Opening Up Your Home

I was sitting in a market research focus group in late 2007 when the question came up “what does your home mean to you?” The answer they were looking for was something along the lines of “a place where I can use my favorite floor cleaner” but to me, it was a deep and complex question, mirroring my deep and complex relationship with the whole concept of “home” at the time.

We had just moved into our current home after 6 weeks of sleeping in a friend’s spare room at the same time as we changed our church venue and I changed my job. Nowhere I went to regularly felt like home yet and so I was a little lost. My answer also varied a lot from the other people in the group. But I’ll put it to you now before I tell you what they said.

“What does your home mean to you?”

Got your answer? Good. Well, this group of randomly selected 25-55 year old women said things like “it’s my sanctuary” and “it’s where I go to get away from the world”. They’re standard and fine responses, but they didn’t fit with my vision of home.  God had spoken to us quite clearly when buying our new home, and the message was that it was to be an open home at the heart of the community. As it happened, the personnel in our christian community shifted significantly not long after we moved in, so we were obviously meant to be here to take over. And the vision was that our home was to be a sanctuary, yes, but one for anyone who needed it rather than just for us. It would be a place where people would feel free to drop by and they would be welcomed.

The Bible is quite clear when it comes to being hospitable:

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).

But Christians nowadays, sometimes, dismiss it as being culture-specific. After all, these are dangerous times we live in and there are strange people out there. How do you reconcile welcoming all with protecting your children?

Well, we do exercise some discretion about who we invite to stay with us. It may be common sense or it may be complete wimpiness, but I’m yet to sweep up a homeless person off the streets and move them in. Whenever we have to choose a new lodger, we generally think about it for a while before they move in (not so much last time, but that’s a whole different story) and without fail, our official lodgers have all been very pleasant and easy to live with. There’s been a mix of Christians and non-Christians, but they have all been OK with the community thing. Our first lodger even cooked the community Christmas meal.

We’ve also had a number of people move in for a few nights and stay for longer – in our spare room when we had one, on our sofa bed once the spare room was occupied. If one of our friends needs a place, I would find it hard not to open our doors. There’s only one time that I’ve felt it was the wrong thing to do, and in that case we told the person that we couldn’t help.

You may be reading this in horror, thinking that you can’t imagine anything worse than having random people in your personal space. Let me explain something that might help – I’m an extrovert. That doesn’t mean I wear a clown wig and shout over everyone all the time (I’m not sure who does do that, it’s just how I imagine you’re imagining it). It means that I need people around me as much as possible. I love having lodgers, because I like the house to be full. I enjoy having people drop by for DVD nights or to just empty our fridge and watch TV. It’s my personality. It might not be yours.

It’s not my husband’s. As I might have mentioned before, he’s an introvert who is quite happy on his own. But he’s what I’d call a “socialized introvert,” meaning that 15 years of being with me have forced him to be around people a lot, and he’s gotten used to it. For his sake, I do try and limit the number of times I call him to say “So-and-so’s had to move out of their house so they’re living in Reuben’s room for the foreseeable. Reuben’s living on our floor. Mmmkay?” There have been times when even I have struggled with the openness of community living, but mostly I feel like it’s what we’ve been called to do at this time in our lives and it’s a call which isn’t too difficult to follow.

So, I’ll leave you with a challenge – is God calling you to open up your home more? To be hospitable and invite people for dinner? To host a missionary from Brazil for 2 weeks (done that too…)? Or are you secure in the knowledge that this is not for you and God has other ways to use you? What does your home mean to you? And what could it mean to other people….?

Feel free to leave a comment!