I have been thinking a lot this week about hospitality.
In my home growing up, our family’s out-of-town guests slept on a pullout sofa in the den, and as adults, the first piece of furniture my husband and I invested in was a nice futon that has been used by many guests over the years (in ten different houses and apartments in four cities). But I’ve always dreamed about having a real honest-to-God guest room with a bed that doesn’t fold up, just waiting for visitors.
In our house in Vallejo, we finally have just such a room, and last night we welcomed its first guest, a dear friend from seminary. I had fun getting ready for her arrival: decorating the walls, picking out new sheets and towels, anticipating what would make friends and family feel at home in my home, even just for one night.
In the weekly Bible readings this week, there is a story about the ultimate hospitality, that of Abraham and Sarah’s unexpected visitors. Abraham is sitting outside his tent one afternoon when three guests suddenly arrive. Abraham and Sarah leap into radical hospitality, bringing them water, baking bread, and even slaughtering a calf for a feast, which they serve under a tree so the guests don’t get too hot.
The guests bring an unexpected message. Abraham and Sara are “advanced in age” and have never had children, something that would have been deeply painful and would have made them feel cut off from their community, especially in their time and culture. But as the guests eat, they tell Abraham that they will visit again “in due season” and when they return, Abraham and Sarah will have a son.
Sarah, overhearing this from the tent, laughs at their ridiculous promise. At this point in the story, we learn that the visitors are actually God. While the message the God visitors bring is exactly what Sarah most wants to hear – given her life experience, it’s impossible for her to believe, and she laughs right at God.
When it came to external trappings of hospitality, Abraham and Sarah received five stars. But their internal hospitality to the message being delivered to them was a different story. They had been through so much pain in their lives that they didn’t have a “guest room” set up in their hearts ready to receive hope and promise.
The Braid team facilitators have spent this year reading Cris Beam’s “To the End of June” together, which is a well-researched look into foster care in America. We gathered on Sunday afternoon for our second discussion together about what we have read, which is simultaneously troubling and inspiring.
In the portion of the book we discussed on Sunday, the author shares the story of a group of therapists in New York who teamed up to offer free therapy to foster youth, but found that few youth took advantage of their offer. Some reasons for this were logistical, but a deeper issue, the author says, is that these youth can’t even comprehend the idea of an unconditional, supportive, open-ended relationship with an adult.
This certainly resonates with our experience at Braid. Though we do our best to explain the Braid program to a young person before they receive a mentor team, they are used to adults rotating through their lives for short periods of time. The message that there are adults who will show up every week, unconditionally, for weeks, months, and years is one that they very much want to hear, but it sounds ridiculous. Their hearts do not have a room prepared for this news.
This summer, several of your teams are celebrating the anniversaries of being matched with your youth. It inspires reflection on what it was like when you were first matched, and how far you’ve come in a year (or two, for the first Braid team). Your youth probably spent the first few weeks and months testing your credentials and perhaps “laughing” to themselves that your wonderful care and attention and presence is just for them. It was difficult for them to believe.