Come on Over

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Did you have a wedding gift list?  Oh the joy.  It’s particularly satisfying if you haven’t got two pennies to rub together.  You get to go round a department store with one of those bar code guns (they’re probably not called guns) and scan to your heart’s content.  You choose plates and bowls and pots and pans, and look forward to all the entertaining you’re going to do when you have a home that’s just yours.  I remember hoping and praying that we’d have a really welcoming home, showing hospitality and blessing our community.

And this sort of happened.  I’ve certainly got better at it over the years.  And as I’ve learnt how to cook, and how to tidy up, I’ve also learnt that what really matters in hospitality is that you love people.  That can be costly, but not in a monetary sense.

We are, as Christians, commanded to be hospitable.  It’s one way we show God’s love to others.  Since God is love and we are his ambassadors, it’s pretty important that we show hospitality.  But you don’t have to take it from me:

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality. (Romans 12: 12-13)

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter 4:8-9)

It seems from these verses that hospitality isn’t an optional extra, for those who are really good at cooking and into that sort of thing.  I don’t think, by the way, that you need your own home or your own kitchen or a dinner table to show hospitality, but since this is a parenting blog I’m assuming you do have somewhere to cook and eat food.

So going back to my enthusiasm as a newlywed – life has changed more than a little since then.  Life got busy.  My home got smaller, and the number of inhabitants got bigger.  Now when people come through the front door, they have to trample past my children’s bedroom door.  I can’t really expect them to come through the living room window (no… I really shouldn’t).

Plus, you know, I’m tired from feeding and looking after my children all day every day.  Doesn’t that count as hospitality?

No. It doesn’t.

I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad, but I’ve noticed something about hospitality.  We all find reasons not to do it.  We all seem to think that we would do it under more suitable circumstances.  When the children are older.  Once we move that wall.  When we get an oven*.  Once I’ve had big clear-out.  My home just isn’t welcoming enough. Nobody would enjoy coming here.

Can I suggest that we should all remember that we’re in a spiritual battle?  Since we’re commanded to be hospitable, we can be sure that the Lord will use it for his glory.  And therefore we can also expect that we’ll be tempted not to do it.  So let’s fight that battle, instead of just surrendering to the inconveniences.  It might be that you’ve had some hospitality disasters.  In fact, this is pretty likely.  But that’s OK.  We pick ourselves up and fight on.

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Also I’ve noticed that people on the receiving end of hospitality are rarely aware of our alleged shortcomings.  If you think your house is too dark or too messy or too small or too full, it’s unlikely that the person coming round for a cuppa will think so too.

I was amazed to hear from a friend recently that she’s never thought that my living room was not very conducive to hospitality.  I mean, really amazed.  It just shows that my perception of my home is not the same as my guests’. (My living room, by the way, has nine walls.)

I remember another friend saying to me, “I either need to keep my flat tidier, or lower my standards of how tidy it needs to be before I invite my neighbour in.” I think she put it better than that but hopefully you see the point.  If your house is too messy, then tidy it.  If you can’t tidy it, then invite people over anyway.

Maybe you think your own family will feel neglected if you have people over.  But let’s not underestimate how much our children will learn from seeing us love people, especially people who aren’t like us.

The Lord doesn’t make commands and then add, ‘when it’s convenient.’ He himself invites us to a feast – was it easy for him to make that happen?  Was it convenient for Jesus to leave his home in heaven to come down into our neighbourhood and invite us to his party? Were we grateful guests? Were we attractive guests? Did that stop him?

What a blessing we’ll be to our communities if we pray to God and ask him to help us to be more hospitable.  Maybe we need to pile everything into the kitchen sink before the school run so we’re able to invite someone in for a cuppa.  Maybe we could start by inviting someone for lunch after church.  Tinned soup and supermarket bread goes down a treat, in my experience.

Let’s not think that, if we’re parents, we’re exempt from showing hospitality.  It might be really hard for us, but the Lord sees that even if nobody else does.  And remember that if your guests don’t have a family, your family will most probably be a blessing to them. By God’s grace, the family home is a powerful thing.

