Does our hospitality have its limits? And, should it?
I faced this question square on a while back. And it caused me to rethink my understanding of what true hospitality of the heart really means.
We have been friends with Liyun from China ever since she came to the U.S. to pursue her master’s degree in the mid-1990’s. While married when she came, her husband remained back in China. This is a typical arrangement.
But eventually he got a visa and arrived. Several months later, Liyun asked me if we could go to a clinic together. We discovered she was 19 weeks pregnant with her only child, born just a month before completing her degree!
We remember the happy young couple, baby in arms, in our home. This would begin a journey of both joy and hardship, as Liyun raised their son Steven across two cultures (with support from her husband), holds jobs in both places, and tries to make it all work for Steven’s benefit.
We love this family. And we love Steven, a high school junior as I write this. We have been able to have Steven stay with us several times when Liyun has had to be in China or elsewhere for a stretch to fulfill her obligations.
Make Yourself at Home
This last time Steven stayed with us, a funny thing happened. I laugh in retrospect, but I realize it was a valuable learning experience for us all – and I’m truly glad it happened.
One night my husband and I went out on a date. Steven and our youngest son, Luke, a high school sophomore, were left at home. We didn’t make dinner for them, but gave them several suggestions of what they could have.
Later that evening we came home. We were standing in the kitchen and I smelled fish. Inquiring, I discovered Steven had helped himself to some smoked salmon we had in our pantry. There had been three packages there but now there was only one. They had been a Christmas gift from other family.
My Bad Reaction
In the moment of my discovery I expressed my great disappointment. In retrospect, if I could rewind the tape, I would have handled the situation differently.
Poor Steven was quietly shocked. He realized he had taken something out of the ordinary. And yet, both my husband and I had welcomed him to “make himself at home” and “help himself to anything.”
It was not his fault. He could have had no idea! And 16-year-old boys are non-stop hungry. So I fully understand why he ate those pieces of salmon!
Cross-Cultural Relating Can Be Messy
Poor Steven! I said nothing more and disappeared to my room upstairs. I was trying to come to grips with what had happened.
Next day after school when Liyun picked him up, Steven was grim and his mom noticed. When she inquired, he told her immediately what had happened. Poor guy – he had carried it with him through the entire day!
Liyun contacted me, both apologizing and explaining the situation. Steven also wrote me an email, first thanking us for having him and then apologizing.
Steven is a good, amazing kid! How many teenagers would have hidden such an act from their parent(s)? If anything, this just further cemented my respect for this young man.
But the way this situation challenged my heart was valuable. It caused me to ask some deep questions: Do I offer hospitality only when it is comfortable for me? Am I willing to give my best to my guest(s)? If not, why not?
And more: How materialistic am I, anyway? Why should I begrudge another who enjoys a gift given to me? Where are my limits in exercising hospitality, and why? And, for me most importantly, what is the Christ-like attitude and response?
In the end, Steven found a way to purchase two packages of the exact same fish he had eaten and gave them to us as a gift. It wasn’t necessary for us, but perhaps for him, to bring closure.
Relationship = More Important Than Fish
But, more important to me is the relationship. I have communicated this to both Liyun and Steven already. But I will do so yet one more time through a hand-written note. I want Steven to feel comfortable staying with us again, as needed.
And I especially want them to understand that our relationship is so much more valuable than a couple packages of smoked salmon!
I hope taking you through this “journey” helps you consider these questions for yourself as well.
What is your limit for extending hospitality? Please share your thoughts!
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