Several years ago in college, I had the privilege of reading Dallas Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines. That book, among other of his works, impacted me deeply. One of Willard’s explanations that caught me was his view on the spiritual quality of hospitality.
The spiritual gift of hospitality is commonly described as hosting someone in your home for a meal or serving people in some tactile fashion. For example, when someone says the words “hospitality ministry” at church that usually entails coffee and snacks.
In Dr. Jim Wilder’s book, Renovated: God, Dallas Willard, & the Church that Transforms, Wilder shares 12 attributes of building attachment or Hesed. At the top of his list is “Connecting us to the source of life” (116). Wilder describes food, water, and hearing from God through scripture and prayer as some of the ways we connect to life. This type of hospitality ministry, both within the church and practiced individually, shows the importance of the physical body and how important its needs are.
Willard adds another layer to this understanding of hospitality. Willard describes how hospitality can also be holding emotional space for others and their stories. This is similar to how we understand attunement within the context of the Life Model.
Imagine your heart as a house. Then imagine the living room in that house. If you were to pause right now, put your hand on your heart, take a deep inhale and exhale, and ask yourself the question: Who (or what) is in my heart’s living room?
Maybe it’s difficult to picture, or maybe you are immediately flooded with answers. Either way, this can be a moment for us to take inventory of how much space we give other people, ourselves and our pain in our hearts. Part of discovering our best self is seeing what we are truly hosting within ourselves.
When I first started thinking about my heart living room, I had several people, boxes, dirty clothes, and old newspapers. If you imagine a living room with those items, it seems overwhelming and crowded right? Not the state in which you would host guests.
I really cared about the people in my heart living room. I knew their stories and shared their burdens. These are people who I let share their true self with me, and their opinions really impacted me. I would be in my living room with them, but I was wearing a mask. The kind of mask I wore depended on who was in my living room. In the Life Model, we call this living from our “as-if” self, which is motivated by fear and not who God designed us to authentically be.
The boxes in my living room were beliefs, rules, fears, dogma, and personal truths (partly sourced in intelligent enemy mode) that were stacked around. Some of those boxes were stacked on the floor or leaning against a wall. Others were stacked on the couch or on the armchair.
The dirty clothes in my living room were clothes I had worn in different moments of my life. They were memories that I could not put away. Moments where significant things had occurred for me where I did not have attunement, gentle protection, or understanding for myself or from others. These were unprocessed experiences that I did not know what to do with. Sometimes the people in my living room would accidentally sit on those dirty clothes and I would react with fear, anger, or avoidance.
The last component of my heart’s living room was old newspapers. These newspapers held the various words people had spoken to me at different times. Some were uplifting, others were hurtful and condemning. I had a tendency to keep one uplifting newspaper, but bury it under five or six condemning newspapers. Better yet, I would buy multiple copies of the newspapers with negative comments. Even if the news was untrue, I kept shelling out money for these negative newspapers. Of course, I could not throw any of them away.
My internal living room was full of emotionally intense people, personal dogma, unprocessed memories, and negative words.
Pause and take a breath. That can be a lot to think about.
It was easy to justify the people I carried with me because I had met others who seemed to not care for anyone. I thought my living room was great! Yet, I was walking around my own heart house wearing a thick mask!
It took a lot of honest self-reflection to realize all the unhelpful items in my living room. Some of it needed to be thrown away. Other things needed to be cleaned and organized. Some boxes needed to be emptied and crushed. Other boxes needed to be unpacked and the items placed properly around the room.
Willard’s definition of hospitality hits at the core of the Gospel message that we should love like Jesus. Jesus held space in his heart living room for His disciples to be imperfect. He held space for their egos and doubts. Jesus held space for the crowds too. They were people in need. They needed food, truth, and hope despite their political climate. Jesus heard and saw them while still responding honestly.
If we are going to love like Jesus and practice Hesed with others, it starts with getting connected to our best self. Going extreme is the danger. If we spend too much time just looking at others and helping others, we develop unhealthy personal rhythms that leave us broken and alone in the end. If we spend too much time “naval gazing” we also can easily develop unhealthy personal habits and perspectives. There is a balance here, but it takes intentionality. Follow Jesus as He guides you in the process. The first step, the brave step, is to stand in your own heart living room and take your mask off.
Personally, I have realized this is not a one and done event. There was a first time, an initial revelation from God, and an initial step of bravery. However, since that moment several years ago, there have been many more moments where I realize I am standing in my own heart living room wearing a mask again. And again, I need to bravely take that mask off.
As we start the new year, we all naturally turn to this theme of improvement. This can be a moment where you choose to stand in your heart living room and take your mask off. A huge part of the Life Model is finding your best self. Discovering and being transformed into your best self is an ongoing journey. This natural changing of the year is an amazing reminder to reexamine oneself.
If the ultimate call is to love like Jesus and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, getting to our best self, clearing out our emotional living room, is a huge part of that.