We all need to socialize with others. For some, the extroverts, those in families or those in a good work environment, meeting social needs comes easier. Others may experience much loneliness, and some feel alone, even in a crowd. Perhaps a painful situation causes them to avoid people just at the time when they need others the most. Some who struggle the most with loneliness are the shy, the elderly, the single, the ones who have lost spouses, the sick, and the disabled. It is up to us, those who have chosen to follow Jesus and to try to live like Him, to pay attention to these on His behalf; to offer help and in a way we’d like to receive it.
The specific kind of needs the person has may vary widely. We probably think most of emotional or social needs in the context of hospitality. These are indeed very important, and may actually be greater in a person who seems to draw back from too much contact.
We must be careful, however, to follow their lead. It’s a tricky and delicate balance, trying not to let a person in need put us off, but trying not to be pushy either.
Sometimes needs are more obvious. Physical needs, for instance, include a meal, clothing, gas in the car, a ride, help with the kids or a clean house when sick. Physical needs vary with the situation. And these can be the hardest needs of all to offer in a way that will help and not hurt. Our society values independence above almost everything else. No matter how you phrase it, an offer of help can sound to some people like an insult to their ability to take care of themselves. Be sure to put yourself in their shoes. Or better yet, the person who offers help with physical needs could be a person who has or used to have those same needs, and knows just how it feels without having to try to “walk a mile in their moccasins.” If the would-be helper has needs too, and they can share and help each other, human dignity will be protected and the outcome may be healthier.
What about spiritual needs? People need forgiveness, love, hope, and acceptance as an equal human being. One must listen to people’s stories to know what their greatest spiritual needs are.
As we listen to others’ stories, our frame of reference shifts from our own perspective to another’s perspective and finally to the relationship between us. When a person sees the degree to which his or her own view has become the only view—and that he or she has imposed that view on all of life—he or she comes to repentance. A person is at home with his or her own view. In interacting with another, that frame of reference is shaken up. A person cannot be at home with his or her own view in exactly the same way. Instead, people reframe to include the views of another, which leads to relationship. Moreover, making one’s own view the most important, imposing it on all of life, can be recognized as the sin of idolatry—taking a part and making it the whole.
This shifting in frame of reference happens most when we invite people we don’t know— someone new—into our lives. The Bible, in Luke 14:12-14, suggests inviting those of several vulnerable populations. This doesn’t mean that we neglect our own family and friends. When creating a gathering, think about inviting someone new or maybe someone from a more vulnerable group. Avoid huddling with your favorite friends to the exclusion of those newcomers who may be standing near.
As a host makes resources available to a guest, the host participates in God’s grace, which gifts both host and guest. The host identifies with the guest and the guest’s situation. In so identifying, the host becomes a recipient of God’s grace along with the guest.
When should we invite others? Anytime. Hospitality establishes relationships. People with needs may not state those needs to others whom they do not know. People more likely go to their friends because friends will accept them as they are. Hospitality any time puts relationship credit in the bank. Hospitality in meeting emotional and physical needs can lead to situations in which the deeper spiritual needs are met.
When people think of hospitality, often they think of a perfectly served meal. Think more broadly. Think of hospitality as opening yourself to others through sharing whatever activities you enjoy doing. Do you like watching sports on TV? Include someone else. Do you like hiking? Sewing? Fixing cars? Baking? Could you include someone else in any of these activities? Or could you join someone else in activities and groups that are already in place?*