‘Commercial’ hospitality impoverishes the soul
People Matter was a regular column by Phillip Jensen in Southern Cross, the monthly magazine of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.
Jensen, P '"Commercial" hospitality impoverishes the soul'. Southern Cross, September 2002.
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My wife and I travelled to conferences in two different cities on one trip. The contrast between the two was stark. In one we were cared for luxuriously in a very pleasant hotel, in the other we were accommodated with a pastor's family.
In the hotel we had privacy and control over our own movements. We were able to relax without having to talk to people or to make any efforts to care for others. We ate when we wanted and what we wanted. The room was serviced each day and we did not have to help with the usual domestic arrangements of life: setting tables, washing up, or making the bed. When we had to attend the conference we were fresh and able to listen, speak and participate with full concentration. The generosity of the conference to provide such good accommodation was really appreciated by these two tired travellers.
At the other conference we were met at the airport and taken to the pastor's home. He and his wife were out but had left instructions that we were to go in and make ourselves comfortable. It is an odd feeling to enter somebody else's home when they are not there—especially when you have never met them.
Inside the house was a note apologising for not being there to greet us and telling us where everything was. to make ourselves at home and that they would be along presently. They left food for us and invited us not to wait for them but to start the evening meal without them, as they were sure we would be tired and hungry from our trip. So in somebody else's home, we heated our meal in the microwave, set the table and sat down to eat. Just after the dessert, they turned up and welcomed us personally.
We stayed with them for the several days of the conference and fitted into their relaxed and generous way of life. Unlike the hotel, there was great opportunity to set the table, wash up and make the bed! But here time and energy were also put into talking and praying, as we discussed the Scriptures and shared our common love of the Lord Jesus, as we laughed and shared the stories of raising our families and the joys and heartaches of life.
We finished the two conferences and travelled home. The luxury and pleasures of the generous hotel provision our friends made for us in the first conference is now but a memory. The pastor and his wife of the second conference have become firm friends. They have visited our home, we have gone on holidays together, their son has stayed with us and our daughter has lived with them, our two churches have shared the ministry of each other's staff and our lives have been enriched.
This is not a complaint or expression of ingratitude about the generosity of providing hotel accommodation. Rather it is part of the larger observation about life—that the commercialisation of relationships is the impoverishment of the soul. The hotel cost more money but the home cost more effort—more effort both for the hosts and for the guests. The hotel helped keep us refreshed but the home enriched our lives.
Christians are not to give in order to receive, but when we pursue hospitality we sometimes receive far more than we ever thought, like Abraham who entertained angels unawares. Our friends did not entertain angels, just strangers and foreigners, who have become friends and family in the gospel.