I do believe that God wants to help us grow in hospitality. Who knows what blessings he has in store?  And when it goes wrong, let’s laugh it off, dust ourselves down and try again soon.  Grace be with you!

For more on this, I’d love to recommend ‘The Ministry of a Messy House’ by Amanda Robbie.

(If the title of this blog post made you think of Shania Twain, then we are on the smart wavelengh my friend. Ah – ah – aoooh…)

*we did once spend some time in a very big house with no oven. We used a microwave.

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“I’m Ungrateful!”

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“That ain’t fair, miss.”

This is one of the most commonly used phrases in the classroom.  Sometimes, when teaching teenagers in East London, I used to respond with a lecture about how they were absolutely right, things aren’t fair because they get an education they don’t have to pay for, in safety and comfort and with all the resources they need, while some children have no opportunity to go to school and have to slave away seven days a week just to survive.  So no, life isn’t fair. As you can imagine, this went down really well.

It doesn’t take long for small children to learn to say “that’s not fair.” Some children I’ve met seem to begin each sentence with this phrase – I’m not sure they’re quite sure they’re even saying it.  But it’s not just children.  Of course, they’re only expressing an attitude which many of us, as adults, still have.  We might not say that same phrase as much, but we might harbour resentments or appeal for sympathy because we, deep down, feel that things are not fair.  “I’m fine, it’s just really hard because, you know, I don’t have a tumble dryer.” Or “It’d just be much easier if I had a car, that’s all.” Or “That’s good advice but I can’t do that because I don’t have the time/space/money/figure/teeth.”  Poor me.

In our home we’re not allowed to say “that’s not fair.” Of course, people do say it, but I won’t just let that go unchecked.  (There is, of course, a way to say “that’s not fair” and not be whinging, but I’ve never heard my children use it that way.  When they say “that’s not fair”, what I hear is, “I’m ungrateful.”) Instead of being thankful for what they have, they’re looking at what someone else has or what they feel they deserve, and being discontent with their own lot. When I hear them say, “that’s not fair,” I try to have them rephrase it and apologise, e.g.

“No you can’t have another biscuit.”
“That’s not fair!”
“What you mean is, ‘I’m ungrateful that I got to have one biscuit.’ What do you need to say?”
“Sorry that I’m ungrateful that I got to have one biscuit.”

I’m sure you can find many flaws with this approach, but hopefully it’ll go some way to showing the children that nothing good (not even a biscuit) can be gained by being ungrateful and discontent.  Lord, may they not become “that ain’t fair, miss” teenagers.

During Lent I’m reading through Proverbs and also The Way of Wisdom by Timothy Keller.  There’s a lot in Proverbs about envy:

Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
    when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice,
or the Lord will see and disapprove
    and turn his wrath away from them. (Proverbs 24.17-18)

Keller writes about the German word Schadenfreude, which means joy in someone else’s sorrow/shame.  You know, like tabloid newspapers? But it’s a problem we all have in our hearts at times.  We might not want to be, but we’re secretly pleased when something finally goes wrong for someone.  Or there’s the opposite, which is secretly being upset when someone else does well.  What ugliness.

When I envy my friend’s gifts, house, cooking skills, church community, success at work etc. I’m actually being really unloving towards her.  Do I get that?  I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of envy.  If you envy me because I can go on a super duper holiday, for example, you’re essentially saying that you wish I didn’t have that blessing.   (And by the way, isn’t Social Media the perfect breeding ground for envy?)

That’s not love.

A heart at peace gives life to the body,
    but envy rots the bones. Proverbs 14:30.

A heart at peace is thankful to God.  Comparisons and envy will destroy me.  As Keller said, ‘envy is being unhappy at other people’s happiness.’  How horrifying!  I think we know this is bad, but it’s good to be reminded.  I also think that we don’t recognise this very well in children.  Envy becomes an accepted part of life, and we can even plan things around it.  We don’t challenge the child who says, “How come she gets to go there/do that, I’ve never been/done it, it’s not fair!” Or we even withhold good things from one child because we know the others will be envious. “I can’t let them go to that party/have that free drama class because it wouldn’t be fair on the others” (i.e. the others would have a tantrum about how unfair everything is).  When they’re crying over someone else’s birthday presents we try to placate them by saying, “Oh well I’m sure you’ll get something nice for your birthday.”

