"Do not pay attention to every word people say"

It happened when we lived in our first apartment, shortly after we got married. As a friend was leaving our home, she asked why we had two last names on our mailbox at the front door. I teasingly stated the obvious, "Because my husband and I have different last names." Then I explained that I had not yet legally changed my name to my husband's, due to moving abroad eight days after our wedding, and not wanting to start something that might be tricky to finish before moving internationally once again.

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My explanation was not good enough for her. "Well, in Germany, if there are two last names on the mailbox, people will think you're unmarried but living together. It's not a good testimony to the neighbours." I tried to explain again that I understood her concern, but that with various pieces of paperwork pending, it would not be wise to start on a name change process. "Besides," I told her, "Anyone who comes to our house will see our wedding pictures in the living room."

She didn't pester me any further, but I was surprised how much her words bothered me for the rest of that day. Did we have a poor testimony with our neighbours (who virtually never talked to us anyway) because of a label on our mailbox? Did I not explain our reason well enough? Had we made the wrong decision in delaying my name change? I had felt funny about having my maiden name on the mailbox too, but because individual apartments here don't have numbers, the mailbox and doorbell had to reflect both names, in case we received mail in my legal name.

See, I'm still trying to justify our decision to you several years later.

On that day, I realized how easy it is to allow one person's comment to make me second guess something we did in good conscience, and virtually out of necessity. That same week, I came across Ecclesiastes 7:20-22, where Solomon instructed:

"Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous,
no one who does what is right and never sins.

Do not pay attention to every word people say,
or you may hear your servant cursing you—
for you know in your heart
that many times you yourself have cursed others."

By opening our home to people of all kinds of different backgrounds, we open ourselves to their comments, too. In the past five years, I've been told by international friends that my hallway is dirty, that my kitchen cabinets are cheap, and that the food I've made is not as good as my guest's wife's food. And yes, that I dishonoured Christ by delaying my name change.

Usually there's an element of truth in the comments. But as a person who has always been a bit too sensitive to other peoples' remarks, I'm trying to learn to process the truth in the statement (dirty hallway duly noted) without overthinking or second-guessing.

Solomon's reason for telling us not to take others' remarks to heart is perhaps not what we'd expect — he reminds us that we've all made comments or had thoughts about others that weren't right. Humility lets us overlook others' awkward or even sinful remarks, remembering that we are no more righteous than they are.

I breathed a sigh of relief when the paperwork was completed and we could finally remove my maiden name from our doorbell and thereby declare even to the mailman (who's never seen our wedding photos) that we are truly husband and wife. 

But now that the name label is fixed, I'm sure other disconcerting remarks are not far away, as long as we keep opening our doors to people of different opinions, cultures and backgrounds. Cross-cultural hospitality requires the wisdom to balance humbly paying attention to any kernel of truth in our guests' statements and yet humbly not paying attention to every word people say. 

Showing Hospitality While You're Suffering

The Biblical text about hospitality that has stood out the most to me in the past year is Peter's admonition: "show hospitality to one another without grumbling." You probably know the verse, tucked away in 1 Peter 4:9. This command caught my attention not because I had never seen it before, but because I suddenly noticed the context: 1 Peter is written to people who are going through intense suffering.

From a human perspective, hospitality seems like something to be done out of a place of strength and success. Hospitality is to be shown when you get the new dishes that match and buy that big table you've been eyeing, or when you move into your "forever home". The world teaches us that hospitality is for people who have an overabundance of money, food and time. Hosting is for people who are successful and have something to show off to their guests.

Hospitality doesn't seem like something to be practiced when you're broken, or when your home or your life seem like nothing to be envied. Not when you feel you might start crying while you're serving up soup, have little energy due to health problems, or don't feel like getting out of bed because you got some life-changing news the day before.

"God turns our way of seeing hospitality upside-down and calls us to serve others even in the midst of difficult circumstances."

But God turns our way of seeing hospitality upside-down and calls us to serve others even in the midst of difficult circumstances. In fact, hospitality is a tool God has given us to help both us and others during times of suffering. Here are three reasons why I think God commands us to show hospitality even in the times when we feel weak...and I am sure there are many, many more! 

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1. Showing hospitality while you're suffering helps turn your focus off of yourself.

