“Our heart might desire to help others: to feed the hungry, visit the prisoners and offer shelter to travelers; but meanwhile we have surrounded ourselves with a wall of fear and hostile feelings, instinctively avoiding people and places where we might be reminded of our good intentions.”
In my copy of Nouwen’s book I wrote the word “ouch” at the end of this quote. Sometimes it’s painful to have someone turn the mirror onto your soul and reflect it so thoroughly. In the beginning of this section Nouwen wrote, “Although it belongs to the core of a Christian spirituality to reach out to strangers and invite them into our lives, it is important to realize clearly that our spontaneous feelings toward strangers are quite ambivalent. It does not require much social analysis to recognize how many forms of hostility, usually pervaded with fear and anxiety, prevent us from inviting people into our world.”
Nouwen titled this chapter “Creating Space for Strangers” and throughout he is encouraging me to carve out a place for hospitality in my life. How often do I choose not to look at someone in need? How often do I keep a conversation short because I don’t have the time or the inclination to let someone into my life? I am not an ogre but I’m not the picture of hospitality either. Perhaps God wants more of me than I’ve been willing to give. Nouwen goes on to write “In our world the assumption is that strangers are a potential danger and that it is up to them to disprove it.” His words chip away at the stony edges of my soul and I find it is God who is wielding the pick-axe.
The longer I live the more all this becomes obvious in my life. There was a time, when I was young and naïve, where I looked at strangers as potential friends. As I mature in age I find myself declining in maturity of spirit. My heart hardens every time a possession is stolen from me or I turn on the news and see the evil perpetrated by those I don’t know. It gets harder and harder to open my heart to the potential of what I see around me. I’m more guarded now than ever. In our world we call this wisdom. In God’s world I’m known as a fool.
To love the Lord with all my heart, all my soul and all my strength is to offer everything I am and all that I have to God. I live with His resources in my pockets. My possessions are meaningless and often their disappearance will only bring me closer to God. All that I ever called my own creation is worthless compared to all that God has freely given me. What have I to fear? Even my life belongs to God and He can use it as He wills. If following my Lord leads to me to my very death – then to die is gain. This world is not all there is and all that is in it will one day pass away.
It’s painful to discover the heart of God and how different it is from my own. The greatest value I can place on my life and belongings is through offering it all to God’s purpose. If I should open my heart to the dangers of hospitality I should not distress in experiencing hostility. I may be trampled on. I may even discover my earthly life destroyed. What is that in comparison to God reaching through me to others who need to know His love? How many strangers have not experienced the love of God because of my ambivalence?
Oh Lord, change my heart and help me to trust in You. Use me to reach out to the strangers in my life. Be glorified in me.