hostile, and close-minded. This is one of the foundational characteristics of a hospitable person in my mind. This person seeks justice, and deeply desires for people to be heard and to feel safe to voice their own opinions.

8.     Confident – This one might seem odd at first, but if one desires for others to feel safe around them and with them, they must know themselves, possess their own identity, and understand fully their own values and beliefs. If you are unsure of yourself and who you are, you cannot invite strangers into your life spheres without making them feel uncomfortable or uneasy. Confidence is different from pride, because confidence is an acceptance of who you are and not a platform to show yourself off or push your own agenda. This is summed up in the understanding of where you are going in life and simply inviting others to come along. 

9.     Selfless/ Respectful – This one holds the hand of the previous characteristic. If you are prideful, you are interested in getting others to know you and your plans and agendas. A person who is selfless and respectful is more interested in other people’s wants and needs than telling you what they are all about and interested in. This doesn’t mean you cannot have a conversation where both parties are sharing what they are interested in or what they believe, but that kind of conversation must happen organically between both parties involved and not inserted into a conversation for conversation sake.

10. Giving – A selfless person also regards others needs as a higher priority than their own. This often translates into someone who is willing to sacrifice time, resources, and finances in order to make the other tangibly taste and experience peace. This does not mean one should be unwise and make rash decisions as to when and where their time, resources, and finances are shared. These types of decisions must be made wisely, but be careful not to use your own desires and wants as an excuse to not meet the needs of others. 

11. Consistent – One of the most important characteristics of one who is a person of peace and hospitable is one who lives out all these characteristics consistently. Consistency lets people see and understand that this is not a show or an act, but it is something you are. When people see that it is something that you are, it gives them hope that they too can become that type of person. If it is simply an act of kindness done when convenient, there is no inspiration or challenge for them to rise above who they are at the present time.

12. Surprising – Got you interested didn’t I? That is exactly what this characteristic does. Hospitable people who possess all these other characteristics are pretty far and few between. When you are warm and welcoming and possess the ability to make people feel relaxed. When you show them you are truly interested in them, you present something that is surprising. Then you can surprise them even more by truly listening to their needs and who they are and then joyfully and consistently meeting those needs. Then when you do that with an open, non-judgmental attitude that is selfless and respectful of who they are, you present them with something that is fully theirs to have and enjoy. Even at this point many will still feel like there is a hidden agenda and when they find out that you are truly doing this out of love and completely for free… you SURPRISE them. 

Now take some time to identify the three different characteristics that I asked you to identify before you started reading the list. Then, once you have identified those three different characteristics, ask yourself the question, “Why?” Why do I identify with those three?

Our world, nations, cities, neighborhoods, and neighbors need people of peace. You could be the tangible change right where you are that makes this world a more loving place.

In the coming weeks, I desire to begin unpacking what each of these characteristics really mean and look like and how they can be lived out. My goal is to give you some tangible practices that you can implement into your lives to move you towards becoming a person that is truly hospitable; a peacemaker in all aspects of your life.

Matthew 5:9 - “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”