When we are going through difficult circumstances, it's easy to become focused on ourselves and our problems. I realize now that during some of the hardest days of my life, one of the best things for me was having a guest living with me full time. Needing to cook supper for her or serve her helped my focus to not become too inward. Some of our guests may not care a whole lot about our problems, but it's OK to have that God-given reminder that the whole world doesn't revolve around us and our struggles. Knowing that someone will be appearing at the door expecting supper might be just what you need to help motivate yourself to get groceries, cook, and get through another day — to reinforce to you that you are living for a kingdom far greater than your own personal kingdom. That your "forever home" isn't built of brick and mortar.

2. Showing hospitality while you're suffering opens others to share their stories with you as well. 

When you are in the midst of what Peter calls a "fiery ordeal" and feel like you're almost smelling like smoke, it may seem strange to invite others to come eat with you. When your furniture or food isn't as trendy as your friends' or neighbours', it might be hard to invite guests in to see the simple way in which you live. But on our broken planet, no one's life is free from suffering. You'll be surprised how letting guests see your life as it is, even when it is difficult, often opens your guests up to share about their own trials, and leads to spiritual conversations.

One of my foreign friends literally said to me a few months ago, "Since you have shared so honestly with me, I will tell you something, too..." and proceeded to share about her own difficult experiences. A new friend told me recently that sharing about her struggles and losses has opened the most conversational doors with Muslim women. Showing hospitality even while you're suffering allows your relationships to get deeper, faster. 


3. Showing hospitality while you're suffering lets your guests see your hope up close.

Yes, there are days when we truly need alone time or a break from inviting others into our homes, when we are dealing with intense personal trials or grief. But for a Christian, keeping our doors closed during suffering should not be the norm. I hate to break it to you, but suffering, in some form, will always be with us until we leave this earth.

Consider this: if we hide ourselves away when we suffer, and then invite others in only when we're feeling comfortable, they don't see the strength of our hope. If we wait to tell others how hard our trials are until we burst into some sunny success story on the other side, they don't get to witness real hope in the midst of distress. And how can our friends better see what we are going through, and how we are going through it, than by being in our homes? Just the fact that you are thinking of others when you are going through difficult times is unique, and evidences that your inheritance is in heaven, as Peter writes, and "can never perish, spoil or fade." No earthly suffering can remove your hope, and your guests will notice that. A stylish house, a delicious meal, a well-dressed and healthy family around the table — there's nothing wrong with allowing guests to your home to see these things. But none of them can compare to inviting your guest into your house when your circumstances are difficult, and allowing them to see the eternal hope in your heart.

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These are just three ways in which I've seen Peter's command to hospitality that comes out of a difficult place make sense! And even when we can't see the results of obey His commandment of hospitality, there is blessing in obeying Him. We can count on that! God wants us to bring others into our homes and lives in the midst of our own difficulties, and not let our hard times stop us from helping others in their own hard times. How else have you seen hospitality during suffering benefit you and others?

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PS - Remember, there are always ways you can also show hospitality without opening your doors!

Hospitality Without Complaining

Recently some acquaintances had us over for the first time. As we settled into the living room, my husband kindly remarked that our hosts have a cozy apartment. The hostess’ instant response was to tell us why they don’t really like their apartment. Apparently the heating system is weird and the apartment is sometimes too cold, sometimes too hot. Later we also heard that the roof is not insulated. So much for cozy, I guess.⠀ ⠀

It struck me as unfortunate that instead of just responding with a “Thanks, I’m thankful for what God has provided for us! We do have a cozy apartment!” our hostess, whom we hardly knew, started off by telling us the problems with the apartment. ⠀ ⠀

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But then I realized that too often I do the same thing. When someone tells me they like the older style of our apartment, with its high ceilings, more often than not I tell them how expensive it is to heat in the winter or how chilly it is in December and January. Instead, I could just say, “Thank you! We like the high ceilings too - they make the apartment feel so much bigger! God saved this apartment just for us. We wanted something with a big common room and in the middle of the city, and when we saw this, we thought it was a great fit. And somehow the landlord picked us as his new tenants, even though he got about 100 responses to the ad.“ (True story.) ⠀ ⠀

After all, my guests aren’t usually asking me for a heating estimate for an old apartment, or wanting to hear complaints. They’re just trying to pay a compliment. I’m not sure if I somehow feel that I am being “down-to-earth” or “humble” by complaining about what I have when I receive a compliment?⠀ ⠀

If your first response to a compliment is also to complain about problems in your house or neighbourhood, maybe you can challenge yourself with me to stop complaining about your home's quirks to your guests. Instead mention to them how thankful you are for your nest! Thankfulness sets a much better atmosphere, and gives us a natural opportunity to praise God for His goodness!

As Paul wrote, "But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that!"