“It’s only natural they should be envious,” we say.  It is natural, but that doesn’t make it acceptable.  As Christians, we wage war against our natural, sinful natures.  Instead, we can encourage them to be thankful for their brother or sister’s joy and success, and we can remind them of everything they have to thank God for.  If we train them early, what a blessing it will be for them later in life if they’ve learnt to be thankful for God’s grace in the lives of others.

For more on comparisons, please see here and here.

Enjoy yourself (Just not in the same way you used to before)!

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I used to look forward to, and enjoy, weekends away with church. Now I brace myself for them, and often feel I’m the worst version of ‘me’ when I’m there. Sad, I know. But I believe that through prayer and practical wisdom this, the “time away with church family, with a family,” can be conquered!

I’m going away today, so I thought I’d offer some tips on how to get through, I mean enjoy, your time away (it’s more fun than packing). I’m in no way the expert, but I thought I’d share what I’ve come up with thus far – you’ll see I’m learning from my mistakes.

Things NOT to expect:

Sleep – Time and again I make the mistake of arriving on a conference/camp/ weekend away already tired, and hoping for some rest. Go on, point and laugh, I deserve it. You won’t get much sleep. Things will prevent you from sleeping: probably your children. But while you can do everything in your power to encourage your children to have a good night’s sleep (blackouts, familiar bedding, nightlight etc.), there are always things you can’t control. Even if your children sleep wonderfully, you are still likely to be woken up by something else, e.g. someone else’s child; a fire alarm; a 5am delivery van; a 3am Pentecostal prayer gathering (this has been my experience, anyway).

Catching up with good friends – this is unlikely, because you will be busy with your brood and also there may be other people who need you more. You don’t want to end up resenting your children or anyone else who gets in the way of your nice long chat with so-and-so. Maybe think of this as an opportunity to arrange to meet up with that friend in the next couple of weeks! Then, if you do end up having a good chat: bonus!

Taking part in everything that’s going on – it might be the teaching you look forward to, or the social aspect, or praying together. But it’s likely you’ll miss out on something you’d really like to have been at. You might get trapped in your room with a clingy baby and no phone signal to beckon help, while everyone else is having a whale of a time doing “organised fun.” You might miss all of the talks because your 3-year-old is terrified of the unfamiliar surroundings, or you might have to take someone to A&E. Hopefully none of these will happen, but I’m just saying it’s good to be emotionally prepared to miss out.

Things to DO:

Be thankful. Sorry everything above is so negative. I think that if we “manage our expectations” (fancy phrase) then we’re more likely to be thankful for any fun/teaching/sleeping/encouragements that we do receive. I need to remember to be thankful, because I just won’t be otherwise. I’m like that, me.

Forget yourself. I find that at these intense, emotionally draining times I get too focused on my own “problems” (e.g. lack of sleep/missed the seminar), which is just a recipe for disaster. If I try to focus on making sure other people are OK, I’ll actually start to forget what I was so narked off about in the first place. Get over yourself, Catherine (or, you know, something less harsh).

Research – if you haven’t been to the venue before, try to find out what you need to take with you from someone who has been or from the venue itself. You don’t want to arrive and realise you were meant to bring bedding. Almost equally you don’t want to stuff five duvets into your boot (trunk) and then discover you didn’t need them. Especially if you don’t have a driveway, so loading the car is tricky, and you bought the duvets especially. Just saying.

I’ve now noticed that (maybe apart from the final one) these are quite good tips for life in general. Maybe that’s because time away with church is really just a more intense version of normal life. And I need to remember, too, what an AMAZING privilege it is to have the resources, the community, and the freedom to be able to do this. Would my North Korean sister be grumbling about missing the Saturday night karaoke if she were here? No, I’m pretty sure she’d think she’d died and gone to heaven.

Have a good weekend, folks!