Empty Space – Reaching Out Blog #20

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners . . ..”

Isaiah 61:1

“The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations.  Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.”

I’m a busy person – often too busy.  I don’t like busyness but I find myself overwhelmed with work on a regular basis.  I find it’s difficult to carve out empty spaces in my life where I can just be me.  That’s a desire of mine – to just be me – to have that freedom.  Why is it then, that I have a hard time offering that same freedom to those around me?

In the quote above Nouwen is beginning to further define hospitality and how it is different from hostility.  He’s noticing that once we understand our inner hostilities we can move towards the opposite, which is hospitality.  Both involve empty spaces.

Nouwen writes , “Empty space tends to create fear.  As long as our minds, hearts, and hands are occupied we can avoid confronting the painful questions, to which we never gave much attention and which we do not want to surface.”

Empty space.  Moments of freedom or slavery.  It’s all in what you make of it.  We avoid empty spaces in our lives because, all too often, that emptiness creates a moment for the painful questions to rise to the surface and enslave us in fear.  That’s hostility.  But what if we could do something different with those empty spaces in our lives?  What if those spaces could be places of freedom?

For Nouwen, an empty space is a concept.  In relation to hospitality it can be defined by what I do with an opportunity when a stranger comes knocking on the door.  The question isn’t just “do I let the stranger in” but also “does he have to fit into my own acceptable mold to be let in?”  Am I more concerned that the stranger be who I want him to be or do I offer the freedom that the stranger can be who he is?  Do I fearfully or lovingly accept the possibility of who he is?  Do I mold the stranger or do I offer a place where the stranger can be free to find himself?

This is a tough concept and I find myself wrestling to fully understand it.  I have expectations for all newcomers in my life to meet and I am often disappointed.  How much force should I exert on those around me to help them become the people I think they should be?  Or is that the problem in the first place?  Could it be that I’m more hostile than hospitable even when I think I’m the opposite?  By exerting any force at all am I circumventing the only One who has a right to mold and shape lives in the first place?  Am I just getting in the way?  As a Christian I know that God can use me to minister to others and share His will with them.  But where God ends and I begin is the moment of hostility.

Nouwen quotes Thoreau who says, “I would not have anyone adopt my mode of living on any account; for, beside that before he has fairly learned it I may have found out another for myself, I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead.”

Hospitality means offering “the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own” life.

Oh Lord, help me to never exceed what you are doing in the life of another.  I thank you for the opportunity to be used by you to help mold others into all you want them to be because I know that is truly freedom.  Help me to stay in Your will and Your time.

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